EBUP38: Easter's Rolling Stone

Eric Butterworth Unity Podcast #38

Eric Butterworth Sunday Services — Easter's Rolling Stone

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One of the great joys of Easter is what the poet calls spring’s renaissance. It comes about this time, giving rise to the amazing process of resurrection in nature. Last fall, as I’m sure many of you do or did, we planted bulbs in our garden. They were wrinkled, brown, cold, and lifeless, and we planted them with great expectation. Recently we saw the movement in the soil, the relentless straining for birth. This morning on inspection, we see dirty shoots reaching up with radiant blossoms that trumpet the resurrection.

My friend Ralph Waldo Emerson called for a firsthand and immediate experience of God. And in dealing with Easter, I always have an intense desire for a modern-day demonstrable and demonstrated evidence of the resurrection process. We all know the story of the first Easter, how Jesus was crucified and after three days in the tomb, the stone was rolled away. Jesus came forth in a transcendent form as the risen Christ. The story is ages old, and even a little child can tell it. But again, I want something more than just the story. I want a firsthand and immediate experience. I want something to happen to me today.

I’m not concerned with the many arguments for or against the resurrection of 2,000 years ago, because I believe there’s an eternal secret involved, which is also involved in the daily sunrise, in nature’s springtime, in the healing of the slightest cut of my finger or bruise of the knee. I recall Paul’s words when he says “Oh that I knew Him and the power of His resurrection.” He too wanted to know, not so much what happened to Jesus, but what is the power? What is the process? Because if there’s a power and a process, then it must be repeatable.

I want to invite you to join with me today in tuning in on what I like to call a cosmic wavelength, so we may experience Easter on a higher level than ever before in our lives, so that something of the resurrection principle may be felt in our lives right here and now, that something dramatic may happen to each of us in terms of healing or overcoming or vital change. Something wonderful is happening. Can you believe it?

If you have a feeling that something wonderful is going to happen to you, then something wonderful has already happened in that feeling. For just to feel it, to have the vision of it, is to tune in on that wavelength. If you feel that something wonderful is going to happen to you in terms of physical healing, then you’re tuning in on the transcendent healing process, in which it is already true. You’re simply saying yes to a greater degree of life.

There’s an ancient Chinese saying. I love it, I hope you can identify with it because I’m going to refer to it often. “If you keep in your heart a green bough, I have heard there will come one day to stay a singing bird.” It’s like an oriental picture, free of all elaboration so typical of Western art. “If you keep in your heart a green bough, I have heard there will come one day to stay a singing bird.” If you have come today with a green bough of expectancy, then you will go forth from here with a singing bird of health, with a vision of health, of overcoming or the strength to overcome, of opulence or the attracting power of substance, of love or the confidence in loving change.

But let me forewarn you, the inertial pull of traditional Easter is great. The emphasis on the cross, the tomb, the angels, the shaft of light streaming down from heaven, evidencing a divine dispensation by which Jesus makes the great demonstration. In other words, indicating that somehow he’s carrying out something that is being directed from upstairs. Jesus said to Mary Magdalene at the tomb “Cease clinging to me.” Stop holding on to me. Yet isn’t this exactly what we have done? Easter has had everything to do with Jesus, little or nothing to do with you or me. For most persons, Easter is a kind of memorial day, when we remember when Jesus died and rose again.

The story of Easter is told so often in one’s lifetime, especially with the advent of television, many of us have become involved in a progressive experience of so many things. Around Easter time there are plays, there are skits, there are songs, constant evidence of the Easter story, so that we really don’t listen any more. So the most significant part of the usual Easter experience is just perfunctoriness.

I once knew a family who inherited a lovely grand piano. They really didn’t have room for it, so it dominated their living room. There it sat, carefully waxed, regularly tuned, but no one in the house knew how to play it, except one member of the family who could thump out a passable version of “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee.” So there sat that magnificent instrument, which could have filled the whole house with glorious music, but it was rarely heard. And then it played but one simple tune, hesitatingly rendered. This is a parable of Easter. The great idea that we celebrate today, that’s capable of filling all our lives with glorious music all through the year, but we simply play one little tune on it occasionally and perfunctorily, and that not too well.

