Sunday, April 8, 2007

Easter Sunday

Today is Easter, the day which Christians celebrate the reincarnation... err, resurrection of Christ. That said, Jesus's resurrection was much more like Obi-Wan's than Frankenstein's monster's. And it should be obvious that our interpretations of George Lucas's story and Mary Shelley's story are inherently colored by the story of Easter (a Christ-like resurrection is inherently good, while a non-Christ-like resurrection is inherently bad).

And here is the key thing, Easter is not just an important holiday, but it is an important story. To my eye, Easter is the most important story Christianity has given to Western civilization--far more important and more meaningful than Christmas, the various miracles, or the temptations of Christ. It is a story that works because it combines the mysterious and profound, with rituals, and with a specific time and place. The Christian story of Easter, whether by design, refinement, chance or miracle resonates because all of its pieces work together.

The first layer is the tale of Christ himself, the miracle worker who seeks to cleanse Judaism and to transform it from being a tribal religion to being a universal religion. The second layer is the celebration of Passover, a celebration of freedom that was divinely given via Moses to the Jewish people, at a time in which the Jews live in a Roman vassal state that many see as oppressive. The third layer is the Roman provincial government's attitude to keep the peace at a minimal cost. And these layers rub against each other with a great deal of friction, producing a fiery story that is amenable to the fourth layer: the long-standing history in the lands of the fertile crescent and the greek Mediterranean of Tanist kings and Orpheic cults.

In the lands of the fertile crescent, Tanist kings were ritually killed every Spring and their blood would be collected and scattered over the land, so that their fertility would make the land fertile, and the harvest would be good again that year. It was, to be frank, ritual cannibalism--a practice echoed in the story of the transubstantiation of Christ when Christ passes the food and the wine. In Greek mythology, Orpheus went into the land of the dead in order to bring back his young wife. The mystery of that journey was the basis of many cults.

The story of Jesus's death and resurrection ties together these cultural threads--the Passover's celebration of freedom, the ritual of the Tanist king, the Orpheic mystery--into a very real time and place with its own easily understood and all-too-human mix of politics, jealousy, greed, and even love.

Well... not a particularly polished piece of writing, but a stab at why Easter is important.