Easter as Archetypal Pattern

When I was a congregational minister, I never really got over the surprise at discovering how few people showed up for Good Friday services, relative to Easter Sunday attendance. Part of the problem was the liturgy. For most of my time they were pretty bleak, which is understandable given that they tell the story of a very gruesome form of execution, thereby reminding us of the many forms of evil that continue to darken our world. On the other, toward the end of my career I started to let just a little bit of light in toward the end of the liturgy, in anticipation of Easter. The Good Friday needs to be told with Easter in mind. Easter needs to be celebrated holding the reality of suffering and evil in mind. To resolve this tension is to lose the truth of Holy Week.

The tendency of many people to do an end-run around Good Friday and head straight for Easterhappy pills is a reflection of a culture that prizes above all else “happiness”. There is nothing wrong with being happy, unless we’re attached to it, and start to believe that if we’re not feeling happy, or if others are not helping us to feel happy, there must be something wrong. The challenge of life is to inhabit as deeply as possible whatever comes our way—to accept reality. But more than accept it, to metabolize it—to so deeply inhabit it and process it that we are rewarded with wisdom. Unless we do this we won’t spiritually evolve. When we resist the darker realities, the somber moods, the approach of terror, our deep insecurities, we are cutting ourselves off from an aspect of the Mystery. Wisdom is often a dark guest knocking at our door, and She must be welcomed as we would welcome a friend.

Not easy. On Good Friday, our exemplar is Jesus, who is decidedly not happy about the cup he has been asked to drink from. But neither is he resistant. He experiences fear and forsakenness. The courage he shows is precisely in how he entrusts his life to his own teaching—that unless a seed falls into the ground and dies, it will not bear fruit.

Artist: Stanley Spencer

Artist: Stanley Spencer

His death was physical and literal, but it was his life that prepared him for it. In the wilderness he was offered the chance to organize his life around the “happy life” — a life of wealth, status, and power. He died to the lower part of himself, or the fear-motivated self, in order to live a heart-centered life, a life built upon the sure-foundation of soul, and to act as an attractor to a life of love and compassion. The crucifixion was a death to his physical being, not psychologically and spiritually my sense is that he had already undergone many deaths, as we all must do on the spiritual path. It is perhaps the defining characteristic of the spiritual life.

As critical as observing our own Good Friday experiences is, it is also important that we not get stuck in Good Friday. A lot of what in Spiral Dynamics calls the postmodernist meme seems to revel in how awful the world is. There is a deep and prevalent pessimism that is born in part, I suspect, of not taking enough time for contemplation. Paul wrote to the Philippians about what I think of as an Easter practice:

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)

Good Friday and Easter are inseparable, you can’t have one with the other.

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