from Issue 006 — Mar 2002
Easter is the single most important festival in the Christian Church. It is the commemoration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The resurrection being seen as the culmination of his ministry on earth. It was the ordination of a new covenant, where man was redeemed from sin and death. It has, since the time of the event which it commemorates, influenced by way of its interpretation most of us in the western world regardless of the faith of those it touched.
The importance of the resurrection to Christian thought cannot be over emphasised. In it, along with the crucifixion, lay the foundation of the world’s view of Jesus’ teachings of forgiveness. Our very experience in this world being a direct result of our acceptance of this misinterpretation aimed at keeping alive the thought of fear that Jesus’ lessons were really meant to dispel.
Although this thought of fear was in existence long before Jesus we will restrict ourselves to the Judeo-Christian symbols of the Course.
From the old testament we see that God was the creator of heaven and earth and thus us. This god was almost completely anthropomorphised in that he was given to promises, threats, anger and jealousy. He was righteous, just, merciful and vengeful. He was an all powerful figure that needed to be appeased in order for his subjects to survive.
Although we were made in his image we transgressed into his domain by eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge and thus were banished from his kingdom to forever wander in hopelessness and despair.
This is the myth of creation as related to us in Genesis the first book of the Christian Bible and the Jewish Torah. We sought to appease this “creator” of ours by making a covenant with him whereby we could regulate our lives, separating the good from the bad, the clean from the unclean. We were given a way to cleanse our selves from the “sins” we accumulated and pass them onto a scapegoat, a sacrificial offering where the death or exclusion of one, would remit the sins of the rest. In return for our obedience we would be his chosen people. We would be rewarded ultimately with the establishment, by God Himself, of our kingdom.
When the historical Jesus came on the scene these traditions, having been handed down over generations, had become enshrined in canon and culture. He saw the error in this, the separation evident between the people, the rabbis and their god. He also saw the error in conceiving that the creator of life itself could possibly demand such retribution and callousness towards his creations as was the accepted truth.
Jesus began to teach otherwise. He began to teach that God is a loving Father and that the way to Him was through love of Him, yourself and your brother. The Kingdom of Heaven was not some far off distant reward, but was at hand, now. A message, by the way, interpreted by many at the time to mean a “real” physical event, namely the actual overthrowing of the Romans who controlled Jerusalem. Jesus’ teachings of love and forgiveness culminated in what has been recorded as his eventual betrayal, arrest and execution at the hands of his own people.
It is this act and the subsequent resurrection that we celebrate at Easter. An act, taken out of context, that rather than be an example of the invulnerability of our true nature in response to the falsity that preceded it became simply, but very powerfully, another expression of that very falsity. In John we read that Jesus was identified before his ministry even begun as the “Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” (J 1:29) More to the point Jesus was seen as the lamb of God, soon to become the “parschal lamb” of sacrifice.
The biblical accounts of the crucifixion are paradoxical and contradictory. Yet whatever actually happened during that time was of sufficient import that it reignited the faith of disciples who had been hiding in fear of their lives, afraid to even be recognised as followers, and transformed them into men and women willing to give up their life in witness to the truth that they encountered yet only dimly understood. Yet slowly over the years following the event itself this message of hope and enlightenment, this message of the power of life over death became itself a symbol of death and punishment. A symbol of the guilt and shame that ensues when one, so totally innocent, was allowed to be killed in our place. A rephrasing of the guilt we feel justified in bearing due to our own rejection of the authority and Fatherhood of God.
The Atonement (traditional)
Traditional Christianity holds that we have all sinned against God and thus carry the burden of guilt for this crime. Jesus, the only Son of God, indeed the extension or incarnation of God into this world, took this sin away by his suffering and dying for us on the cross. This is the traditional meaning of Atonement. Accepting the Atonement in this traditional sense is thus accepting that we are indeed guilty, and that this guilt can only be washed clean by accepting the death of one who was totally innocent, namely Jesus. Further, three days after his death he rose from the tomb in a glorified and real body which signified our own reward for accepting him and his teaching.
Although the resurrection was originally seen and celebrated to some extent as the triumph of spirit over flesh we are also forever reminded of the “cost”, the betrayal and the suffering of the crucifixion that led to this triumph, to the extent that the very instrument of death is the symbol of the religion that it inspired. As Jesus says in the Course,
Some bitter idols have been made of him who would be only brother to the world. (C-5.5:7)
Jesus demonstrated there was no death; that love could exist in the middle of hate and that defencelessness was stronger than the might of anger and rage. Yet the fear and guilt experienced by his disciples could not reconcile these paradoxes. Rather than accept his message of truth, it was distorted to reflect the error it came to correct. The crucifixion was thus defined as an act of vicarious salvation, “demanded” by a Father of His Son. And just as the Jews had been commanded to slaughter the parschal lamb to protect them from the Father’s angel of death, so too was Jesus slaughtered to protect us. As Jesus remarks in the Course.