Ask the average person in church today. Across America there are millions of Christians going to church. Ask the average person what Easter’s all about. He’ll probably say “Why, everybody knows it commemorates Jesus’ resurrection from the tomb.” He might add that it gives promise of immortality and some future existence. But I think you would discover, in all the replies, little recognition that it has much of anything to say to the immediate moment. Like the family with the piano, there’s the awareness of just one simple tune.

You see, Easter is not a day on which something happened to Jesus. It is what happened to Jesus. There’s an eternal secret involved, a principle and a process that is repeatable. You see, as a teacher I must face the fact that if you go away from here today saying “That was an interesting insight into Easter,” then you’ve simply compartmentalized it into an Easter file in your memory mind, to be looked at again in another year on Easter Sunday ... But if you go away from here saying that you have a new insight into yourself, then our mission will be fulfilled.

For you see, when we catch the insight of the rolling stone of Easter, giving rise to an awareness of our divine depth, then Easter is no longer a way of seeing certain things, but rather it is a certain way of seeing all things. In other words, I want to help you gain a perspective by which to deal with every experience in the light of this resurrection principle. Easter may begin with the resurrection story of Jesus, but should not end there. This is no story of God playing the role of man for a while, though we may have been told this. It is the story of man at his finest, demonstrating the God potential within every person, yes, within you and within me. It was, and it is, the triumphant discovery of the resurrection principle within all persons.

As Lord Alfred Tennyson puts it, “It is the one far-off divine event to which the whole creation moves.” You may recall the story of the young lad who set off to Sunday school on Easter Day. When he returned home, his mother asked “What did you learn in Sunday school today?” “Oh,” he said, “I found that that Jesus was one cool cat, he was a real swinger.” Mother was shocked. “Johnny, how could you say such a thing?” “Well, they said Christ has rhythm, Christ has rhythm.” Everyone takes the story at the level of his consciousness.

But the big problem is, we tend to take this story and hold to it in a very personalized relationship. We hold to Jesus exactly as he said we should not. We tend to make of Easter a sectarian holiday instead of the commitment to the rediscovery and releasement of the timeless, universal process of resurrection. It is all around us in nature. It is demonstrated every day in the rising sun. It is a part and parcel of the healing process within our physical bodies.

It’s strange how we take a basic concept and clothe it in so many different guises. Witness, if you will, the history and tradition and dogma and liturgy surrounding the two observances at this time in the city, Easter and Passover. One for the Christian, the other for the Jew. And the amazing thing is that beyond the form of religious differences, they are the articulation of one basic principle. We so easily forget the principle and get involved in outwardisms and religious theology. For instance, the Jewish Passover was originally a spring festival, or mata, at the time of the spring equinox, that prevailed in Canaan when the Israelites arrived, long antedating their development of Jewish religion. They simply adopted it and adapted it to their own experience and tradition. It was a gala feast of thanksgiving for the resurrection process in nature, which they correlated with the great idea of the passing of the angel of death over their home, the doors of which had been smeared with the blood of a lamb so their young were spared.

But you see, it was really the festival of spring, an annual time of giving thanks for the resurrection principle in nature. It’s fundamental, it antedates all the traditions and the liturgies. And the Christian observance of Easter, too, is an adaptation of the festivals of spring that prevailed in the lands that were conquered by the Christian Holy Roman Empire. The word from which we get our word Easter is Eostra, E-O-S-T-R-A, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring. It’s surprising to some folks, I’m sure. All the Easter symbols, the Easter bunny, Easter eggs, the lovely practice of dressing in spring finery, all these have an origin that far antedates Christianity. And the festivals of spring and the spring equinox, the same roots from which the Jewish Passover has come.

The symbols differ, the principle is one. And the process did not originate with Jesus. It didn’t originate with Moses. What Jesus did was fulfill the eternal secret, and a personal overcoming that was a demonstration of a process that was just as certain and as relevant as the lilies of the field. And he said “Consider the lilies, how they grow.” Jesus was actually involved in releasing the atomic, or I’m going to call it the Adamic, energy. And for the first time in our recorded history, he let the imprisoned splendor of spiritual man be released.

