It goes without saying, Easter is a big deal. I only have to mention the significance of passages like Paul’s claim in 1 Corinthians 15:13-15 (NIV)
13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised.
As I a pastor I looked forward to Easter so much, but I knew that we would have visitors, family members, and friends who would come to our services out of relational obligation or for social interest in the event. I knew that some of these would not believe in the literalness of the resurrection of Jesus’ body.
I always had to think through how I was going to talk about this as a way that was both faithful in proclamation for us as a community of faith, while also attempting to be invitational and sensitive to potential objections or barriers from our guests.
I have no interest in apologizing for what we believe as a faith community. But neither do I want to dogmatically push an ancient worldview that may, to the listener, be suspicious at best and incompatible at worst.
In light of the conversation that we have been having here over the last couple of weeks about the difference between the supernatural and the miraculous, the resurrection takes on an interesting twist.
Here is the thing: as in so many aspects of our modern life, we exist in a world dominated by dualism. Either-Or, Us-Them, In-Out, Right-Wrong, Creation-Evolution, Republican-Democrat, Christian-Secular, etc.
The resurrection is no different. The two options seems to be
A) it happened literally just like the Gospel accounts portray
B) the laws of physics can not be broken by even God and so the Gospel accounts are literary creations designed to portray theological themes.
I get both of those perspectives. I myself have no problem with the bodily resurrection as a miraculous event that carries deep theological implications (like prolepsis, ontological priority of the future, etc.)
But … in the same way that Jesus’ walking on water is not the POINT of the story [read about that here]. The point was to hear the word of Christ “be not afraid” . It was not simply to understand the physics of how Jesus might have walked on the water or to add it to a checklist of things you must believe even if you don’t understand them.
So… I would like to present a ‘third way’ to understand the resurrection that is in line with my reading of Jesus walking on the water.
What if the point of the resurrection accounts isn’t about the biological body of Jesus but that the disciples experienced Jesus’ presence and took this to mean that 1) death is not the end and 2) the Empire is not the victor – that something (someone) else is great than the domination of Rome and their crosses.
Most people object to this based on the grounds of the stories that we read about between the resurrection and the ascension. People point to the disciples’ experience in those days and say “but it had such a powerful impact on them”. I agree.
But the thing that we have to keep in mind is that in Acts 9, Paul experienced Jesus post-ascension and he was also powerfully changed. It was that same guy (now named Paul) who penned the words that I quoted earlier (1 Cor. 15) . But Paul did not encounter the biological body of Christ. He experienced something we can call the ‘real presence’ of Christ.
My question is ‘why could that not have been what the disciples experienced?’
I want to be clear: I am not trying to get everyone to believe this third option. I am simply trying to provided an alternative to the modern either-or argument that is stuck in an endless round-and-round stand off.
My only point is that those who buy into this third (real presence) option count as “believing in the resurrection”. Those who subscribe to a literal-physical option often claim that only their option (#1) counts as legitimate. I think that – in the case – the tent is big enough to include the ‘real presence’ crowd as “believers” in the resurrection.
The point of the text is not about physics or biology. I believe in that aspect of the story – but I have to remember that understanding or believing in the physics is not the point. To experience the risen Christ and be changed by that presence is the point.
April 20, 2011 at 3:15 am
>I don't know if I can agree with that, but I am curious as to how you would fit in that the early church rejected the gnostic belief in Jesus: part of their belief system was that Jesus' 'spirit' was not raised from the dead, because his spirit left the body while his body was killed, and then reentered the body to 'raise' it from the dead? It seems awfully close to the option you presented. How is it different?
April 20, 2011 at 4:16 am
>Well… Two thoughts:1) the Gnostic heresy was VERY specific. I don't think that my suggestion (3rd way) is necessarily gnostic. But I see what you are saying.2) we know some things that the early church… Well let me say it this way: i am not saying that they were wrong… I am just saying that it is not a sin to revisit things from our perspective. Their rejection of one heresy based on a VERY specific dualism does not preclude us entertaining an idea that is not inherently gnostic.Thoughts?
April 20, 2011 at 4:34 am
>One more thing 🙂 .the Gnostics didn't believe that the Christ part of Jesus wasn't crucified (it had departed) … So it really isn't fair to lump SO many things together as ONE THING and then just never go near anything that looks or sounds even the slightest bit like them ;p
April 20, 2011 at 7:26 am
>#2 is a very good point. the worldview of the early church had different parameters than the one we have now. If you put it that way, its starting to make some sense. Curious, are you going to do a post about the holy spirit on pentacost sunday? I've just started reading 'forgotten god' and love the point he makes about exegesis an eisegesis (to import a subjective, preconceived meaning into the text).
April 20, 2011 at 4:58 pm
>I love it! :-)I do still like the bodily resurrection, though, because of what it says about creation. I see the bodily resurrection as a validation of everything (good and bad) that we physically experience.What say you? (aka, thoughts?)