Sacrifice is so essential to your thought system that salvation apart from sacrifice means nothing to you. Your confusion of sacrifice and love is so profound that you cannot conceive of love without sacrifice. (T-15.X.5:7-8)
The crucifixion thus became the epitome of salvation, and thus love, through sacrifice, a thought firmly entrenched in our very fabric of “being” whether we are Christian or not.
The Message of the Crucifixion according to the Course
The crucifixion was the result of clearly opposed thought systems; the perfect symbol of the “conflict” between the ego and the Son of God. This conflict seems just as real now, and its lessons must be learned now as well as then. (T6 I.16:7-8)
How we view the crucifixion will determine what we learn and therefore teach. The Course asserts that there is a positive interpretation of the crucifixion which is wholly benign in what it teaches. In order to receive its lesson, we need to let go of our previous understanding of the crucifixion and all that is has come to symbolise, and open our minds to something radically different.
The real meaning of the crucifixion lies in recognising the apparent intensity of the assault upon a Son of God was just that — apparent. This recognition is predicated upon accepting the premise that we are not the body. To lament the effects wrought upon the body is to lament nothing.
This is totally opposite to how the ego wants us to view this. In order to preserve its own existence, the ego has an investment in maintaining a false identification with the body, such that if the body is hurt or dies, I hurt or die.
Clearly this is an idea we are all both familiar and comfortable with. Workbook lessons notwithstanding, our chant to ourselves is; “I am a body, I am not free, for I am still as God created me.” Yet does this belief offer only surface comfort for if it is true then crucifixion is true. If it is true, pain, suffering and death is true. If it is true, then God is some one to fear for He made pain and suffering and death. And this is the God of the ego, an avenging god — a god who sees sin everywhere and who will seek retribution in sacrifice — the ultimate sacrifice being death. In the name of love he crucifies his “only begotten Son”, so that the sins of the “adopted” sons of man may be atoned for — “the lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world.” To know God, according to the ego, is fear and death itself.
As the Course states, to teach is to demonstrate and Jesus’ life and its climax was an extreme teaching example. As such its lesson is particularly powerful. Not in the traditionally held way, as an example of the triumph of good over evil, love over death, but in a totally benign way as a demonstration that Truth can not be destroyed.
We would therefore do well to follow Jesus’ advice:
To use my experiences constructively, however, you must still follow my example in how to perceive them. (T-6.I.11:3)
We are being invited to take Jesus as a model for learning, and the lesson we are seeking to share, learn and teach is the lesson of complete invulnerability and therefore fearlessness.
Using Jesus as a teaching model does not mean however that we need to imitate his actual experience.
We are still equal as learners, although we do not need to have equal experiences. The Holy Spirit is glad when you can learn from mine, and be reawakened by them. (T-6.10:1-2)
How then do we bring this teaching into our lives now? The message of the crucifixion is one of being willing to learn how to re-interpret any situation in which we are tempted to see ourselves or another as persecuted or unfairly treated. Let us repeat this. We are being asked to be willing to re-interpret absolutely any situation where we find ourselves as being persecuted or unfairly treated in any way. For the vast majority of us these situations are almost without exception far less extreme than that faced by Jesus. We are being encouraged to, as quickly as possible, give up our “useless journey to the cross” because its purpose has already been accomplished.
Do not make the pathetic error of “clinging to the old rugged cross.” The only message of the crucifixion is that you can overcome the cross. Until then you are free to crucify yourself as often as you choose. (T-4.int.3:7-9)
In fact perceiving the crucifixion as real in any sense is the real crucifixion of God’s Son and serves to hold us in fear, unforgiveness and darkness.
Jesus’ real lesson to us in the crucifixion was to show us what we, not God, had made of ourselves in the dream world we think we inhabit. It was in essence a repeat of what the Son had originally thought He had done to His Father. The traditional view of the crucifixion was thus our own projection of this original error onto Jesus as a way of saving ourselves.
Salvation is looked upon as a way by which the Son of God was killed instead of you. (T-19.IV.A.17:4)
He asks us could he really be what we have made him out to be? Would he really offer us such a lesson?
Yet would I offer you my body, you whom I love, knowing its littleness? (T-19.IV.A.17:5)
And he reminds us once again.
No one can die for anyone, and death does not atone for sin. (T-19.IV.A.17:8)
Teach only Love, for that is what you are.
Given that the invulnerability of Spirit is the only truth about us, to respond to any circumstance with even the slightest hint of belief in attack, persecution or assault, is to learn and therefore teach amiss. To reverse a central course lesson, the ego’s lesson would be:
I am a body, I am bound,For I am not as God created me.
