Easter
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Easter
C.W. Leadbeater

The article below is an extract of late Bishop Leadbeater's writings on the matter of Easter, as published in his book The Inner Side of Christian Festivals.

The word Easter is derived from Eostre, which is the name of the Anglo-Saxon goddess of Spring; there is a further derivation beyond that, because Eostre is only another form of Ishtar, Ashtaroth of Astarte, the Queen of Heaven, and even that in turn, if we go far enough back, comes from the Sanskrit Ush, which means light; the word from which springs the title Ushas, the dawn maidens of the Vedas. So fundamentally Easter is the great festival of light - of the rising again of the Light of the World.

All the symbology of our evolution centres round the fountain and origin of that evolution - the Solar Deity, who in Greek philosophy was called the Logos of our system. Logos means Word; it is the Greek term used in the well-known and most beautiful text: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God". Let us try to understand a little of what these words meant to their writer. Modern Christian belief has become largely materialistic and non-philosophical, chiefly because of its most unfortunate and persistent confusion of the very personal Jewish tribal deity Jehovah with the Supreme First Cause of all. Those who hold to that illogical confusion think of God as a Father, but a savage and tyrannical Father, jealous and cruel beyond all earthly experience, capriciously creating one man healthy and another full of fell disease from his very birth, throwing one man at birth into the lap of affluence and another into grinding poverty, and capable of casting either or both of these men into everlasting torture after death if they will not do violence to the intellect with which He has endowed them by pretending to believe certain incredible stories.

It is indeed most true that no man can comprehend God; but we can at least form a more intelligent conception of Him than this, and the first step towards such a conception is to recognise that He has many manifestations. Of the Absolute, the Infinite, the All-embracing, we can at our present stage know nothing, except that He is; we can say nothing that is not a limitation and therefore inaccurate. But in Him are innumerable universes; in each universe millions of solar systems. Each solar system is the expression of a mighty Being whom we call the Solar Deity, the Logos, the Word or expression of that infinite God. This Solar Deity is to His system all that men mean by the title God. He permeates it; there is nothing in it which is not He; it is the manifestation of Him in such matter as we can see. Yet He exists above it and outside it as well, living a stupendous life of His own among His Peers. As is said in a scripture older than ours: "Having permeated this whole universe with one fragment of Myself, I remain".

Out of Himself this Solar Deity has called this mighty system into being. We who are in it are evolving fragments of His Life, sparks of His divine Fire; from Him we all have come; into Him we shall all return. He pours Himself down into matter, and thus suffers very truly an eclipse, a crucifixion, a death, and then rises again out of that matter in order that we, humanity, may be. The whole life of the solar system comes from Him, and therefore those who wish to fulfil that which He has indicated for us, those who wish to become wise, to become Initiates, must follow in His footsteps and develop as He has developed. All the ancient religions have taken up these ideas and have woven them into beautiful symbols, differing according to the religion, the race, and the people; and that very same symbolism, which indicates and describes the life of the Initiate in terms of the life of the Sun God, exists here in our Christian Church, and is shown in the course of our Christian Year.

The first half of that year (from Advent and Christmas up to Trinity Sunday) is as it were the active, eventful part of the solar life; and then the next six months are devoted to practising and preserving what we have learnt, so we pass into the comparatively calm waters of the Sundays after Trinity, when all goes on quite quietly with only occasional great festivals, none of which are connected with the life-story of the Christ, which is also the life of the Sun-God. In all religions alike the Sun-God is always born in midwinter, directly after the shortest day, born at midnight of the 24th of December when the constellation Virgo is on the horizon. Hence it is said that He is born from the Virgin and yet after the birth, when the sun has risen into the heavens, Virgo still remains the immaculate and heavenly Virgin. We see there a sidelight upon the story of the Immaculate Conception which appears not only in our religion but in many other older faiths.

