Trio of religions share a common theme of liberation
Easter week this year saw the convergence of three major religious celebrations: the Passion, Passover and Buddha's birthday. It happens occasionally as all three move on different calendars. The near passage is interesting as the stories from all three have some overlapping themes in common.
Many Buddhist traditions celebrated Buddha's birthday on April 8th, bathing the baby Buddha in sweet tea in the Hanamatsuri celebration. The actual date is lost in the mists of time but its theme is anticipation of the liberation brought by the Buddha's teaching. My Buddhism teacher said that Nirvana means liberation. Whatever may happen after death, or after full realization, the Buddha's teaching was the means for liberation in this life. Nirvana, liberation from suffering and from being a cause of the suffering of others, can begin in this life. The fruit of the path is compassion and the changed lives and relationships that it can bring.
Passover celebrates the freeing of the Hebrew slaves and the birth of the people who were to become Israel. They were called "to live justly, love mercy and walk humbly with their God," to respond to their own liberation with changed lives and changed relationships. My Judaism teacher said that the Great Commandments, love God and love the neighbor, were mirror images; one commandment. Again, a liberation in this life.
Easter's theme of resurrection, as the first century Christians experienced it, was also one of liberation. The message of the life and teaching of their master, to live as if the Kingdom of Heaven had arrived, was not ended with his death. And again, that liberation issues forth in feeding the hungry, etc., and the beloved communities of changed lives and changed relationships.
The three quite different traditions have very different stories, yet with common human themes of liberation; themes of being freed for richer, more compassionate lives and relationships.
We so often get caught up in the details of our own particular tradition's stories and the literal reading of our respective sacred texts that we miss those common themes that are woven through our human experience. Not so different, after all.
The authors of our sacred texts shared with us the meaning of their religious experience in story form; a story form in which they intended to tell us the meaning of, and perhaps elicit in us, the experience they had. Great storytelling does that.
We are not saved by the specifics of the story nor the theology about the story. The challenge in our stories is not to believe something, but to "be-live" something.
If the meaning of the story is real, is true, then it matters not if it literally, historically occurred in this particular way in that particular time and place. What matters is whether the story catches your imagination and jolts you into behaving as if Nirvana, the Promised Land, the Kingdom, has come now.
It has, you know. "Spread out upon the earth," as the author of the Gospel of Thomas said! Let me tell you a story.
The Rev. Mike Young is minister of the First Unitarian Church of Honolulu, a Unitarian Universalist welcoming congregation.