The television series, "The Bible," by Easter Sunday 2013 is expected to have been seen by more than 100 million viewers. In the final episode, Jesus falls to the ground under the weight of the cross. He looks up at Mary, his mother, and says, "With God, all things are possible" (Matthew 19:26).
The pragmatist in me tends to hear things like that, and my response is: Well, maybe all things are possible with her, but I can think of a lot of things that impossible for me...
1. It's impossible that I will ever sing like Josh Groban;
2. It's impossible for me to expect to win the lottery unless, of course, I buy a ticket, which I rarely do until it gets upward of $250 million or more;
3. It's impossible to avoid all illness. But I try. I wash my hands. I push the lever on every hand cleanser I pass. I've been religious a long time but I haven't figured out how faith healers never get sick. Or, grow old.
4. Which is something else I find impossible. I can't stop the aging process. I got hair thinning on top and exchanging to places on my body I'm sure God never intended hair to ever appear. I can't seem to stop the wrinkles from appearing, nor all the aches from aching. Advil helps but the aches return.
5. I'm pretty sure, too, I'm going to find it impossible to climb out of my grave, once my body dies and is buried six feet under.
But that's the kind of trick most preachers, like magicians, will pull out of their pastoral hats on Sunday. Which is why I'm telling my wife just to cremate me when the time comes I kick the proverbial bucket. I mean, what's the point with all this embalming nonsense, anyway?
Think about it.
Your body dies. They remove your blood. In its place, they fill you with embalming fluids. I read somewhere, by some conservative estimates, there are 70 million liters of embalming fluids pumped into bodies that are then dropped into the ground every year.
And all for what, tell me?
So, they can rub too much make-up on your face and hands, a little lipstick on your lips, red rouge on your cheeks, too, then dress you up nicely, as if you might be going to dinner and a show?
Is that why? So your friends and loved ones, and those hopeful you're actually gone for good, can circle the casket, and say stupid things like...
"Oh, doesn't he look good?"
"Just like he's asleep ... like he could wake up and start texting and blogging again. Oh, God spare us!"
"We should use this funeral home again when Aunt Thelma dies, don't you think? They do such nice work!"
Nice work? Nice work at what?
The mortician has a bag of tricks, you see. Like a clever magician, he reaches into his hat and what he pulls out somehow makes death seems not so impossibly awful.
If only temporary.
If you're lucky to be one of the chosen, true believers-the Pre-Millennial Dispensational kind with their Rapture trick they call the imminent return of Jesus, why you might just by-pass death altogether. I mean, after all, the world's going to hell, isn't it? Didn't the last election convince you of anything?
So, look up chosen ones. Better days are coming - for you, that is. The Oak Ridge Boys are singin' "Jesus is Comin' Soon ... Mornin' or night, or noon..." So, pay your tithes, and then join Ricky Bobby from Talladega Nights, as he leads us all in a prayer, "Lord Baby Jesus, Come quickly!"
Religious types, myself included, often devise, or gravitate toward, outrageous beliefs and belief systems -- and all to find how the magician does his trick, anything that would give away the secret to the mortician's potion so as to preserve ourselves forever, to avoid the unavoidable, to make possible the impossible. To accomplish what Woody Allen wished when he said for all of us, "I'd like to achieve immortality by not dying!"
Isn't it interesting how we will do, and sometimes believe in, almost anything or anybody who has some potion of hope to spoon feed what's terrified in us?
What are bestsellers still? Are they not those books that tell stories of the ones who have been "beyond and back?" Such books, and the beliefs they espouse, are swallowed like pain pills.
Maybe this is the explanation as to why Easter Sunday is that sole day out of the church year when all God's faithful gather in staggering numbers. They look good, too, don't they? All dressed up for a repeat performance by Rev. Magician herself (or, "himself" if you go to one of those churches where God, being a male, only calls on those like him) all reaching into their hats called Bibles and shouting that, though death may sting, the venom isn't fatal -- at least, not forever.
The body returns from the dead.
Well, lest you think I'm making light of God's faithful followers, you should know that I, too, am scared at the thought of dying and death. Thankfully, not nearly as much as I used to be. Some of that might just be my age. I think the longer I live, the more death as an option among others rapidly disappearing -- an option you more or less realize is impossible to avoid and for some, at times, even preferred.
I am also not as frightened at death or dying as I once was and I think it might have something to do with the fact that I have made it my intention to think more about the two.
"How morbid!" you say.
A few years ago, I would have agreed. But I think the Buddha might have been right when he said, "You should think about death. It's your instructor ... let it teach you."
