In my inaugural post, I briefly discussed my struggles with Christianity and how I came to (and continue to) terms with it. I have always enjoyed the traditional story of Jesus. As I grow older, I often become nostalgic around the holiday season, recalling memories of past Christmases. Unfortunately, I can no longer hold to what I perceive is a romanticized view of the birth of Jesus, although I still find value in it.* With this preface in mind, I continue to what I have come to understand about the resurrection.
I do not believe the body of Jesus resuscitated, and he walked out of his tomb. I see too many problems with the traditional historical narratives, both intra- and extra-canonical.† Rather than get into a lengthy discussion of Biblical exegesis and historical reconstruction, I will skip right to the point. What does the resurrection mean to me?
Jesus embodied hope to his followers, who were primarily made up of social outcasts and dispossessed peasants in Galilee; although eventually, some educated scribes in Jerusalem evidently joined the movement. He advocated radical social change, yet with non-violent means. He was not apocalyptic in the sense of the coming kingdom of God, but instead advocated the view that the kingdom of God was here on earth waiting to be unleashed. The Kingdom of God, in that case, was a transcendently divine mandate for the followers of Jesus to strive for. In this sense, I would argue that Jesus emphasized a God who, as John Crossan put it, is “epiphanic,” working and manifesting itself through people, not intervening for people, or episodic. Jesus’ death created a conundrum for those who viewed him as the Messiah, God’s chosen servant on earth. As the oral stage of transmitting stories about Jesus developed, so did understandings of Jesus himself, as followers searched the Hebrew Scriptures and sought ways of testifying of the power of his message through interpretive narratives. Today, most scholars hold the view that the birth, Passion, and resurrection narratives developed last. In that sense, they were the magnum opus of the evangelists who were putting the oral stories into written form.
If that is truly the case, why not just say the evangelists were liars, telling fictional stories as theological apologetics? Because that misses the point. The resurrection of Jesus lies in the empowering of disciples to live by a mantra similar to what John Spong once stated, “Whatever diminishes life is evil, and whatever enhances life is good.” When Jesus died, the disciples fled; the movement was on the brink of collapse and the new hope found in Jesus almost blew away. Yet it didn’t. It is at this point that I think the Holy Spirit and the resurrection go hand in hand. The ruah (breath in Hebrew) personified the message of Jesus and brought itself back into the minds of his disciples, who realized a new consciousness, or reality, had been born (perhaps even unleashed). It is, as Spong said, “Christpower,” flowing then and flowing today. It is a rebirth into the kingdom of God on earth within and without. It is letting an old way of living die, and being born again into the fully human life of Jesus, who embodied what an experience of God, the sacred could be; an eternal mysticism, which can be partaken of now and forever.
A bodily resuscitation was simply a later interpretive device, emphasized by Paul and later Luke. However, as John Dominic Crossan pointed out, Paul’s attempt to defend a bodily resurrection led to creative attempts trying to defend a dualistic philosophy (1 Cor 15). Understood without Paul’s influence, the resurrection of Jesus could be seen as monistic, in which the spirit, or transcendent divine, within each of us is empowered to live, to be, to uplift, and to serve. Using the words of the late Paul Tillich, the resurrection gives us “The courage to be.” For me, that is where I find hope and meaning in the resurrection.
I conclude with a paragraph taken from the preface of Crossan’s The Birth of Christianity:
In the light of all that, the title of this section should be not “The Bodily Resurrection of Jesus” but “The Fleshly Resurrection of Jesus.” I tend to use those words interchangeably, but Paul most certainly did not-and it is now clear why he would not. When, therefore, he says that “flesh and blood” cannot enter the kingdom of God, a gulf of sensibility opens up between him and Jesus…. For Jesus, anyone incarnating divine justice on earth was “flesh and blood” entering the kingdom of God. Paul is also in contradiction to the declaration in John 1:14 that “the Word became flesh and lived among us.” The “Word”-Logos, in Greek-is the intelligibility of the world, the rationality of the universe, the meaning of life, as revelation of the Divine Mind. And John says that Word became not just body but flesh, not just the special-effects body of standard Greco-Roman divine visitations, but the one and only flesh and blood of full and normal human existence. The Word became flesh; that is to say, the divine meaning of life is incarnated in a certain human way of living.
*Raymond Brown’s “Birth of the Messiah” is perhaps the most comprehensive modern study to date. Brown focuses primarily on the theological motivation and meaning behind the narratives, rather than their historical value.
†See the work of John Shelby Spong, Resurrection: Myth or Reality and Jesus for the Non-Religious; John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant, and The Birth of Christianity; Robert Funk/Jesus Seminar, The Acts of Jesus: What Did Jesus Really Do?; other scholars such as Marcus Borg have studied the Passion and Resurrection narratives extensively, as well; for a brief summary, see Borg’s blog-http://www.marcusjborg.com/2011/05/16/the-resurrection-of-jesus/
Thanks for your thoughts, Jeff. You’ve zeroed in on what is probably the most difficult issue for anyone who has grown up in a traditional Christian or fundamentalist Christian tradition. When we separate sacred story from academic history, how do we understand and find new value in our story both as sacred story and as theology and philosophy? The concept of resurrection is among the most difficult to grapple with. I’ve known a number of progressive Christians who do not believe in capricious supernatural interventions in human history (in part because of the corresponding theological problem of evil), who nevertheless would like to cordon off this one issue and believe in it as a literal event in history. You’ve pointed out here some good directions for people to give this issue further thought and consideration.
The true meaning and significance of the Resurrection may only now be coming to light, [no pun intended] transforming ‘the most difficult issue’ for faith into one easily understood. But it hasn’t come from any traditional religious source!
Thus is the first wholly new interpretation for two thousand years of the moral teachings of Christ published. Radically different from anything else we know of from theology or history, this new teaching is predicated upon the ‘Promise’ of a precise, predefined, and predictable experience of transcendent omnipotence and called ‘the first Resurrection’ in the sense that the Resurrection of Jesus was intended to demonstrate Gods’ willingness to reveal Himself and intervene directly into the natural world for those obedient to His will, paving the way for access, by faith, to the power of divine omnipotence and ultimate proof!
Thus ‘faith’ becomes an act of trust in action, the search along a defined path of strict self discipline, a test of the human heart, to discover His ‘Word’ of a direct individual intervention into the natural world that confirms divine will, law, command and covenant, which at the same time, realigns our mortal moral compass with the Divine, “correcting human nature by a change in natural law, altering biology, consciousness and human ethical perception beyond all natural evolutionary boundaries.” By this first Resurrection is a man ‘created’ in the image and likeness of his Creator.
For individuals able to shake off their existing prejudices and imagine outside the cultural box of history, trials of this new teaching are open to all and under way in many countries To test or not to test, that is the question? More info at http://www.energon.org.uk