Everything the ego conceives of is a weapon, everything the ego witnesses is perceived as a weapon, the crucifixion is no exception.
The only alternative and way out of the ego insanity is to accept God’s Answer, which is the Holy Spirit’s version of the Atonement, not the ego’s. The real Atonement states calmly and quietly and with the certainty of God: “You are God’s Son. You are guiltless. All Your seeming errors have had no effect. Wake up to Your reality in God. There is nothing else.”
Teacher of God, your one assignment could be stated thus: Accept no compromise in which death plays a part. … And what is the end of death? Nothing but this; the realization that the Son of God is guiltless now and forever. Nothing but this. But do not let yourself forget it is not less than this. (M27.7:1,7-10)
Notice how this concept of the Atonement is the complete reversal of the traditional one. The Course’s, is one of us all becoming happy learners and joyous teachers of God, not martyrs. We become martyrs in our own perception of ourselves if we do not let go all concepts of guilt, punishment, blame or rejection. As the Course states repeatedly, thought systems are total — they are either based on fear or Love.
You cannot give up Heaven partially. You cannot be a little bit in hell. The Word of God has no exceptions. It is this that makes it holy and beyond the world. (M-13.7:3-6)
In order to grasp the Course’s reinterpretation of the crucifixion and Atonement, it is perhaps helpful to look at two images it uses in this regard, the “lamb” of God, and the “lilies of forgiveness”.
When the crucifixion is seen from the upside down point of view it seems as if God permitted and even encouraged one of his sons to be killed because he was good. He was a good and innocent“lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world” by the sacrifice and the shedding of his blood. The only thing powerful enough to overcome sin was the destruction represented by sacrifice and ultimately death.
Instead the Course invites us to re-interpret the symbol as one of expressing perfect innocence. It is this innocence itself being perfectly aligned with Truth, which is perfect strength.
Correctly understood, it is a very simple symbol that speaks of my innocence. The lion and the lamb lying down together symbolize that strength and innocence are not in conflict, but naturally live in peace. (T-3.I.5:2-3)
Accepting the Atonement, which is the Holy Spirit’s lesson, is the vehicle by which we finally let go of illusions and accept the truth and reality as it is. Simply stated: I am God’s Son.
Lilies are also, “the white and holy sign the Son of God is innocent.” Lilies are the gift we give to a brother when we allow the judgement of the Holy Spirit to come through us, to replace the gift of thorns we held against our brother when we judged against him.
Forget not that it is your savior to whom the gift is offered. Offer him thorns and you are crucified. Offer him lilies and it is yourself you free. (T-20.11.3:7-9)
The gift of lilies is the gift of forgiveness — the vision which allows us to look past illusions. The final illusion is the fear of God. In looking at apparent crucifixion clearly and realising its nothingness, the reason for the fear of God also disappears. Love or the unity of Heaven is only a wisp away.
In accepting and including our brother, he who was a stranger becomes a friend. We, thereby share in the Holy Spirit’s vision.
He sees no strangers; only dearly loved and loving friends. He sees no thorns but only lilies, gleaming in the gentle glow of peace that shines on everything He looks upon and loves. (T20.II.5:5-6)
The Resurrection According to the Course
Understanding the Course’s re-interpretation of the resurrection is dependant upon understanding its concept of the Atonement. Recall that in the traditional Christian sense, sin had in fact been committed by the son of man and this real sin had to be atoned for by sacrifice, and Jesus was the holy lamb of God. According to the Course however we only believe we have committed the sin of separating from the Unity of Love. Love or Truth, which cannot know anything outside of itself (given that there is nothing apart from it) has not been affected in the slightest by the Son of God’s wild imaginings and fearful nightmares based on the idea of separation. As the Course states, we are at home in God dreaming of exile. Accepting the Atonement thus means we are forgiving ourselves for what we have not done or accomplished — separation has not fragmented Unity, death has not interrupted Life and bodies have not substituted for the reality of the Son of God as Spirit.
The resurrection or redemption process is one of awaking from the dream of separation, bodies and death, to the reality of unity and the totality of the One Life which is in God, Love, Truth or the Christ. According to the Course, bodies neither live nor die—they are merely fragments of a vast dream and therefore do not exist.
Given this premise it is clear that the Course’s view of resurrection is very different from the traditional one which has Jesus resurrected in a physical (though glorified) body. The Course is making it clear that his resurrection was, rather, accomplished by his change of mind about the purpose of the world and the acceptance of the Atonement for himself. In this sense it can be said that Jesus was resurrected or redeemed before his crucifixion.
