As a transpersonal pastoral counselor with a Jungian orientation, I would like to explore the resurrection story focusing on the individual human psyche rather than on Christology. I will explore the Easter story in the gospel of Mark as if it were a dream in which all of the images are archetypal aspects of the psyche from the collective unconscious.
It is not surprising that the gospels place the death and resurrection of Jesus during the feast of Passover, the commemoration of the liberation of the Jewish people from their bondage in Egypt through Moses. At least some of the followers of Jesus must have hoped that he was the messiah, the new Moses, who would lead the Jewish people from oppression under the Roman empire. But instead, Jesus preached a message of love, even for the enemy - the Romans. And instead of establishing a physical Jewish kingdom of God on earth, he was arrested and crucified for sedition.
Many scholars think that the gospel of Mark was written during, or just after, the Jewish rebellion and the siege of Jerusalem by the Roman army that resulted in the destruction of the city including the Holy Temple. God did not come down from the heavens to destroy the Roman army and establish a realm of heaven on earth. The early followers of Jesus, like the women at the ending of Mark’s resurrection story were afraid. These first followers of Jesus had to make a shift from the idea of breaking free from bondage under Rome to a new interpretation of the realm of heaven and the role and person of Jesus of Nazareth.
It is interesting that the Hebrew name for Egypt was Mitzrayim, which means the narrow or limited place. Perhaps both the story of the exodus and the resurrection can remind us that we do not have to be limited by our circumstances, our complexes, or a narrow view of our past stories. In her book Sacred Therapy, Jewish teacher and psychotherapist Estelle Frankel, quotes a Jewish Hasidic saying, “It was not enough to take the Jews out of Egypt. It was necessary to take Egypt out of the Jews.”
In dream groups I facilitate, when someone comments on another person’s dream, they are required to preface it with, “If that were my dream…” That is how I am approaching Mark’s resurrection story.
The story begins with three women coming to ritually anoint the body of Jesus. The number three indicates that this is a sacred story, and for the ancient Hebrews, three is the number of truth, a wisdom story. Women as the focus of the story indicates that the story is about the feminine, feeling, and intuitive energy being necessary to accomplish the story’s task. It is sunrise, suggesting a new beginning, a time of awakening, or enlightenment.
The women say, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance to the tomb?” The stone is a barrier to the psychological or spiritual goal and could signify the defensive wall the ego puts in the way to guard us from unconscious material, and change. The ego wants us to maintain the status quo, to be completely grounded in everyday reality. When the women arrive however, the stone has already been moved out of the way, reminding us that the Divine wisdom within is open to all who seek it. As Jesus taught, “Ask, and you will receive. Search, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7 CEB).
When they enter the tomb, the women see a young man dressed in a white robe. The word used in Greek for this white robe suggests a Jewish kittel, a garment worn for special occasions, such as weddings or ritual mikva baths. It is another symbol that this is a story of a spiritual new beginning. The young man they encounter represents the animus. Jung defined the animus as “the deposit, as it were, of all woman's ancestral experiences of man - and not only that, he is also a creative and procreative being” (Anima and Animus, Collected Works 7). Meeting the animus indicates a need for a balancing of feminine and masculine energy. Early Christian theologians, including St. Paul, saw Jesus as the embodiment or incarnation of Sophia - Holy Wisdom - who was feminine. So in Jesus, masculine and feminine energies were balanced. He was the complete human in full union with the Divine One. The story mentions that the young man in white is sitting on the right side. This lets us know that this is a right brain or numinous encounter.
The women are frightened. “Don’t be alarmed,” the young man says, “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. But he has been raised (raised into consciousness). He is not here! The Christ within cannot be contained by the shadow of the unconscious. As Jesus said himself: “The spirit blows wherever it wishes. You hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. It’s the same with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8 CEB).
Sr. Joan Chittister wrote, “To celebrate Easter means to stand in the light of the empty tomb and decide what to do next” (Benetvision: Feast of dazzling light). The young man says, “Go! He is going ahead of you into Galilee. Galilee is where Jesus first began his ministry. T.S. Elliot wrote: “The end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time” (Little Gidding). In other words, our dream gospel is telling us to start over, at the beginning, to see what Jesus’ teaching is really about in light of the resurrection.
The story/dream of Mark’s gospel originally ended with the women afraid and confused. They run away from the tomb and say nothing to anyone. Sometimes, when we have a powerful spiritual experience or dream, we are afraid to tell anyone. We are frightened or confused by its potential meaning. We worry what others may think? It may take quite a while for us to fully understand our experience and share it with others. Sr. Joyce Rupp wrote, “Eastering isn’t always a quick step out of the tomb. Sometimes rising from the dead takes a long, slowly-greening time” (Out of the Ordinary). Orthodox theologian, Patriarch Athenagoras wrote, “The Resurrection is not the resuscitation of a body; it is the beginning of the transfiguration of the world.”
Maybe Easter means that we no longer need to be bound by our false self, by the ego, or by our personal history and complexes. Maybe we have to go into the dark tomb of our unconscious, put on the Christ consciousness within, and be resurrected and then return to our everyday life, where the poor still need food, where traumatized veterans and abused women need to be acknowledged and healed, where the teenagers want us to put away the weapons of war and violence, and where political and religious tribalism separate us instead of uniting us. To adapt the words of medieval theologian, Meister Eckhart, we have to ask ourselves, What good is it that Christ was resurrected, if he has not been resurrected in our hearts.
So let us join in Sr. Joyce Rupp’s Easter prayer: “Resurrected One, May I become ever more convinced that your presence lives on, and on, and on, and on. Awaken me! Awaken me!” (Out of the Ordinary)