Let’s face it – Easter tends to be the most Christian holiday of the year. Besides anything that’s bunny, egg, chocolate, or flower-related, the holiday centers around the resurrection of Jesus, the heart and head of our faith.
But last year, I adopted a Buddhist view of Easter… at least in my sermon.
I recalled that each year right around this time, I head over a park on the other side of town. The entrance to this park is lined with trees that, when they bloom, look like paradise. I find sadness that this lasts only a short while. Fortunately, I was able to visit the park right after they started blooming. When I was over there yesterday, the pinkish-white petals had disappeared, and small buds of greened hung where the blooms had been.
There is sadness that fills my heart when I see the blooms gone for the year. There’s a part of me that wishes the first days of spring could last all year, and the blossoms on the trees could last forever.
Of course, logically, I know this is part of the life cycle of the tree. The trees are no longer in its beautiful spring state. The petals drop to the ground, finding their death. But in their death, the tree find its next phase.
We embrace much of our lives like we do like the blossoming trees. We want life to stay a certain way, frozen in time. But life is always changing. Life starts, life ends. Our bodies and our world are in constant motion. From the mountains to our trees to our hair and our souls, we transform. It’s concurrently beautiful and sad.
One of my best friends practices Buddhism. When we have a chance to visit with one another, we have the best conversations about faith. In reflecting on my sermon for last year’s Easter, the Buddhist principle of impermanence came to light. This principle is meditating on and deeply understanding that everything is impermanent, in a constant state of change and that everything will deteriorate.
She read to me excerpts from Thich Nhat Hanh’s book You Are Here which explained that impermanence and change is the heart of life and makes life possible. When we reject impermanence, we reject life. For hope lies in impermanence.
And in a roundabout way, we see that hope in resurrection story.
Mary Magdalene is weeping outside of the tomb, and Jesus the Christ calls her by name. She then recognizes the risen Christ in her midst. And then remembering all of the great times with Jesus during his earthly life, she wants to keep that with her. She wants everything to be the same, and she clings to him. Maybe she’s thinking “he won’t go away again.” Maybe she’s thinking that “if I do something differently this time, he won’t die.” I can’t say exactly what she was thinking, but she wanted the old ways of being with Jesus the Christ again. But the Christ says otherwise – “do not hold onto me.”
What it says in the text is “do not cling” not “do not touch.” We see later that it was ok for Thomas to touch Jesus. I don’t think that it was a problem that this Christ was touched. But what she was doing was holding on with all of her might in order to keep the pre-crucifixion, pre-resurrection Jesus with her.
In letting Jesus in his previous embodiment go, leaving the garden and running to spread the good news, I believe Mary embraces the hope that lies in impermanence. She embraces the great change that happens with the Christ – from the original human body format to a format that transcends space and time. That Christ goes with us wherever we go, and that Christ changes as the ways our life and world change. When we meet new people or experience life in a new way, we understand Christ deeper.
It may seem odd that I speak of a Buddhist principle on Easter Sunday, but I wonder, how are we with changes in our lives, of letting things go, and then looking at embracing change as hopeful.
I remember what Thich Nhat Hanh says: “hope lies in impermanence.” The tomb could not seal off the Christ from the rest of the world. And while the death was traumatic, without the change in the form of the Christ, I don’t believe the good news would have gone beyond that small part of the world. Would people know of the radical love of Jesus, of the way he validated the lives of those who were in the margins?
If Mary Magdalene would have staying in that garden right outside the tomb and kept holding on to the Jesus she once knew instead of sharing the Christ in its newest form, we wouldn’t have known the Good News of new life and resurrection. That’s hope. Maybe there were still tinges of sadness that resonated within her. But I believe the privilege of sharing the good news of life and hope helped her to let go of Jesus the Christ in his previous form.
I’d like to think of Mary releasing Jesus like any of us releasing the beauty that leaves with the end of a season. There is a tinge of sadness that still remains in me when the blossoms drop from the trees. But with the changing trees and the falling flowers comes rich greenness for all to enjoy, full trees for people to rest under during the warm months. If the trees didn’t change throughout the year, they would die. That’s like us: if we don’t change constantly – our cells, our thoughts, our churches – we die as well.
So each year, when trees bloom and Easter rolls around, I recall the Buddhist principle of impermanence. It’s given me the gift of seeing the transitions and changes that come with the death and resurrection of Jesus with a new depth and greater hope of new life.
This post was written as part of Synchroblog’s March 2015 theme “What I Appreciate about [Other Religions].” Below are other blog posts that have been written as part of this theme. The links do not necessarily reflect my perspective.