I’ll be doing a workshop at Seton Cove on the Universal Roots of Christianity. Today we will look at the Egyptian God Osirus.
When Osiris was born a star appeared in the East. Three wanderers followed the star to the birth. Osiris was betrayed and was cut into pieces. The pieces were scattered out and Isis his loving partner seeks out the pieces. Osiris is then resurrected and in some Egyptian traditions becomes judge of the quick and the dead. Osiris’ resurrection was remembered by a communion service using bread and beer. The priest would say, “This is my body. This is my blood.” Mithra (another offshoot of Osiris, says “If you do not eat of my flesh, drink my blood, you will not have eternal life.”
So early Christians who had heard the Egyptian version of the story, would hear the gospel versions of communion very differently. They would realize the symbol was not about an historical event, nor just about Jesus. They would recognize that the gospel writers were giving their own culture’s inflection on a very ancient story.
Christianity is a branch of a very ancient tree. Honoring the roots out of which we have grown is a way of finding the full expanse and depth of a religion which is bigger than any one cultural expression. So what would a larger version of communion mean? Perhaps it symbolizes that we are born in debt to those who gave their lives that we might live (parents, teachers, etc.) After gratefully receiving that gift, we must some day give ourselves back as food to the world. This surrender does not cause us fear if we identify with all of life.
Bread symbolized the fact that the germ of wheat dies to give life. In these ancient mystery religions wheat or corn would represent not the the god who died in the story, but the life process itself. After saviors (personifying the life process) would symbolically rise from the dead, they would then invite initiates to join join in the circle of life. Initiates would no longer perceive themselves as mere individuals standing outside of life observing but as the fire of life itself. Initiates would stop identifying with their little life that dies and identify as the one big life of us all. They would then know that life is expressed as fully through our dying as through our being born.
Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh has his own version of the symbol when he writes:
“I asked the leaf whether it was scared because it was Autumn and the other leaves were falling. The leaf told me, “No. During the whole Spring and Summer, I was very alive. I worked hard and helped nourish the tree, and much of me is in the tree. Please do not say I am just this form because the form of leaf is only a tiny part of me. I am the whole tree. I know that I am already inside the tree and when I go back to the soil, I will continue to nourish the tree. That’s why I do not worry. As I leave this branch and float to the ground, I will wave to the tree and tell her, ‘I will see you again very soon.’ You should not say life of the leaf; you should only speak of life in the leaf and life in the tree. My life is just life.” I bowed my head and I knew that we have a lot to learn from the leaf because it was not afraid. It knew that nothing can be born and nothing can die.”
Our personal story is never complete. Families are never all together. Life is never all together. We’re always on a journey to something else. If we can realize that’s who we are, that we are life in transition to another form, then we do not feel lost as life changes form. We can look at the deaths of our loved ones and our own death as beautiful and ephemeral expressions of something bigger that does not die.