EBUP63: The Eternal Message of Easter
Eric Butterworth Unity Podcast #63
Eric shares the theme of this Easter talk: “There’s an ancient Chinese aphorism, which incidentally, is on the front of your program today: If you keep in your heart a green bough, I have heard there will come one day to stay a singing bird. If you keep in your heart a green bough, I have heard there will come one day to stay a singing bird. So if you catch the eternal message of Easter and are inspired by it, you’ll keep in your heart green bough of expectancy, then you will come one day to actually experience the singing bird of health or the vision of health.”
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There’s something very special about Easter. I must say that after more than 40 years of Easter talks, I find myself just as enthused about the prospect of another one as I was about the first one. That first Easter talk happened to be the first talk that I made as a Unity minister, April 21, 1946.
Three weeks ago as I contemplated all the possibilities of this Easter talk, I found myself exclaiming, “Wow. Easter is really a super idea.” So I hope maybe you can understand why I’m calling it Super Sunday, a super idea. Hope you’ll a catch something of the enthusiasm of that idea in this message today.
The eternal message of Easter is like a precious jewel with many facets. I’m reminded of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s lovely poetic reverie: “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” So this morning let me count the ways of personal health in the Easter message. There’s so many.
From the garden of our suburban home this morning, Olga and I saw the sunrise. It was a personal sunrise service. Witnessing the shining rays reaching up across the sky to erase the shades of dusk, very soon and dramatically the day was bright and new, and we had experienced a resurrection.
Last fall, Olga planted bulbs in our garden, hundreds of wrinkled, brown lifeless bulbs. This morning, we can see evidence of spring’s renaissance. They were not less straining for birth and sturdy shoots reaching up with the promise of blossoms that would very soon trumpet the resurrection.
To understand Easter’s resurrection, you need to start at this very basic level or else we might surely miss this cosmic message of sun and light and flowers. Jesus said, “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow,” and the poet says “You can trust the universe. It creates flowers.”
You may puzzle over the Easter story with a persistent intellectual analysis, but the historicity of this story is not nearly so important as the great idea that it seeks to portray. It may have important implications historically, prophetically, theologically, eschatologically. All that really counts in a spiritual sense is what does it mean to you and me today, March 26, 1989?
My friend Emerson called for a firsthand and immediate experience of God. In dealing with Easter, I insist on a firsthand, modern day, demonstrable and demonstrated evidence of the resurrection process.
We all know the biblical story of the first Easter; any child knows it. It’s told even in editorial pages and in television drama, how Jesus was crucified and after three days in the tomb, the stone was rolled away. Jesus came forth in transcended form as the risen Christ.
Now, most of us have grown up in a culture that is still influenced by 19th century physics. So let me think critically about a subject such as the resurrection. It’s hard to avoid asking “how” questions: How could it possibly be? There’s some questions that cannot lead to useful conclusions.
For instance, a physicist would never ask what color is an electron? Color is completely unrelated to the character of subatomic particles. There are no three-dimensional means of understanding an experience or a phenomenon in a multidimensional frame of reference.
The intellect tells us that resurrection from the dead can’t happen. It’s impossible. It’s just not common sense. Then common sense tells me this lectern is substantial. It’s solid and hard.
Any high school physics student will tell you that it is only a macroscopic illusion with energy in motion. It’s primarily empty space. It’s not common sense, but I accept it, because I’m leaning on the desk and it’s completely convinced me of its stability.
In Easter, there’s a principle involved that we may have overlooked in our study of the universe around us and an evaluation of the world within us. Easter is not a passport to another world. It is a quality of perception for this one.
It is not just a day to recall how Jesus rose from the dead. It is the time to take a new look at ourselves and contemplate the divine process within us. It’s a time to reappraise the principle that makes all of our coming possible.
There’s an eternal secret involved in the resurrection of Easter. In another sense it is the same secret involved in nature as springtime and the metamorphosis of the caterpillar into the butterfly, in the healing of the slightest cut on my finger.
Paul once cried out, “Oh, that I knew him in the power of his resurrection.” He wanted to know not just what happened to Jesus. What was the eternal message of the resurrection principle? That’s what we want to know.
The transcendent message of Easter is ill-served by the usual panoply of Christian symbols that misdirect attention back to something that happened 2000 years ago: the tomb, the cross, the angels, the halos. The shaft of light from the heavens coming down upon Jesus and implying a divine dispensation to which Jesus made the great demonstration.
A Sunday school teacher who taught high school physics walked into his church one Sunday morning. He’d been musing over the problem of a sporadic class attendance.
Suddenly, as he stood for a moment before the life-sized figure of an angel that dominated the narthex of the church, perhaps seeing it for the first time, though he’d seen it many times before, literally, he whispered to himself, “How can we expect young people to come to church when it involves believing in anatomical monstrosities like that?”