The Sun-God is reborn, because the shortest day in the northern latitude is past; for months the days have been growing steadily shorter, as though He were being vanquished by the powers of darkness; but now this decrease is conquered, and He begins to reassert His powers, and the night slowly yields before Him. He has still to pass through the storms and tribulations of winter; and that is why the early life of the Sun-God in all religions is always surrounded by trouble and sorrow and difficulty. Krishna suffered much from persecution and had to be hidden among the cowherds as a child, because the king sought His life; the Lord Jesus was assailed by Herod, who attempted to kill Him; in all the stories of the Christ-life in any religion we find the same thread running through. Osiris Himself, thousands of years before, was cut to pieces and destroyed by Set, and only after that He was gathered together and rose again. In Ancient Egypt the people mourned over the death of Osiris, just as some Christians now mourn over the death of the Christ on Good Friday, and they rejoiced in the great festival of the assembling together, the gathering together of that which had been separated, just as we now rejoice at Easter. Those old religions taught the same truths which we teach now; truth is one, although it is many-sided, and the presentations in those old days were not at all unlike the presentations put before us now.

Great are the storms and tribulations of winter, but the Sun-God survives them all, and His strength is steadily growing as the days lengthen towards the vernal equinox. At that equinox, as the name implies, day and night are exactly equal all over the world; and after it the sun crosses the line, so that in the northern hemisphere the days grow steadily longer, and the victory of the Sun-God over night is assured. He rises triumphantly over the line and ascends in the heavens, ripening the corn and the grape, pouring His Life into them to make their substance, and through them giving Himself to His worshippers.

Every one of us will have in turn to undergo the suffering symbolised by the cross; every one of us must learn how to give himself up utterly for others; but also for every one of us is the glory of Easter, the Resurrection, the victory, the triumph over matter.

That still remains ever and gloriously true. The victory which man gains over the lower nature is something which must be achieved in the life of every Christian man. There must come in his life a point at which he finally triumphs over the lower matter and rises out of the darkness of sin and ignorance into the light of wisdom and the higher, purer life. So Easter is not only the commemoration of something in the far-distant past; it is a real day of celebration and of thankfulness for the victory which man has gained, is gaining and will gain all through the ages over that which is lower, that which is less developed. In everyone of us there is the divine spark. The Christ said: "Ye are gods, ye are all the children of the Most High". In every one of us that divine spark is the true man, and that spark manifests himself in lower planes in the soul of man and that in turn puts down to still lower levels the personality, which is what we know as the self down here. We are only a tiny fragment of a fragment of the magnificent reality. That which we see ourselves to be down here is as it were the seed of the future glory, but each one of us is also a soul; more than that, each is a spirit - the divine spark, slowly, slowly unveiling itself, slowly developing the qualities through which it can show itself, so that man may know it for what it is. At present the spark burns low; at present we are but at the beginning of the higher part of our evolution. We have won a great victory already in that we are here as men, we whose life has passed through all the lower stages, the kingdoms of the mineral, the vegetable, the animal, in ages long gone by. We have reached humanity, we have joined with the Father and have developed the soul; but that soul in its turn must grow and expand. Just as the personality has to become one with that soul, so has that soul in turn to become one with the divine spark which it represents, and then later still the divine spark sweeps back into the flame of which it is a part, and God is all in all.

Every stage of that progress is a victory; every stage of that progress is very truly a resurrection, a rising from the lower to the higher. The life of the Christ is a prototype of the life of every one of His followers. We, too, must pass through those stages, those steps, those Initiations through which the Christ passed. We must suffer with Him all the sorrow and the pain of the Holy Week, a veritable crucifixion of all that seems to the man worth having; but he who endures to the end, he who passes through that test as he should, for him the glory of Easter is to be revealed, and he also will gain the victory which makes him more than man, which raises him to the level of the Christ Spirit. That victory is for every one of us, and when we thank God for the Easter festival, we are thanking Him for that magnificent possibility, and also for the fact that there are many even now who have realised that, thereby showing us that it is possible for all of us. I fear that sometimes when the example of the great saints and the mighty Angels is held up before us it all seems to us unreachable, impossible. We feel perhaps: "Yes, it is all very well when one gets to that height; but what of us who seem so many miles away, so many ages behind?" Yet all who can see the higher levels, all who can see the steps of the ladder of life above us and below us, agree in telling us that they see men standing on every one of those steps, and that those who are now so far above us that in their knowledge and power they seem to us like gods, tell us that no long time ago they stood where we stand, and that we, if we persevere, will beyond all possibility of doubt or question stand presently where they stand now.