April 20, 2011 at 6:13 pm
>complete-joy: I do plan on posting about this exegesis v. eisegesis problem! Actually, for my it is a much bigger problem that I find myself bumping up against weekly – the difference between exegesis and hermeneutics. Most people I talk to don't know the difference and it is killing us… Jimmy: I also like the bodily resurrection. It is my preferred 'resurrection' – my resurrection of choice! I'm just saying that theologically if you take this other one out for a spin – it works just fine.NOW, I think that a bodily one comes with a whole bunch more bells and whistles… but I'm just trying walk in the shoes of those who don't see things the way I do 🙂
April 20, 2011 at 7:17 pm
>Isn't it dualistic to assume we can neatly separate the meaning—what our forerunners would have called the spiritual sense of the text—from the historical events that conveyed it? The resurrection is special precisely because it's the moment when Truth is spoken most clearly into the vulgarity of history. History is given meaning because it has been made to carry the message of redemption. An historical resurrection is anti-dualistic because it insists that the dignity of creation be maintained inseparably from eternal verities. I know you've already responded to complete-joy's similar objection, but I have to agree that your third-way trends towards Gnosticism.
April 20, 2011 at 9:44 pm
>WOW. that is really good stuff. Thank you! Two responses:I think that it is possible to hold to the 3rd way (real presence) without participating in a Dualism (which sees the two as contrasting or adversarial) which is so foundational to the Gnostic system. I think you could hold this 3rd position without going anywhere near Gnosticism. I think that because… Paul in Acts 9 did not encounter a physical -biologically resurrected Christ. My question then is: is the Christ that shows up in Acts 9 some sort of Gnostic dualism? It is not biological “ physical” body (as I understand it). So why couldn’t that be what we have in the post-resurrection stories?
April 21, 2011 at 1:48 pm
>Personally, I have always been enamored with two things about this story: Peter's mad dash to the tomb, and Jesus thrusting Thomas's hand into His flesh. To me, these are extraordinarily powerful moments of humanity interacting with divinity on an intimate, personal level. I think there's room in the tent for "real presence" Christians, but I think that the "real presence" discussion is really missing out on a lot of pretty mind blowing stuff. We can get into the theology of the physical resurrection, but I'm more concerned with stories of Jesus having lunch with Peter on the beach and walking to Emmaus with two disciples. I get that these don't necessarily have to be literal physical events to have power in them, but still, it feels like we are transforming life as poetry into just poetry. Yeah, there's room in the tent for that, but it just doesn't feel as "special" (that's the only word that comes to mind right now).
April 21, 2011 at 4:54 pm
>I appreciated the article and the comments. It is encouraging to see people wrestle with and be willing to accept others into the tent. It is interesting to see other perspectives be characterized as 'feeling special' or 'more special' Sam suggests that Paul's 'presence experience' is some how less than Peter or Thomas' experience taught in the story. I am encouraged that Paul's experience led to the teaching it did and that I am not limited to 'less than' because I wasn't around prior tothe ascension.
April 21, 2011 at 5:19 pm
>Brand New Day,My apologies, my previous post was from the inexplicable string of characters.There are a couple of things about Paul's encounter is Acts:1. The nature of Paul's encounter is not entirely clear. In Acts 9 there's a record of a light and a voice that identifies itself as Jesus. Chapter 9 records that those with Paul heard a voice but saw no one. Chapter 22 says they saw a light but didn't understand the voice. In Galatians 1 Paul refers to his encounter as a revelation of Jesus Christ. Then in Chapter 15 of Corinthians, Paul speaks of Christ's appearance to him in continuity with the appearance to all of the disciples.2. There are two means of approach: Either we could (a.) let the few details of Paul's encounter inform our insight into Christ's earlier appearances to the apostles, or (b.) we could do the reverse and understand the revelation to Paul in terms of the post-resurrection appearances in the Gospels.Approach a.) allows for greater latitude in interpreting the Gospel appearances, because there are substantially fewer details about Paul's encounter. Note, however, that we are not at liberty even then to interpret Paul's encounter as a private revelation, since those on the road with him also experienced *something*.Approach b.) would interpret Paul's encounter in terms of the post-resurrection Gospel appearances of Christ. In this case we would simply conclude that Paul was witness to Jesus' resurrected body. Unsurprisingly, I favor this approach. There's a lot more information in the Gospels about the nature of Jesus' appearance to the original apostles. In particular, we have Christ's invitation that Thomas place his hands in the wound in His side—as Sam brought up. It takes rather a lot of explanation to interpret this using the more "metanatural" appearance to Paul as a framework. The simplest explanation can usually be trusted as the least likely to have its own agenda.In short, agree with you that we should understand Paul's encounter with Christ as being the same sort as the Gospel appearances. However, I disagree that we should interpret the Gospel incidents using the revelation to Paul as a basis.
April 21, 2011 at 6:12 pm
>Sam, TIna and Lamedh – thank you SO much for your thoughtful responses. I am LOVING this conversation. I agree with ya. Have no doubt. all I am saying is that there is room for others who see it different ways to contribute to the conversation. If someone wants to hold to a 'mystical/re-assembled' body that was both "more than physical" and "not limited to the physical" then I am OK with that. I honestly don't see anything in the gospel accounts that preclude this. Even Thomas sticking is fingers in a material body that had previously walking though walls to get into the closed room. The glorified body was a body – but certainly not simply a body like ours. Something had changed.
April 21, 2011 at 10:33 pm
>Believing in Christ is believing in Christ. In a way, a spiritual resurrection sans physical body is just as powerful as one with it. I get that. I wouldn't say someone who believed that wasn't a Christ-follower. But I believe in the empty tomb, simply because Peter's mad dash there to outrun John is one of the most powerful and shaking images the Bible has ever presented me. My belief about this issue isn't based on supernatural vs metaphysical versus biological vs et cetera, it is because I personally identify with a story that involves a desperation to find that tomb empty. I'm Peter. I'm the guy who misses the big stuff. I'm the guy who messes up. But if there's a chance that tomb is empty…..