So, have you thought about the resurrection and what it means to you? Seriously, don’t you wonder what actually happened? The four Gospels only agree on the fact that the tomb was empty, after that there are four differing stories about who goes to the tomb, who meets them there, what the disciples think, where Jesus appears and what he says.
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Does one have to believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus to be a Christian? Early orthodox Christianity thought so. Remember the creed they wrote: “Jesus was crucified, dies and was buried and on the third day he rose again.” In the flesh.
If we go outside of the Biblical gospels, the gnostics thought that believing in any sort of physical resurrection was ridiculous. They understood resurrection in different ways. To encounter the risen Christ meant to encounter him on a spiritual level – visions, dreams, moments of spiritual illumination. Elaine Pagels, in her book, The Gnostic Gospels writes, “Some gnostics called the literal view of resurrection the ‘faith of fools.’ The resurrection, they insisted, was not a unique event in the past: instead, it symbolized how Christ’s presence could be experienced in the present… Resurrection is the moment of enlightenment. It is … the revealing of what truly exists… and a migration into newness.”
Right now you’re probably wondering why I can’t leave well enough alone. Why confuse the issue with facts, or other opinions? Sorry, but I have all these questions. And, I have a problem suspending reason for what could very well be myth and legend. Feel free to just ignore me if it makes you feel better.
Moving on… regardless of how you want to understand resurrection, one thing seems certain: something happened. Bishop John Shelby Spong, in his book Easter, puts it this way, “The dynamic, energized birth of the Christian Church took place at the Moment of Easter. It had enormous power. It affected human life and human history… [S]omething happened – something of significance, power, and impressive strength. The issue is so personal, so immense, so life-determining that even the most skeptical non-believer must give it consideration.”
The evidence (if you will) is clear if we look at Peter and the disciples before and after the Easter Moment (the Bible never tells us when and how that actually occurred), the radical change in them is obvious. Something happened.
Before the Easter Moment Peter was prone to argue with Jesus, or to simply not understand what was being said or done. At one point, Peter is even the recipient of one of Jesus’ most scathing rebukes to his disciples, “Get behind me Satan!” (Remember that Satan referred the one who was an “adversary”, sort of like a prosecuting attorney.) Peter also wouldn’t let Jesus wash his feet, swore he’d never deny him and then goes on to do just that. When Jesus is finally crucified, Peter is nowhere to be found.
The other disciples are just as bad. In Mark 9:14 Jesus says to them, “How unbelieving you are. How long must I stay with you? How long do I have to put up with you?” Jesus was constantly trying to explain things to them because, over and over again, they just didn’t get it. James and John wanted to wheedle their way into the seats of power next to Jesus in heaven, then they fall asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane with Peter. When Jesus was arrested, they all fled and went into hiding. Only one, whom John calls the Beloved Disciple, stands watch at the foot of the cross with the women.
Truly, as followers of one they considered was the Messiah, their behavior was cowardly and scandalous.
But after the Easter Moment, they all did a one-eighty. They emerged from hiding, became fearless and took to the streets of Jerusalem and to the world to proclaim that Jesus who had died was alive again. They endured ridicule, arrest, torture, beatings, and even death, yet never wavered from their story or denounced Jesus. The movement they launched created a new holy day, began a new religion and claims two billion followers today.
Something happened. Something HUGE.
And the reality that I’ve experienced through the years is that something continues to happen. When you pay attention, you will hear people talk of mystical, ineffable experiences in their lives or in the lives of others. Some may have been so dramatic as to have changed lives forever, others not so much. The amazing thing is that they happened and they continue to happen. There is something more within us, around us, through us, that can bring us to resurrection moments radically changing our direction and our lives.