Resurrection: From Bondage to Freedom

Glynn Cardy
Sun 15 Apr

In this post-crucifixion time, the days after that cruel Friday, the fledgling members of the once-was-a-Jesus-movement are struggling with trauma, pain, and despair.  This took years, not three literal days!  And even then, even after they had found the dawn of hope and a vision of a universal resurrection, my guess is that there were flashbacks – triggers if you like – that took them back to the disaster of that Friday.

One of the great benefits of the Hebrew Bible is that it tells long stories.  We might read a snippet, like we did this morning, with the call of YHWH to Moses to move beyond his violent anger [and the fear at the root of that anger][i] in order to lead his people out from the bondage in Egypt into the promised, though unspecified, land.  This snippet gives some hints that the bondage in Egypt might not just be physical, but also mental/spiritual; and likewise the promised land.  Following the lead of the liberating God is to step into the unknown, not into comfortable certainty. 

The long story is that freedom didn’t come easily.  Pharaoh didn’t say, ‘Why Moses, what a great idea!  Just pack up and take all your iwi, all our unpaid labourers, and go.’  No, there were physical, mental, and spiritual obstacles to liberation for Moses and the Hebrew community.  The Book of Exodus is long story about the struggle of a community and individuals to be free from the trauma of bondage.  And even by the end of the Book there isn’t resolution.  One could make a case that the Hebrews’ violent treatment of the Canaanites mirrored the violent treatment the Hebrews had suffered at the hands of the Egyptians.

Like with the stories of the resurrection of Jesus, we need to be careful about treating this mythic story of liberation as history.  For it is much more powerful and enduring than history.  This is a story that would become the defining paradigm for Hebrew faith – following the leading of God out of slavery and into freedom – a journey of both body and mind.

Similarly, and not surprisingly, the early Jesus movement [being Jewish], drew upon this paradigm to understand the resurrection.  Long before the empty-tomb and risen-vision episodes were written in the gospels, St Paul wrote to the Galatians saying, “Stand fast in the liberty wherein Christ has made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.”[ii]  This is Exodus language appropriated by Paul to explain one understanding of the resurrected life in Christ now available.  Resurrection: from bondage to freedom.

I was lent a book to read while on holiday.  It’s called The Choice: Embrace the Possible  and written by 90 year old Edith Eger – a grandmother, psychologist, and Auschwitz survivor.  In 1944, as a sixteen-year-old Edith was sent to Auschwitz. There she endured unimaginable experiences, including being made to dance for the infamous Josef Mengele.  Over the coming months, Edith's bravery helped her sister to survive, and led to her bunkmates rescuing her during a death march.  When their camp was finally liberated, Edith was pulled from a pile of bodies, barely alive.

She was freed in 1945, but with a broken back and broken spirit.  Now what?  The ‘now what’ is the crux of The Choice.  You are physically free from the trauma, though mental and spiritual freedom will take much much longer.  You are free, but how do you live free?  Every day there is a choice – one that leads towards love and possibility, or one that leads around the corner of memory back to the mire of despair.

Today, Edith is an acclaimed psychologist whose patients include survivors of abuse and soldiers suffering from PTSD.  She explains how many of us live within a mind that has become a prison, and shows how freedom becomes possible once we come to terms with our suffering.

There is an old story about not letting your past trap you into determining your future:

Once upon a time a chicken farmer found an eagle’s egg.  He put it with his chickens and soon the egg hatched.  The young eagle grew up with all the other chickens and whatever they did, the eagle did too.  He thought he was a chicken, just like them.  Since the chickens could only fly for a short distance, the eagle also learnt to fly a short distance.  He thought that was what he was supposed to do.  So that was all that he thought he could do.  As a consequence, that was all he was able to do.

One day the eagle saw a bird flying high above him.  He was very impressed.  “Who is that?” he asked the hens around him.

“That’s the eagle, the king of the birds,” the hens told him. “He belongs to the sky.  We belong to the earth, we are just chickens.”