Let’s turn away from the religious symbols. Let’s see Easter from a higher perspective, tuning in on the cosmic wavelength of the resurrection principle. It’s something of the cosmic process may be felt in our lives right here and now.
The question is, can you believe that something dramatic and wonderful can happen to you during this hour in terms of healing or overcoming or change? Can you really believe?
One thing is sure: If you have a feeling that something wonderful is going to happen to you, then something wonderful has already happened in the feeling. And feeling is very much a very important part of our lives.
There’s an ancient Chinese aphorism, which incidentally, is on the front of your program today: If you keep in your heart a green bough, I have heard there will come one day to stay a singing bird. If you keep in your heart a green bough, I have heard there will come one day to stay a singing bird.
So if you catch the eternal message of Easter and are inspired by it, you’ll keep in your heart green bough of expectancy, then you will come one day to actually experience the singing bird of health or the vision of health. Overcoming or the strength to overcome and affluence and the attracting power of substance, of love, of the confidence of loving change.
A student of practical Christianity should contemplate the wisdom of the ancient Chinese who said, “The teacher points to the truth. The student worships the pointer.” How very important it is to catch that idea. The teacher points to the truth. The student worships the pointer.
Therein lies the problem of much of traditional Christianity, perhaps religion of all kinds. So let me warn you. Your involvement in the religious traditions of Easter, you’ll be under relentless pressure to lure you back in to the sectarian route, as Emerson calls it.
Remember Jesus said to Mary Magdalene, who was alone at the tomb after the rest had gone, Jesus came to her and he said, “Cease clinging to me.” Important words that are often overlooked in the Easter story. “Cease clinging to me.” Stop holding onto me.
That’s precisely what we’ve done. We’ve held onto Jesus. We’ve been looking to him when we should be worshiping the pointer. He said, “I must go away that I might come again.” I must get the physical, personal self out of the way so the radiant Christ self can manifest. Easter has everything to do with Jesus, but it has had, for most of us, very little to do with us.
The story of Easter is told so often in one’s lifetime, but few of us really listen. So the most significant part of the usual history experience is it’s perfunctoriness. It’s like the woman who came to church on Easter Sunday. The usher at the door said to her, greeting in a traditional sense, “Christ is risen.”
She went down the aisle and another usher said to her, “Christ is risen.” And then she came to the place where the usher was going to lead her into her seat and he said, “Christ is risen.” “Yeah, they told me that back there.”
It’s so important that we don’t fall into the perfunctory acceptance of the Easter story. It has come to be for most of us a kind of memorial day.
I once knew a family who inherited a lovely old piano. There it sat in the living room, a source of great pride for them and they carefully waxed and 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 that magnificent instrument which could’ve filled the house with glorious music sat silent and unheard.
Ask the average person in the church today what Easter is all about. He would probably say it commemorates Jesus’ resurrection from the tomb. He might add that it gives promise of immortality to some future existence.
Do you know what? It has almost nothing to say to the immediate moment. Like the family with the piano, we only know one tune. So Easter is not just a day on which something happened to Jesus. It is what happened in him.
There’s an eternal secret involved, a principle and a process. It is repeatable. The eternal secret of Easter is that resurrection is a quality of life. There’s no complete understanding of life without it.
Suppose that with every setting sun, it would follow no promise or actual fact of a sunrise. Suppose that with every falling of the leaves in November, there’d be no resurgence of life in April. Suppose that with every cut of the finger or bruise of the knee your lifespan would be less shortened. Suppose that with every sorrow, discouragement, and despair, faith and hope would be lost, never to return again.
In line with our Chinese aphorism, suppose that we could hold green boughs of hope and expectancy in the mind without ever attracting a singing bird. It’s hard to imagine life without the working of the resurrection principle that underlies so much that goes on. It’s important that we have eyes to see.
The eternal secret of Easter is only experienced on a cosmic level. It is ours to experience, but only if we choose to march to a different drummer, to view life from a different perspective.
This is powerfully suggested by the story of the little girl who was sobbing uncontrollably as she looked out the front window of her home, watching her brothers drag the lifeless form of her pet dog that had been run over in the road beyond. She was crushed.
She sobbed then, convulsively. Her Quaker grandfather came and stood by her, with his hand loving down her head, comforting her as the boys buried the dog.
Then the Quaker gentleman took her lovingly by the hand, led her to a side window looking out on to the garden where a little tree that she had planted in the fall was in full bloom. Suddenly, she began to squeal with delight. The wise man said, “You see, dear, thee was looking out the wrong window.
So Easter deals with what I call the starting point in this new insight in truth, training the eyes to see beyond appearances. Training the eyes to see beyond appearances, to look out the right window, to see with the cosmic perspective.