And the eternal secret of Easter is that resurrection is a quality of life, and there’s no complete understanding of life without it. Suppose, just suppose, that with every setting sun there would follow no promise or actual fact of sunrise. Just suppose that with every falling of the leaves in November, there would be no resurgence of life in April. Suppose that with every cut of the finger or bruise of the knee, our life span were thus shortened. Just suppose that with every sorrow, discouragement, and despair, faith and hope were lost, never to return. And in line with our Chinese saying, suppose that we could hold the green bough of hope and expectation and consciousness, and yet never attract the singing bird.

See how life would be so forlorn without this resurrection principle that is so relevant? Of course, there are levels of consciousness in which these limited results may, and often do, resound. The eternal secret of Easter is only experienced on a cosmic level. It is ours to experience, but only if we choose, as Thoreau says, to march to the beat of a different drummer, to view life through a different window, from a different elevation of consciousness. Judging by appearances, one can come up with all sorts of self-limiting conclusions. But there’s a transcendent sense in which an egg is actually a bird. A caterpillar is really a butterfly. And you are what you can be. Not what you have been, not the summation of all your faults and failings, but you are what you can be.

Jesus was a man, as Paul says, “Tempted in all points such as you and me.” But Jesus knew what he could be, and he lived and functioned in the consciousness of what he could be, knowing that the Christ indwelling was a present reality, that the kingdom of heaven, as he so clearly said, is at hand. He kept the green bough alive in his heart, and there came one day to stay the singing bird of overcoming and the resurrection.

In Job, Eliphaz says “When they cast thee down, thou shalt say there is lifting up.” In every challenging experience, and we all have them, there’s help or healing. There’s growth and overcoming. There’s justice and order and peace and fulfillment. The theme of Easter is life, not death. Life, life eternal. Jesus said “I came that ye may have life, and may have it more abundantly.” Not life measured in a thimble, not life explained as getting by. Not a dreary, humdrum, unsatisfying existence. Not a trying round of unharmony, discord, and unhappiness, but life abundant, enriched by divine love, replete with the guiding, directing, protecting influence of the indwelling presence.

All the biologists who ever lived, all the psychologists who ever lived, who had ever seen the mind, all the biologists who have ever seen life, all the theologians put together could not tell us what God looks like. And yet we live, we think, we have been inspired by God. Human life is what philosophers call an unexplained overendowment for a mere physical existence. This is but their meager attempt to explain the immortality of life. The body is biased on the side of life, the body is biased on the side of healing and renewal. And guidance is an evidence of an actual process that is ever-present. Emerson calls it the continuation of the process that made us in the first place.

In other words, whatever you may be doing, whatever the experience or the challenge or the need, you have something working in you, something working through you. You have the whole universe on your side. To believe this is to keep the green bough in your heart, and there will come one day to stay the singing bird. Now you may say “But after some of the great tragedies and injustices in my life, I can’t get that feeling any more. This mark of faith is gone.”

So this is another insight to be gained from symbolic Easter, that the true spiritual essence of life is indestructible, changeless, and eternal. Jesus did not simply prove that life in him was indestructible. He proved that life in all persons is indestructible, in you, and in me. We miss the whole idea of Easter unless we personalize that process within ourselves.

One of the great stories of human accomplishment was that of Marie Curie, who pioneered and conquered in the field of chemistry. In her quest for radium, she overcame obstacles that had haunted other scientists, leaving them baffled. She conceived the theory that the vital something that she was seeking was not destroyed by going through the processes, the furnaces, or the factory. That radium was in no way diminished. And out of that discovery came many of the marvelous developments in modern times.

In that same sense, all the furnace fires of human experience, even death itself, cannot obliterate the Christ spirit, the seed of the resurrection, within us. It is the real-life application of symbolic Easter, that the true depth of you, hidden genius of you, is deathless and eternal. Seed of resurrection by which you can rise, phoenix-like, out of the ashes of defeat, whatever it may be, and overcome adversity and sickness and poverty and heartache, even death itself.

