Fritz Kunkel in Creation Continues writes: “The great myth of the Son of God who dies, conquers death, and rises again—the Osiris myth—is about to become history. The myth is radiant with divine power; it is the way up. History is gloomy with human anguish; it is the way down. Jesus is willing and able to realize the way up while he is proceeding on the way down.”
Spend some time with the above quote. Think about it. Let it sink in. Are you familiar with the Osiris myth? You should be. Check it out. Do you know the other myths of the sons of God who die, conquer death, and rise again? There are many of them and every Christian ought to have some awareness of them: Tammuz, Mithras, and Balder, are but a few examples. Every spring (dating back to the 18th or 19th century before Christ) the life of Osiris was enacted in a stirring passion play in Egypt. Is our Easter simply a replication? Could it be that there is such paganism in our Christianity?
Kunkel says “the great myth of the Son of God who dies, conquers death, and rises again—the Osiris myth—is about to become history,” that is, the myth is no longer a myth, no longer a legend, or a story, but a historically-grounded happening: Jesus crucified, Jesus dead and buried, and Jesus risen! This happening, Kunkel says, becomes real history when it happens within you and within me. But the Easter story doesn’t stand by and of itself—we must take in the whole of the gospel message, for only then will we, with Jesus, discover that the way down is the way up, that encounters with darkness can mean the discovery of light, and that death, death itself, can become life. This is what Kunkel calls the “dynamics of redeeming creation becoming visible.” “Death remains death, and the cross the cross,” says Kunkel. “No idealism or easygoing Spiritualism is allowed. The gate is still the tomb. Yet the tombstones become transparent. The light appears in the darkness. The grave opens beyond space and time, and the Spirit finds itself in eternity.”
Now I know the above is a bunch of words and that we stumble over them. Let me try in a more simple way to speak of the way up as the way down. Kazantzakis tells of meeting a woman who offered him food. “Do you know me, I asked…She glanced at me in amazement. ‘No, my boy! Do I have to know you to give you something? You’re a human being aren’t you? So am I. Isn’t that enough?’” The Gospel (the whole of the Easter story) and Jesus’ sojourn among us says that the way up is the way down. The way down is to take on the attitude of the woman: “Do I have to know you to give you something? You’re a human being aren’t you? So am I. Isn’t that enough?” Finally, that’s what Easter is all about—the way up is the way down.