It means seeing concentrically, which means from within, seeing from the principal, seeing from God. But it’s not seeing God, for no man has seen God at any time. Emphasize: No man has seen God at any time.
It’s looking out at life and seeing from the awareness of the allness of God, a kind of seeing that is a projection of a healing influence. For God is not someone to see, but a perspective by which to see.
As long as you’re in this consciousness, seeing from this perspective, seeing out the right window, you’re invulnerable to what the poet calls “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”
Whenever I talk this way about God, as I do often, invariably someone says to me somewhat sadly and sometimes critically, “But you’ve taken away my Lord.”
Yes, I work very hard at taking away the God out there, the God who’s minding things as an absentee landlord. But I may get to give you back a God who is present as the living, loving, healing presence. That’s very important in my teaching.
A favorite nephew of ours, we’ve talked about him often, Matthew, was mimicking the adults one day as he gave a very loud expression, “Oh, God.” His mother quietly, lovingly said, “You shouldn’t use God’s name in that way.”
He thought for a while and he said, “I guess we better get a new name for God.” It’s not that we need a new name for God; we need a new awareness of God that transcends form, transcends personality, transcends the God out there.
The poet Lowell describes this transcendental sense: “Sometimes at waking, in the streets sometimes or on the hillside, always unforewarned. A grace of being, finer than himself, that beckons and then is gone. A larger life upon his own impinging, with swift glimpses of spacious circles luminous with mind, to which the ethereal substance of his own seems but gross cloud to make that visible, touched to a sudden glory around the edge.”
Jesus said, “Judge not according to appearances, but judge righteous judgment.” That’s the problem: We do judge by appearances. We come up with all sorts of self-limiting conclusions.
But, you see, there’s a reality beyond the appearance. We must constantly dwell upon that reality. Isolate it, focus on it. Remember it. For instance, what is an egg? An egg is a bird. What is a caterpillar? A caterpillar is a butterfly. What are you? You are what you can be. Never forget that: You are what you can be.
Jesus was a person, as Paul said, “tempted in all points such as we.” But he knew what he could be. He lived and functioned in that consciousness. And he knew that the Christ indwelling is the present reality, that the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
In other words, he kept the green bough alive in his heart and there came one day to stay a singing bird of overcoming and resurrection. But he made it very clear that the Christ is the God potential within all persons, within you and me. That the kingdom of heaven has the greater possibilities of life, and it is possible for you and me right now.
We lose this sense of worship if we worship the pointer and forget the truth that he was pointing to. Human life has what philosophers call the unexplained over-endowment for mere physical existence.
Just but another way of saying that the body is biased on the side of life, on the side of health, on the side of renewal. And guidance is an evidence of an actual process, the continuation of the force that made us in the first place.
In other words, whatever you’re doing, you have something working for you, something working within you. You have the whole universe on your side. That’s something to remember. To believe this is to keep the green bough in your heart and there will come one day to stay a singing bird.
In our quest for truth, we come to realize that there’s a real-life genius within every person, struggling for releasement. There’s a real-life genius within you.
If you listen to the eternal song of Easter, you’ll believe that the stone of limitation, whatever that may be, would be rolled away from your tomb of human consciousness. You can overcome. You can be more, you can do more. You can achieve your goals.
Of course you would have to work. Let’s don’t oversimplify. You would have to work. You have to study. You have to discipline yourself. And my friends, we misunderstand Jesus if we fail to note his personal commitment and discipline in overcoming of his own quest.
But the principle that Jesus demonstrates, and it is a principle, the principle that has been demonstrated by all the spiritual giants of all time, is very simply and emphatically that you can achieve. You can overcome. You can fulfill your uniqueness. Catch that personal application of the Easter story, otherwise it’s all for naught.
Now, at this point, you may be thinking, “Well, that’s a lovely thought. I just wish it were true, but I have some real problems. You don’t have to live with the person that I do. You don’t have to work with the boss that I have. All that would be very nice and it’s wonderful to sit and dream about it for a while. Oh, well, maybe that’s what Easter’s all about, just dreaming blue sky dreams.”
So let me tell you a story, a story of a young man in a veterans hospital. He’d lost both his legs in the Korean War. It was in the early years of my ministry. I had a very small center.
I had a lot of time on my hands, so I volunteered to serve as a kind of chaplain in the veterans facility. I came to know this young man as he lay for months in the hospital bed, despondent over his loss of his legs.
Sympathetically, I shared in his hurt, his pain, his discouragement, because prior to a little greater spiritual awareness, I found myself thinking, “Wouldn’t it be terrible to have no legs and be without the capacity to get around.” I just couldn’t imagine it. As time went on, I realized that I shouldn’t imagine it.
