What is Liberation?
Sam Trumbore | May 01, 2016

We are coming up to that time of year when Christians remember Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem like royalty riding on a donkey, having people put palm fronds down in front of him and shouting Halleluiah. Jesus caused some trouble with the moneychangers. That upset the Jewish leaders who turned him over to the Romans.  The Romans tortured then killed him. It isn’t a very happy story. His followers like Peter desert and deny him. They nail his wounded body to a cross. He dies hanging between two thieves like a criminal.

Jesus is hardly alone in being treated badly and dying a miserable death. It happens every single day someplace around the world.  And he suffered for only a few days before he died. Many people around the world are suffering protracted periods of torture that can last for months, even years, before they die.

Jesus was no stranger to suffering before his death. As a healer, he saw all kinds of ailments and complaints that people came to him with that they wanted healed. Thanks to Western medicine and the spectrum of treatments science has developed, many of us don’t experience the discomfort in us or around us that was prevalent two thousand years ago.

Yet we can’t escape the unpleasant nature of having a body. Every day it needs food and water. It needs to be kept warm or cool and eliminate wastes. It needs regular rest periods and a good night’s sleep to function well. It starts to smell and get itchy if it doesn’t get washed regularly. Monthly cycles have to be managed. Teeth need attention and cleaning or they will rot and need to be pulled. And periodically it sees, hears, smells, tastes or touches things that it finds either very pleasant or very disturbing and initiates a strong emotional reaction that creates a lot of physiological disturbance. And at any time, a threat can present itself that puts the body’s continued existence in danger.

Given the fragility of human existence, and the certainty of sickness, physical decline as we age and then death, where is there any liberation possible in our condition? To be born means we’re going to have to eventually die.  All things that arise will eventually pass away.

Christians believe Jesus didn’t stay dead. He came back from the dead after three days. Some people think maybe he didn’t actually die on the cross. But if that is what happened, he didn’t come back from the dead either.  He had to die for the resurrection to be real. And if he really did come back, maybe we can also escape mortality and attain eternal existence.

Many Unitarian Universalists have struggled with and rejected the idea that the dead can come back to life because we don’t see evidence of this possibility in the study of anatomy and biology. And if it is somehow possible for this to happen, then it would be a natural process not a supernatural one.

As a non-Christian, I prefer not to render a judgment on the truth of the resurrection story. I wasn’t there. I didn’t witness it. And even if I did, I might not understand what I was seeing and hearing.

What I do embrace is the idea that we are part of something much greater than our own bodies. Religions of the world have many different ways to express this. Some believe we have eternal souls that are one with God or can be reunited with God. Some believe the divine dwells in us as us. Others look out at a starry night sky and feel a sense of identification with the cosmic whole of which we are a tiny part. The mystics have discovered a way to know this as a bodily experience.

However you do it, there are ways to know we are not alone, isolated beings imprisoned in our bag of skin and bones. The sense of separateness we discover as toddlers is not what is ultimately true about us. The religious journey moves us toward a sense of participating in a wholeness that connects us beyond our individual selves. We live it here as a religious community of seeking and service.

Liberation then is the discovery of a sense of connectedness to a source of being that frees us from fear and from the delusion that we are just impermanent bodies. Jesus models this by transcending his physical body. Some Tibetan masters are said to be able to transform their bodies after death into rainbows.

Let our exploration of different religious, philosophical and spiritual traditions guide us to liberation from fear without binding ourselves to just one liberation story.