The Significance of Easter

By Joseph H. Fussell
'Tis time
New hopes should animate the world, new light
Should dawn from new revealings to a race,
Weighed down so long, forgotten so long. -- Robert Browning, Paracelsus

It has been said that the resurrection of Jesus was the most stupendous event in all history, but when we turn to the literatures and traditions of India, Egypt, Greece, and other peoples of antiquity, we find it not a unique event but a recurring experience -- and thus not less but more inspiring and significant. There is not one people but had its Savior or Messiah, its Avatara or Buddha, who taught and showed them the true pathway of life. Many were the Christs of pre-Christian ages of whom the same legends and miracles are told. India had her Krishna, and later Gautama Buddha; China, Fo-hi and Yu; in Egypt, Osiris and Horus; Persia had the line of Zarathustras; in Greece we find Apollo and Dionysos of the Mysteries; in the Americas, Quetzalcoatl. Others might be named who were "divinely" conceived, "virgin" born, who made the descent into Hades, arose from the dead, and ascended to the Immortals.

There is one Zeus, one Sun, one Underworld,
One Dionysos, one lone God in all

runs an Orphic Hymn. So too, behind the bewildering array of divinities in the Egyptian pantheon we find one absolute Deity with "many gods" representing its manifestations or attributes. And in the Book of the Dead or "Ritual of the Coming Forth by Day" we find the following:

A moment of mine belongeth to you, but my attributes belong to my own domain.
I am the Unknown One.
I am Yesterday and I know tomorrow; for I am born again and again. Mystery of the soul am I.
"I who know the Depths" is my Name. I make the cycles of the shining millions of years; and billions are my measurement.

Along with such conceptions of Deity, is it any wonder that we find emphasis given to the divinity and immortality of man and his resurrection? For the old Egyptians did not regard the resurrection as a single event in the life of Osiris, but rather as a potential experience of the soul which could be had by those who qualified. We read in the Ritual of "a suffering and a dying God" whose heart is weighed against the feather of Truth and, if found to contain no untruth, he becomes "one with Osiris," a "son of the sun."

The view held in Christendom, however, is that Jesus is the only-begotten Son of God who suffered for the sins of the world, was crucified and laid in the tomb, and who after three days rose again, conqueror over death, Savior of mankind; and henceforth through his passion and death, all who believe in him, who partake of the mystic sacrament of the eucharist, become one with him and share in the glory of his resurrection. This is all the more extraordinary when we realize that five hundred years before the Nazarene came, the Greek dramatist Euripides described the rite of baptism and celebration of the eucharist as essential features of the Orphic Mysteries. Of Dionysos, the mystic savior, he says:

In the God's high banquet, when
Gleams the grape-blood, flashed to heaven
. . .
To all that liveth His wine he giveth,
Griefless, immaculate.
. . .
Yea, being God, the blood of him is set
Before the Gods in sacrifice, that we
For his sake may be blest.
. . .
Then in us verily dwells
The God himself, and speaks the thing to be.
-- Bacchae (Murray trans.)

In fact, a number of the most sacred rites and ceremonies considered by many to be solely Christian had their origin among the so-called pagans. The Rev. Robert Taylor tells us:

The Eleusinian Mysteries, or Sacrament of the Lord's Supper, was the most august of all the Pagan ceremonies celebrated, more especially by the Athenians, every fifth year, in honour of Ceres, the goddess of corn, who, in allegorical language, had given us her flesh to eat; as Bacchus, the god of wine, in a like sense, had given us his blood to drink . . . From these ceremonies, in like manner, derived the very name attached to our Christian sacrament of the Lord's Supper -- "those holy mysteries"; and not one or two, but absolutely all and every one of the observances used in our Christian solemnity. -- Diegesis, p. 212

Turning to the far north, we find the story of Odin as told in the Scandinavian Edda. He too, though father of the gods, creator of men, and the personification of wisdom, was a "suffering and dying God," who through his crucifixion became the savior of men. In his Rune Song, Odin says:

I know that I hung on a wind-rocked tree, nine whole nights,
With a spear wounded and to Odin offered -- myself to myself --
On that tree of which no one knows from what root it springs.

Thus, a more universal conception of resurrection was taught in former times. It was the supreme goal of initiation, the virgin birth of the soul which each must achieve for himself. "Except a man be born again he cannot enter the kingdom." But to achieve this rebirth, this resurrection, there must first be a mystical death, a conquest or crucifixion of all earthly passions, and a descent into the underworld. One's own soul must meet and triumph over all the powers of Darkness -- within itself -- and as Dionysos, as Christ, as Odin, become one with its God.

In very truth, then, the story given in the Gospels of the passion, death, and resurrection of the Nazarene teacher is the same in essentials as that told ages earlier of other saviors: the same teachings, the same rites and sacraments, the same crucifixion of self, the same hope of resurrection, that are celebrated today in Christendom. This formed the core of the wisdom-teachings of antiquity which are among the greatest heirlooms that have come down to us, brought to each race and age by its divine savior who gave his life, not merely for his own people, but for all humanity.

The return of spring is nature's proof, as the resurrection is divine proof, that there is no death for the soul. The seed falls into the ground and soon upsprings a flower, a stalk of wheat, a tree. Yet the outer form had to die before the life-force within could grow into the light. The way of nature is a quiet yet constant succession of day and night, summer and winter, birth and death, until at last, after many cycles, all that earth has to teach will have been learned. But the "death" and "rebirth" as taught in ancient schools was something more than we witness every year, inspiring as this is. The method and purpose of "the Mysteries" of which Jesus spoke is a quickening process -- for those who have the courage to undertake the task -- the conquest of one's self, the triumph over death, the resurrection of the Christos that dwells in the heart of man.

This is the significance of Easter: the atonement with Divinity itself. To the Freemason, it is the acquirement of the Royal Secret, the Mystery of the Balance, the Secret of Universal Equilibrium. It is the awakening within the soul of that power by means of which man becomes co-worker with Deity, co-worker in very truth with all the great ones of the past, present, and all future time. Of these Walt Whitman speaks in "To Him that was Crucified":

. . . we all labor together transmitting the same charge and succession,
We few equals indifferent of lands, indifferent of times,
We, enclosers of all continents, all castes, allowers of all theologies,
Compassionaters, perceivers, rapport of men,
We walk silent among disputes and assertions, but reject not the disputers nor any thing that is asserted,
We hear the bawling and din, . . .
Yet we walk unheld, free, the whole earth over, journeying up and down till we make our ineffaceable mark upon time and the diverse eras,
Till we saturate time and eras, that the men and women of races, ages to come, may prove brethren and lovers as we are.

Today we are witnessing events appalling in their significance. Is it the closing of one age and the beginning of another? Can the new emerge? The past is irrevocable, yet the present is ours, and out of it shall grow the future. What, therefore, is the duty and opportunity of our time? Are we not called upon to herald a resurrection of the spirit of brotherhood such as the world has never yet seen? That, I think, is the message of this Eastertime, the challenge of the Christos today, to see that what we profess is not dead letter, but a living power. That new hopes animate the world, that new light is dawning, that new revealings are being made, I for one feel assured.

  • (From Sunrise magazine, April/May 1999. Copyright © 1999 by Theosophical University Press.)

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