The Atonement’s message is that nothing can alter, let alone, destroy Truth and that is what the resurrection demonstrates. That demonstration is needed because we believe otherwise and we cannot claim its liberating message as our own until we choose to accept, learn and teach it. According to the Course, redemption is recognised only by sharing it. As we see our brother, so we see ourselves, as we see ourselves, so we see our brothers and God.
I am your resurrection and your life. You live in me because you live in God. And everyone lives in you, as you live in everyone. Can you, then, perceive unworthiness in a brother and not perceive it in yourself? And can you perceive it in yourself and not perceive it in God? (T-11.VI.4:1-5)
Our function is to restore to God’s Son the remembrance of what he is in truth. That restoration is the redemptive process that is actualised when we accept the message of resurrection.
Very simply, the resurrection is the overcoming or surmounting of death. It is a reawakening or a rebirth; a change of mind about the meaning of the world. It is the acceptance of the Holy Spirit’s interpretation of the world’s purpose; the acceptance of the Atonement for oneself.. (M-28.1:1-3)
Resistance to the Truth
As we look at the traditional and the Course interpretations of the crucifixion and resurrection we may ask ourselves why do we not accept the Course’s version? Why is it that we will discuss and even seem to agree on this interpretation of why the event took place and how our fear had to produce the traditional version, yet continue to act out our lives as if we ourselves are continually crucified or crucifiers?
Why does the Course ask us to look clearly at our hate and anger as an integral part of letting it go? Why can’t God just make it go away?
The answer lies in the very basis of the thought system of the Course. This is our dream, not God’s. He knows none of it. It is we who made fear and flesh and we who must ultimately decide to let it go. As Jesus tells us early in the Course…
The correction of fear is your responsibility. When you ask for release from fear, you are implying that it is not. You should ask, instead, for help in the conditions that have brought the fear about. These conditions always entail a willingness to be separate. At that level you can help it. (T-2.VI.4:1-5)
So why are we not willing to look at these conditions? We simply do not want to. . We do not want to let fear go. That’s the attraction of the traditional view of the Easter events and indeed all our interactions and perceptions of life. It is not the fear or the discomfort it produces that we are afraid of. It is what it serves to hide from us that is really the issue.
You are not really afraid of crucifixion. Your real terror is of redemption. (T-13.III.1:10-11)
Beneath all our apparent hate guilt and fear is our love for our Father. We realise that once this is recognised we would “leap into Heaven.” To prevent this we, as egos, really do believe that attack is salvation. (seeT-13.III.2)
We cling to what we made because we don’t want to accept what we didn’t— Love. We prefer to die alone, as a body, than live in the oneness of our reality. And so we hide our Truth beneath a multitude of illusions, “happy” to switch from one to another rather than see them as one and let them go.
What is the Lesson?
Easter offers us a time to review an event that we can either see as a re-enactment of the dream of hate that we made or the proof that it is really but a dream.
It is a reminder, albeit an extreme one, of the temptation we have to look to the separation as salvation rather than to Love.
Teach not that I died in vain. Teach rather that I did not die by demonstrating that I live in you. For the undoing of the crucifixion of God’s Son is the work of the redemption, in which everyone has a part of equal value. (T-11.VI.7:3-5)
Be willing to see the Holy Spirit in all your brothers, without exception, and you will see Him in your self. Be willing to look at all the blocks to this awareness with the Holy Spirit or Jesus beside you. As these blocks are raised in your awareness and you look upon them from that place of quiet that is your right mind, they will gently seem to dissolve into the nothingness from which they sprang.
These blocks have nothing to do with what seems to be “outside” for there is nothing “outside”. The belief and temptation to believe that there is, is one such block that will eventually need to be released. You are not asked to change whatever you see. Indeed any effort on your part to attempt to do so is itself a block to the awareness of your Truth because Truth needs no defense. You are simply asked to look upon these blocks with the non-judgemental vision of Jesus or the Holy Spirit.
Jesus and the Holy Spirit are symbols of the Love that is in us, that is us. They too are illusions that will disappear into the unity that is Heaven. Yet while we see ourselves here in this seemingly separated state they are needed to remind us, by their loving presence, of the Truth.
As you sift through your thoughts and experiences and notice longer periods of peace you will also notice pockets of resistance. There will be situations, events or people towards which you can only see the justification for anger, or where you perceive attack or unfairness. We are cautioned…
Beware of the temptation to perceive yourself unfairly treated. (T-26.X.4:1)/
For whenever this arises in you, know that you have turned away from the loving presence of Spirit. Once again you are claiming innocence at the expense of another and separation and crucifixion has become real for you.
In these moments then, when you are able, turn back once more to your Guide within and let Him demonstrate to you and through you that you were mistaken. Mistaken in your belief in sin and mistaken in your apparent need for crucifixion.
James and Linda
Excerpts from the Course used with permission.
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