But he stared blankly at the ceiling. I tried to encourage him and to comfort him. Nothing seemed to help. Apparently, the whole world was shot from under him when he lost his legs.
It was a sad and tragic thing, not because of what had happened to him, but because of what it was doing to him. More accurately, what he was doing to himself in reacting to it.
One day another inmate of the hospital strolled in and sat down in a chair near the bed. He pulled out a harmonica and began to play softly. The patient looked up at him briefly, then back to the ceiling again. That was all for that day.
The player came again the next day and the next and the next. One day he asked, “Does my playing annoy you?”
The man in the bed said, “No, I guess I like it.” So they talked a little more each day and developed a fond friendship.
One day the harmonica player was in a jovial mood. He played a spritely tune and began to do a tap dance around the room. And he said, “Hey, why don’t you smile once in a while and let a guy know you’re alive?”
The bedfast patient said, “Huh, 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 2000 years ago. 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 and it hasn’t done me any good. If you had my fix, you’d sing a mighty different tune.”
The harmonica player said, “Okay. I know a two-thousand-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.”
So he pulled up his trouser legs and the boy in the bed saw two artificial limbs. Needless to say, the stone was rolled away and his own resurrection began that moment.
That was many years ago. I’ve lost track of this, though. The last I heard, he was living a perfectly normal and quite successful life. And spending a lot of spare time helping other people to get a green bough in their hearts, so as to experience the singing bird of rehabilitation.
What I’m saying through this story, that you may have great reservations in looking at your case. Understandably so. You may feel that overcoming is something that just happens to others.
But 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.
Again, the whole universe is on your side. What the ancient Chinese were saying and what Jesus was saying, what the butterfly breaking out of the cocoon is saying is if you can hold the green bough in your consciousness, you come to experience the singing bird of healing and overcoming. You come to know something more about yourself.
As Eliphaz in the book of Job said, “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, if you can accept that it will happen to you right now during this hour and the hours or days to come, then something wonderful has already happened because you’ve touched a key level of consciousness.
What it amounts to is not setting things right, but seeing them rightly. If you could decide here and now today that you’re going to march to the beat of a different drummer, that you’re going to seek to relate yourself into life and to people and your work and to all conditions around you in the highest level of consciousness and sing the new song, then you’re going to experience the singing bird which will find its place on the green bough of your hope and aspiration.
So, you see, all that is left is that you say yes to life. That you say yes to your good. That you say yes to that in you which was discovered and demonstrated by Jesus 2000 years ago.
Easter calls us to remember the great lesson taught by Jesus. Riding victorious into Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday, where there was a cross along the way and a tomb, but believing implicitly that the tomb was a tunnel that had light at both ends. And the other end of the tunnel was the light of Easter morning.
If you find yourself thinking that life has handed you a cross, it can lead you to an unexpected victory if, as George Bernard Shaw says, “if you can get hold of the right end of it.”
Ella Wheeler Wilcox wrote, “That which the upreaching spirit can achieve, the grand and all creative forces know, they will assist and strengthen as the light lifts up the acorn to the oak tree’s height, thou hast but to resolve and lo! God’s whole great universe shall fortify thy soul.”
I’d like you to join me in a moment of stillness. You’re going to experience what some might call a strange and different kind of prayer. Perhaps it isn’t a prayer, because it’s more a movement of consciousness, which may be is what prayer is anyway.
We’re going to have an imaging exercise. I want you to think for a moment of a tree. Just imagine a tree, any kind of a tree. And where in Genesis it talks about the tree of life, but you’re first to a living process in which we all live and move and have our being.
You get a picture of that tree in conscious, maybe a tree in your yard at home or a tree that you’ve seen in the park or a tree that you have seen in the mountains. A beautiful tree. You see it and with full leaves.
Let that tree be to you the source of one of the branches, which we will isolate as the green bough on the tree. Look carefully at that green bough. Let it be to you your aspiration, 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 articulated and believe for a moment that as 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.
This is your image. You can do anything you want with it. So it matters not what kind of bird it is or the coloration or the size or the song it sings. Just see that bird on the green bough. Feel it. Experience it in your chamber of imagery the singing bird and that green bough as it sings lustily and heartily with its song. And see it as the symbol of your healing.
In that moment, something wonderful has happened in you. You’ll never be the same again. The stone of limitation has been rolled away. And 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.
When you leave this place today, take with you this image. Perhaps take time before the day is over in the quiet of your home, or sitting in the park, reproduce this image: A tree, its green bough and the singing bird.
Remember it represents your aspiration, your hopes, your ideals, your objectives, your goals. It represents their fulfillment, the answer to your every need, fulfillment of your prayers.
Join with me in consciousness and excitement about this super idea. You carry with you the sense of rejoicing throughout all this day, which shall be for you Super Sunday. As Jesus said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” So be it.