THIS PAST EASTER SEASON, I visited a dear friend who was celebrating her 100th year. She greeted me with the words to a loved hymn, "Let us sing of Easter gladness"! Frances Thompson Hill, Christian Science Hymnal, No. 171. Her joy and warmth on that chilly afternoon made me think more about Easter itself—its meaning and relevance not only to both of us, but to the world. I felt inspired to think more deeply of the profound impact of Jesus' resurrection on humanity and what it takes to follow Christ in our daily lives.
The gospel message
Christ Jesus, through his resurrection, has given every one of us proof of the actuality of God—that God is the only Life and that an understanding of this great truth vanquishes death. Let's go back in time to the actual story of Jesus' resurrection as St. John records it in his Gospel. He sets the scene by telling us that near the place where Jesus was crucified there was a garden and that Jesus' body had been laid there in a new sepulcher by his two faithful friends Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus. See John 19:38–42. The account continues, telling us that while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene, who had kept brave watch with a few others at the foot of the cross, now ran to the sepulcher at the dawn of the third day. See John 20:1–18. To her surprise, the huge stone blocking the tomb had been rolled away! Mary quickly ran to tell Peter and another disciple, who came to see the empty tomb for themselves. They returned to their homes in wonder, but Mary lingered there.
Mary stooped down weeping as she looked into the grave, wondering what had happened to Jesus' body. As she turned away from the grave, she saw a man whom she assumed was the gardener and asked him where he had taken Jesus. Jesus himself answered her with one word: "Mary." She turned again, and in recognition and awe replied, "Master." To reward her faithfulness, Jesus now gave her a precious commission: "Go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God." We can imagine how her sorrow had turned into wondrous joy: she was the first to see the risen Christ!
Finding the risen Christ
I think we can all learn from Mary's experience. Before we can see the risen Christ, we, too, have to turn away from the darkness of an erroneous sense of life in matter—away from the supposed inevitability and finality of death. This can be done only by spiritualizing consciousness daily and seeking to understand that life is immortal. Seeking to really grasp this fact helps us to discern the truth of what Jesus' resurrection shows us—that life doesn't begin and end in matter, but is spiritual and therefore eternal.
The second lesson Mary learned was that when she turned away from her personal sense of the man Jesus, she found the Christ—the divine manifestation of God, the truth that Jesus lived day by day as he traveled the dusty roads of Galilee and preached to the crowds and healed the sick.
Christian Science teaches that Christ is the life-link that shows us our eternal oneness with God. Just as Mary Magdalene was able to do, we, too, can free ourselves from personal attachments and dependencies as we more and more look to God, divine Love, as the source of all true happiness and fulfillment. Jesus' resurrection and final ascension were not the beginning of any sort of absence from the companions he loved, but rather it was a new kind of presence with them: the eternal Christ, which turns us away from a limited sense of ourselves—of our human self with its many inadequacies and fears—to a larger recognition of our true selfhood as sons and daughters of God.
By living the Christlike qualities of meekness, love, and purity as Mary did, we are experiencing our own resurrection out of matter day by day. We feel the power of the risen Christ in our hearts as we reach out to others with love. We begin to minister to their needs as Jesus taught the disciples to do. And we find joy in sharing the living truth of the risen Christ simply by the love we express in our daily lives.
The Christian Science perspective
Mary Baker Eddy has given us a wonderful explanation of the deep meaning of the resurrection in Science and Health: She explains it this way: "Resurrection. Spiritualization of thought; a new and higher idea of immortality, or spiritual existence; material belief yielding to spiritual understanding." Science and Health, p. 593. Spiritualization of thought is a constant discipline, or we might say, a real discipleship. As followers of Christ Jesus, we have to bring our moment-to-moment thinking and action into accord with the Christ-spirit that animated our Master. We learn step by step to sacrifice our self-centered, material interests for a deeper commitment to healing. Even the smallest glimpse we have that our true selfhood is found in Christ and is at one with God, gives new impetus to our healing ministry. By starting our prayers from the basis that God, divine Life, is All, we are equipped to demonstrate, little by little, that the spiritual power of Truth and Love triumphs over the flesh.
Mrs. Eddy speaks of the profound effect Jesus' resurrection had on the disciples as he walked, talked, and ate with them following this momentous event. She wrote in Science and Health: "Through all the disciples experienced, they became more spiritual and understood better what the Master had taught. His resurrection was also their resurrection. Ithelped them to raise themselves and others from spiritual dulness and blind belief in God into the perception of infinite possibilities." Ibid., p. 34.
After Jesus' resurrection from the grave, the disciples finally grasped fully what Jesus' life had pointed toward: that our spiritual life is in God—in Spirit, not in matter—and that our life, because it emanates from divine Life itself, is not subject to death and the grave. This new vision gave fresh impetus to the disciples' work. And they were faithful to what Jesus had shown them. They broadcast the good news of the risen Christ and demonstrated its profound meaning in remarkable healings. They bore witness to the power of Spirit as present and active in people's lives. We, too, need this quickening and this larger recognition of the power of Christ in our lives if we are to fulfill the Master's command to heal in his name.
The Science of Christianity active in this age is proving again that the Christ is still present to comfort and heal. As Mrs. Eddy wrote: "There is but one Christ. And from everlasting to everlasting this Christ is never absent." Message to The Mother Church for 1900, p. 7. There are no special Easter observances in Christian Science churches. This is because we don't wait for one special day a year to feel the joyous message of the risen Christ well up in our hearts. Every day can be a celebration of the universal meaning of resurrection out of matter as we follow Christ faithfully and learn moment by moment more of the nothingness of matter and the allness of Spirit. And we prove this truth by healing.
We therefore take an active part in our own resurrection as we allow the risen Christ to spiritualize our thinking, helping us realize more and more fully what Jesus proved—that God is the only Life, now and throughout eternity.
If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
—James 1:26, 27
To keep the commandments of our Master and follow his example, is our proper debt to him and the only worthy evidence of our gratitude for all that he has done. Outward worship is not of itself sufficient to express loyal and heartfelt gratitude, since he has said: "If ye love me, keep my commandments."
—Science and Health, p. 4
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