At this point in the story there are two divergent endings:  Ending 1 has the eagle living and dying as a chicken, for that’s what he thought he was.  Ending 2 has a child visit the chicken farm, sees the captive eagle for what he is, and gently over the weeks tries to teach the eagle to fly high – and eventually succeeds.

Of course I like the optimistic Ending 2 better.  It also invites me to wonder whether the child saw something of herself in the eagle.  Maybe she’d had experiences of being held back, constrained by others’ prejudice or small expectations.  Maybe she’d had a glimpse of what freedom might mean for her, and wanted the eagle to know the possibility of choosing a different way.

I heard recently one of those new re-banded American tele-evangelists, called a ‘self-help’ guru.  What caught my attention in the news clip was the gender demographic that was attracted to his ideas – namely men in their late teens and twenties.  His message to those men was very simple: Bad things happen.  Life is unfair, even cruel.  Instead of focusing on your self – getting ahead, bettering yourself, etcetera – focus on being responsible for others.  

Take responsibility for someone or something.  That someone may be a partner, a child, a younger sibling, or a stranger – like a newly released prisoner looking for a mentor/friend.  That something might be a small project that tries to make your community a better place, where your time and energy can be multiplied by cooperating with others.   This self-help guru was suggesting taking responsibility for others is a doorway to healing yourself.  It’s a very similar philosophy to that of the Destiny Church’s Man-Up programme. 

Most years I try to go into the Ureweras and walk around Lake Waikaremoana.  The spiritual attraction of the place is not only the bush and its isolation, but the people of the Urewera – Nga Tuhoe.  Along with the Whanganui River Great ‘Walk’, it is a place of connection… if you seek it.

This year I hitched a ride in, and out, with Wayne.  So that’s a 6 hour ride, and 6 hours of korero.  You can talk about a lot of things in 6 hours.  Wayne is from Ruatahuna and had a brutal childhood that formed an angry and violent young man.  In his twenties he met God in the form of Destiny Church, and a community – critically 2 or 3 people - that would support him on the hard and difficult road to change.  Like the child with the eagle he needed help – both physically and mentally and spiritually.

Now, 22 years later, he runs a Man Up programme in Murupara.  It’s a 15 week course helping men like him to escape the prison of their upbringing, the prison they carry with them in their minds, and seek freedom through taking responsibility for others.

There is much about Destiny Church’s theology one can be critical of.  But I am thankful for what it has given Wayne.  Metaphors like ‘hell’ and ‘prison’ have an existential reality in his life and the lives of men he works with.  Being ‘saved’ also has a reality – for 22 years ago he was on the road to prison or even death.  He knows what he has freedom from, but he also has a vision of what freedom is for - namely to help others like himself.

Edith Eger tells of two women who came to her practice on the same day, and both spent the hour crying.  The first woman had a daughter dying of haemophilia.  She was devastated by her impending loss.  The next woman had just come from the country club, not the hospital.  She was upset because her new Cadillac had just been delivered and it was the wrong shade of yellow.

On the surface the second woman’s problem seemed petty, but this little upset was actually emblematic of larger losses in this woman’s life: a lonely marriage, a son who had been kicked out of yet another school, an aspiring career that was shelved for the sake of her husband and child.

Edith writes, “Both were hurting because something was not what they wanted or expected it to be.  Each woman’s pain was real.  Both had the potential to heal.  Both women, like all of us, had choices in attitude and action that could move them from victim to survivor even if the circumstances they were dealing with didn’t change.”

Edie concludes: “I would love to help you discover how to escape the concentration camp of your own mind and become the person you were meant to be.  We cannot choose to have a life free of hurt.  But we can choose to be free, to escape the traumatic past [and the traumatic past as it comes back to revisit us], and to embrace the possible.  Make the choice to be free.”[iii]

That is the path of resurrection.

 

[i] Moses murdered an Egyptian Exodus 2:11-12.

[ii] Galatians 5:1

[iii] Edith Eger The Choice, 2017, pp 11-12.

Our Supporters