|Church of the Good Shepherd Resurrection Window|
You would think then, that it is both elementary and foundational to these astounding claims (Jesus is Lord, Messiah, risen, alive, living and accessible) that they rest on the fact of Jesus’ resurrection. By fact, I mean that the best inference of all the available evidence, including our own experiences and encounters with the living Jesus, is that his resurrected and transformed body got up and walked out of his borrowed tomb on that first Easter Day.
St. Paul says much the same thing when he writes:
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain. We are even found to misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ - whom he did not raise if it is true the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are all people most to be pitied.
(I Corinthians 15:12-18)Yet puzzlingly enough, our church has had several bishops over the last 45 or so years who did not believe in the bodily, or actual resurrection of Jesus. They have at best, posited that his was a “spiritual” resurrection and at worst, that resurrection is a “metaphor” for the innumerable ways human beings rebound from adversity or tragedy. Mariann Budde, the Bishop of our flagship Diocese of Washington in the nation’s capital, is the latest to espouse similar understandings. Read her blog here. And you can read a caring rebuttal here.
Well, either he did or he did not, either he is or he ain’t. To my mind truthfulness and credibility do not lead themselves to either a “spiritual” or a “metaphorical” understanding of Jesus’ resurrection. Judaism and Christianity are material, worldly religions. They take seriously this world and the life that takes place here. Both believe that the transcendent, beyond physics God has revealed himself to people in time and space, that is in history and in ways material enough to be apprehendable to human beings: first, in the created order itself, next in the story of ancient Israel; and finally and most uniquely in Jesus which is also problematic in a religiously plural world.
The departure point for Jews and Christians in our shared belief is that the Creator God who is acknowledged as generally knowable in a study of the world around us and more precisely in Israel’s own history, has really taken it further and corporeally in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. If you can believe that God created the world from NOTHING, is it really all that much more of a stretch to believe God was in Christ (incarnation) reconciling the world to himself, and THAT the clear sign of his effectiveness in this project is Jesus’ resurrection?
Our Bishop, Scott Benhase, has written an excellent (and succinct!) reflection on the relationship of Easter faith, belief, knowledge and resurrection. Please read it at ecrozier.georgiaepiscopal.org (to be posted soon).
As for me, I know by the facts of my own life, that I am in need of a savior to redeem many of my days. The knowledge of my own failures and shortcomings, things done and left undone, thoughts, words and deeds is disappointing to me before I even begin to compare them to the aspirations and hopes a loving God has for me. It may not have been necessary for Jesus to come to rescue any other poor soul in this world but I assure you, it was necessary for me. And, if Jesus did not come out of that tomb in some kind of actual, tangible, real and apprehendable way, if the dogs had merely dragged off his bones (Crossan), then we’d have never even heard of him. And I don’t know about you, but for me, that would be a super huge tragedy.
If bishops and leaders of the church do not believe that the Christ we proclaim, serve and invite others to follow is, in reality, the same Christ whom the Gospels and the Creeds reasonably present him to be, then why would anyone else take him seriously and why would anybody follow a Jesus who fails to convince even the leaders of his movement that he is the way, the truth and the life?