"If Christ be risen, then shall we also rise" was the argument of old, and indeed that is true, and true in many different ways; in no way more than in regard to this symbol of which I speak.

Because He has conquered evil, because He has risen above matter, others have been able to follow Him and to do the same great deed; and because they have done it, we shall do it also. Easter is a magnificent reality to every one of us, just as it was to Him. At Christmas we sing not only the commemoration of the victory of the birth of the Christ (even in one of its many symbolical forms); but we also sing of a personal possibility. It was no figure of speech when we said: "Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given". The possibility is for us, for every one of us, and we should feel that with the glory of the resurrection at Easter, the mighty triumph of good over ill is an absolute and actual reality for each individual. Not a thing which is far away out of reach, that may or may not reflect its glory upon us, but a real definite step which each individual here and elsewhere will take in the future, a real thing which we can put before us with the certainty that we can gain it.

Some will gain it comparatively quickly; some will be slower in their rising; that is within our power. We may hasten or we may delay our journey to that glorious goal, but we cannot throw ourselves out of the path for ever. We cannot prevent our final victory of attainment, whatever we may do. There are men who are what we call wicked, which means that they have strayed far away from the direct path to God. They are wicked because they are foolish and ignorant, because they do not understand, but however far they may stray from the great path they will return to it, for that is what God meant for them from the beginning. They may turn their backs on the light; they may delay their progress, but the pressure of that definite Will, will bring them back to the path sooner or later, and they who now are ignorant must learn the truth of God. They who sit in darkness, upon them shall the light shine; they who feel themselves at present in the Garden of Gethsemane, they who feel themselves to be suffering a veritable crucifixion - for them also and inevitably will come the glory of the Easter victory, the utter final triumph of good over ill.

In His Resurrection is the earnest of our own. Because the Logos Himself has entered matter, has triumphed, and has risen from it; because the Christ, the great World-Teacher, has passed through that experience also, it is certain for every one of us that, when our time comes to endure that suffering and that crucifixion, it will lead us, as it led Him, to the higher glory of the resurrection and to final triumph - a triumph which is final because it is based on knowledge. The Initiate knows that wherein he believes; and matter can never again conquer him who has learnt that all, matter and spirit alike, is equally part of God, and is equally included in the divine plan which leads us to this glorious victory. For the victory is to become one with Him - one with Him Who is All in All. Therefore is it an eternal victory; therefore is it forever; therefore can there be no doubt and no hesitation, because when we are one with Him we know. Then shall we be like Him, because we see Him as He is; because we really know, therefore we cannot fall back.

We may or may not regard the bible allegory which is read to us at Easter as representing a historical occurrence on the physical plane; our people are entirely free to believe or disbelieve; but most of us hold that it embodies in symbolical form a great and mighty truth. Therefore is Easter for us a glorious festival; therefore we celebrate it in every way we can. Therefore have we a true joy in exchanging with one another the traditional Easter greeting. For just as on Christmas Day we wish one another a happy Christmas, so when the early Christians met one another on Easter Day one said to the other: "The Lord hath arisen", and the reply was: "He is risen indeed". Not from an earthly grave, but from the grave of matter; risen in truth and in splendid reality - risen for evermore. So in His victory we triumph too, and in the joy of the Lord His Church rejoices also.

 

 

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