When I was a child, Easter was meant the end of winter and the beginning of spring. It meant roses in bloom and trees in bud and soft new grass blowing in gentle breezes. At the little church I grew up in, it also meant sunrise services, sometimes performed in cemeteries, that were full of words I didn't understand, concepts I couldn't comprehend, and images I found just plain scary.
When we gathered in those cemeteries as the sun peeked over the far horizon, I heard my preacher talk about resurrection and say that he couldn't wait for bodies to be flying out of those graves. He told me that this is what Easter meant: that Jesus walking out of his own tomb meant we would all do the same.
As a small child, I found it rather more horrifying than comforting.
As I grew up, my experience of death was different than my preacher had told me it would be. The things I saw that had died - the dead squirrel on the street in front of my house, the dead bird lying next to my back porch, the dead snake I was excited to find in the schoolyard - it was pretty clear to me that all those things were dead and I could not imagine any of them coming back to life. Even my great-grandfather, at his funeral in a small-town church, did not appear destined to ever rise up out of his casket.
The idea of resurrection has too often been used by conservative commentators to separate the wheat from the chaff and the sheep from the goats. If you find yourself unable to believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, they will say, then you are by definition an unbeliever and you should be driven out of community to occupy a special ring of hell.
On the other hand, I have also spoken to a great many people who, in reaction to such a strangely literal interpretation of the story, have thrown the baby out with the bathwater and decided that there is nothing whatsoever of value in the resurrection story in particular or in the Christian faith in general.
I must admit I find myself in a middle ground.
As I read the gospel writers and try to make sense of their take on life and death and life again, I can remember the number of people who have been important to me in my life, and how they seem to return to me somehow from time to time - not literally, of course, but poetically, figuratively, metaphorically. My parents, my teachers, my mentors and friends - all who have helped me grow and mature and become who I was meant to become. Are they ever beside me bodily anymore? No. But can I take a step that doesn't pay homage to their gifts of guidance and direction? Not if I'm awake and aware and paying attention, I can't.
I'm even grateful for that preacher that I couldn't understand so many years ago. The memory of standing in that cemetery at sunrise and being confronted with the certainty of death and with strange stories of overcoming it has goaded me into considering anew the power of myth and story and has offered me ways to think about life that have enriched my experience beyond measure.
Happy Easter and Blessed Equinox to you and yours, no matter where you find yourself on this good Earth or on any of these questions.