Teach me? What could death possibly teach me? You?
For starters, how about the impermanence of all things?
Learning how to love but not to cling -- nw that's a trick. To know how to be committed to someone or something while, at-one-and-the-same-time, remaining detached from it or them. Isn't that one of life's most magical of things?
Death ends all attachments. Which may be why Muhammad purportedly said, "Die before you die. Or, you die a thousand deaths." Or, maybe that's why Jesus said, "Deny yourself" (Matthew 16:24).
Similar ideas. Detach from all that is impermanent. And last I checked, everything, and everyone, is impermanent.
So, the goal of my life -- the reason I think about death -- is to learn to detach.
Not to disengage, however. There is a difference.
Disengagement is to not care. Detachment is to care too deeply to hold on.
Detachment is to the spiritual traditions of the east what faith is to the Christian tradition in the west.
Detachment is that faith at work when a parent believes enough...trusts enough...has faith enough to let go of a child who enters adulthood. Instead of clinging, grasping, continually rescuing or trying to control the child, faith is the capacity and commitment to let go.
Detachment means believing enough, trusting enough, having faith enough in the face of all things uncertain. And, last I checked, all things are uncertain. Faith isn't proclaiming, and then clinging, to your beliefs. It is proclaiming and then letting go of those beliefs. It is not a blind adherence to a collection of beliefs; it is the willingness to release those beliefs. You can only do that when you can let a belief die to take hold only of that toward which the belief points.
This is what faith in God really is, isn't it? Anybody can cling to beliefs like an infant might a blanket.
Furthermore, when I think of death, I know death as the great equalizer. It exposes the folly of the ego in all of us.
The ego in me is that part of me I mistakenly think is me -- that part of me I see in the mirror, I hear talking in my head, I see thinking only of itself; the me that defines itself in terms of its titles, trophies and triumphs. It is this part of me that death kills and, the sooner I allow it -- which is why Muhammad said, "Die before you die!" -- the sooner I allow the ego in me to die, the happier and freer I am to live.
Death ends all illusory identities. It equalizes the human playing field. It reminds me there is no guarantee of a permanent legacy. So, get over yourself.
If you do not know the truth in these words, try visiting a cemetery. Locally, my favorite is Cave Hill. It's the Ritz Carlton of bone yards. Be willing to empty your pockets, however, even for just a pothole at Cave Hill. If the ego in you needs a bungalow or a Penthouse to compliment your self-importance, you'd better have a lot of money. Large and lofty gravesites in Cave Hill are not just anybody. You've got to be somebody whose memory is too important to be forgotten.
The irony? Nobody remembers.
If you haven't learned this yet, start practicing now. You will be forgotten. Everyone is. No matter how many monuments you might raise to yourself.
Well, most everyone is -- forgotten that is. You're thinking of one or two right now, aren't you?
Not so, however, if you drive through Cave Hill. Try it. You'll see. I'd be willing to bet your next lottery ticket, 95 percent of the names on gravestones you couldn't identify if your Momma's reputation was at stake.
Funny thing about cemeteries and egos. The bigger the ego in life, the grander the monument in death. You should see some of the statues, sepulchers and crypts in Cave Hill.
Maybe you're beginning to see why I think about death. Ego is deceptive, luring, never satisfied, always judging its worth by how it compares to the gravestone next to it.
If you allow the ego to die in you, you will live. Until it dies in you, you don't.
This is the stuff Easter should be about, isn't it? Death to the little me's that get in the way of living as Jesus lived -- or, as Buddha did or as Mother Teresa did or any of the other spiritual masters lived.
Unfortunately, all some Christians will hear this Sunday is about a lifeless body brought back to life, energized by a Cosmic Easter Bunny.
If what you need this Easter is a resuscitated body, I sort of think you might have missed the real trick of Easter.
Easter's greatest trick is not that a body was resuscitated. Heck, any old medicine man can perform that trick, and they do in hospitals every day around the world.
No, the trick at Easter is that this Jesus was so special -- so ego-less, so detached from everyone and everything, yet so mysteriously wed to the same, too -- that, even after all these years, we still remember him, we still talk about him, we are still transformed by him, his teachings, his selflessness, his life, his death and, yes, his resurrection.
Ponder this trick, my friend, and I suspect you'll find a Cosmic Easter Bunny working a different kind of magic in you -- one that'll make getting your body back look like a mere magician's act of pulling a rabbit out of his hat.
Try it and see for yourself.