Man has always been a forward-looking creature, always wanting, needing something to look forward to. Human consciousness is shot through with eager aspirations, beckoning dreams, shining ideals. There’s nothing more frustrating in your life or mine at any time than those moments when we think or say or feel “I just don’t have anything to look forward to.” We always have an intense desire to look forward to something. This is why, incidentally, people are much more vital on Friday than they are on Monday. ‘Cause on Monday they’re going back to the old grind. On Friday they’re looking forward to the exciting involvement of a weekend.

The little child looks forward to youth. He can hardly wait for the time that he can wear long trousers, or she can have high heels and wear makeup. The youth looks forward to maturity, when he can drive the family car or she can go out on a date, or they can have a job of their own and get an apartment in the city. The mature person looks forward to what he hopes will be serenity and an easy retirement, which I like to call entirement. A scaled-down home in a new condominium and the time to do all the things that they’ve always said they would do if they had more time.

There’s a great looking forward, always. The eternal secret of Easter is that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Not in some far-off place, it is at hand. The singing bird is already in the green bough. That’s the thing that the cosmic wavelength of metaphysics reveals to us. And when you hunger for something, that for which you hunger is already yours. When you have a desire for some demonstration in your life, your perception of that is already working in your consciousness, already unfolding for you. So when the green bough of hope is held in thought, the singing bird is already there in your innate potential, and your feeling of it indicates that it is seeking to be released. Say yes to it.

The eternal truth of the Christ is not simply something to look forward to, it is something to look forward from. Don’t look forward to the time when you can become the spiritual genius that you feel you can be. Look forward from the genius, which is the reality within you. As I say often, prayer is not a matter of reaching out or up, prayer is a matter of accepting the unfolding of the divine process within you. So I say, don’t pray to God. That’s always shocking to folks when I say that, because we’ve heard that so often. Don’t pray to God. Because to pray to God is to put God out there, make a separation, and to beg and plead and try to draw something from the straw man that we’ve created. Don’t pray to God. Pray from the consciousness of God. Be still, and know that I am God. Get the sense of Is-ness, presence, and pray from that consciousness, protect that consciousness. Your prayer then becomes a projection, it has tremendous power and life. What you’ve eliminated is something out here that never really existed except in your thoughts and feelings and fears.

Now some of you may be thinking “That’s all well and good, and that’s beautiful, I wish it were true. But this fellow talking today just doesn’t understand me. He doesn’t know the trouble I’ve seen. He doesn’t know the problems I have, he doesn’t have to live with the person that I do or work with the boss that I have. It would be nice, it’s wonderful to sit and dream about it for a while. Maybe that’s what Easter’s all about, just sitting together in a service dreaming blue sky dreams.”

Let me tell you a story. It’s a true story of a young man in a veteran’s hospital, who had lost both his legs in the Korean War. In the early years of my ministry, there was a time when, because of the small center in which I was involved, very few people, I interned in a de facto sense as a chaplain in the veterans’ facility, because I had such an opportunity there to practice the truth in counseling situations. I spent much time there, and I came to know this young man, who had lost his legs. He lay for months in this hospital bed, despondent over the loss of his legs, almost as if the whole world had been shot out from under him. He simply stared blankly at the ceiling all the time.

I tried everything with him. I pulled out all the stops, tried to tell him he was a child of God, that he had the tremendous potential within him to go on and rise above this, make a life for himself. Nothing worked. I’ll tell you, it wasn’t something to give confidence to a young minister. It was a sad, tragic thing, not because of what had happened to him, but because of what was happening in him, because of the thing that was eating him up in his reaction to this experience. Then one day, another inmate of the hospital strolled in and sat down on a chair near the bed. He pulled out a harmonica and began to play softly. The patient looked up at him briefly, then back again at the ceiling. That was all for that day.

The next day the young man came again and played, and the next day, and the next. Finally, one day he asked “Does my playing annoy you?” The young man in bed said “No, I guess I kind of like it.” They talked a little more each day. They developed a great friendship, which was more nonverbal than spoken. One day, the harmonica player was in a jovial mood. He played a sprightly tune, began to do a tap dance around the room for his friend. Finally, he said “Hey, why don’t you smile once in a while, let a guy know you’re alive?” The young man in bed said “I might as well be dead as in the fix I’m in.” “Okay, so you’re dead, but you’re not as dead as that fellow who was crucified 2,000 years ago, and he came out of it all right.”

The glum patient flashed in anger, “Don’t give me any of that preaching stuff, I’ve heard it all, it hasn’t done me any good. If you were in my fix, you’d sing a different tune.” “All right, I know a 2,000-year-old resurrection is pretty far in the past. So maybe an up-to-date example would help you to believe that it can be done.” Pulled up his trouser legs, and the boy in the bed saw two artificial limbs. Needless to say, the stone was rolled away at that moment, his resurrection began.

That was many years ago, and I’ve lost track of this young man. But the last I heard, he was living a perfectly normal, quite successful life, spending much of his spare time helping other people to get a green bough in their heart so as to experience the singing bird of resurrection and rehabilitation.

What are we saying in this story? We’re saying that we may have grave reservations. You may feel that overcoming is just something that happens to other people. It’s nice to hear about it, it never happens to us. The overcoming process is part and parcel of the heartbeat within you. It’s part of the process of nature all around you. It is relevant, you’re in it, it is in you. There’s no way to escape from it. What the ancient Chinese were saying, what Jesus was saying, what the butterfly breaking out of the cocoon is saying, if you can hold the green bough in your consciousness, you will come to experience the singing bird of healing and overcoming. You will come to know something more of yourself than you’ve ever known before.

As Eliphaz says in Job, “When they cast thee down, thou shalt say there is lifting up.” And if you believe that something wonderful is going to happen to you, right now in the hours or days to come, then something wonderful has already happened. You have touched the level of consciousness in which you can know the real truth of life. What it amounts to is not a matter of setting things right, but seeing them rightly. You can decide here and now today that you’re going to march to the beat of a different drummer. That you want to seek to relate yourself to life, to people, to your work, to conditions all around you in the highest level of consciousness and sing a new song, and you’re going to experience the singing bird, which will find its place in the green bough of your hope and aspiration.

All that is left, you see, is that you say yes to life, that you say yes to your good, that you say yes to that in you which was demonstrated by Jesus 2,000 years ago. Be willing to hold the green bough of hope in your consciousness, and there will come one day, and to stay, a singing bird.

I’d like to invite you to join with me now in a moment of stillness. This is the time to rise to that cosmic level of awareness, to touch the true essence of the resurrection process. I would like you to use your power of imagination. Just imagine the very simple tree. In Genesis it talks about the tree of life, referring to a living process in which we all live and move and have being. Just think of that tree. Picture it clearly. And emphasize the green bough on the tree.

You saw the suggestive thought of that on the front of your program today. Let this green bough be to you your aspirations, your dream of change and overcoming, your desire to be what you’d like to be, your inner urge and inclination to prosper, to succeed, to be affluent, to be healed, to experience love and being loved. Let this green bough of aspiration be radiantly felt, perceived. Let your mind turn in faith and belief. That which the ancient Chinese believed, that if the green bough is held in your mind, that there will come one day, to stay, a singing bird. It doesn’t matter what kind of a bird it is, or its coloration, or its size, or its song. Just feel and experience in your chamber of imagery the singing bird on that green bough. It’s a symbol of your healing, a symbol of your overcoming of life.

In that moment something wonderful has happened in you. You’ll never be the same again. The stone of limitation has been rolled away. You’re now one with the resurrection power. Accept this image as an evidence of something working in your life, something wonderful happening through you, something that is the key to making this very a special day, a red-letter day in your life. Resolve now to keep the covenant suggested by the ancient Chinese poet. If you keep the green bough in your mind, there will come one day, and to stay, the singing bird.

And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. So be it.