First, let’s be clear, resurrection is not resuscitation. Despite the fact that I had a student pastor who, one Easter, compared Jesus with a zombie during children’s time, resurrection was – and is – a mystical experience. Unfortunately, Christianity has often turned resurrection into resuscitation. In fact, in the early 1900s, bodily resurrection was one of the ”Five Fundamentals” that one had to believe if you were to declare yourself a “real” Christian.
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Paul’s Jewish heritage and theology may have had a lot to do with shaping Christianity’s views on Jesus’ death (which we talked about Friday night), but his writings, which are the earliest Christian writings, say nothing about a bodily resurrection – a resuscitation of the body where all functions begin working again. In fact, Paul sounds positively mystical, and it seems that what he truly speaks of is transformation. He says things like this:
- We shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye (I Cor. 15:51-52)
- “flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God” ( I Cor. 15:50)
- That which is “mortal” must “put on immortality” ( 1 Cor. 15:54)
- Trying to describe mystical experiences is near impossible, they are ineffable by definition, but Paul tries to do so by speaking of a “spiritual body” and saying that “Christ being raised from the dead , will never die again; death has no dominion over him… The life he lives he lives to God” (Rom 6:9-10)
Paul clearly believed that God raised Jesus to new life, but nowhere does that mean resuscitation of his body. The Gospel of Mark, the earliest of the four gospels, holds no such concept either. It isn’t until Luke (circa late 80s, early 90s) that Jesus can walk, talk, eat, interpret scripture and be touched.
No, resurrection was about something completely new, an expanded horizon, consciousness, and life.
Think about your life for a minute… when have you experienced what you felt was ultimate failure? Perhaps ultimate loss?
You found yourself without hope, without knowing what to do next, or even wanting to do something next. You were lost, aching, confused, bereft, sapped of life and energy. You were filled with questions: What had gone wrong? What had you done wrong? Or what could you have done differently? What on earth had you been thinking? Why?
And then, probably slowly, over days, months or even years, out of the ashes you began to rise, dust off, see possibilities and opportunities and a chance for new life. Perhaps it was a job loss, a lost relationship, the death of a loved one, or a horrible mistake on your part, but with time you moved on, healed, loved again, made amends, learned and grew, found new, maybe even better, jobs and relationships. Where a door had slammed shut in your face, a proverbial window had opened.
Hope hadn’t died. Life was still available and in abundance, but things had changed. You had stepped into the unknown and the uncertainty until clarity emerged.
And, hindsight being the wonderful gift that it is, when you finally looked back, you could see how your failure or loss had helped to bring forth a deeper, wiser, more courageous part of yourself. You could see your transformation. In a deeply metaphorical and mystical way, you had died to something and been reborn, experienced resurrection.
When Jesus died, many would have seen him as a failure. Their hope died. He wasn’t what they thought he was… he said he was One with God, but then he died. How could that be? God didn’t die. God was infinite and powerful. But Jesus was finite… his love, his forgiveness, his life… all bound by those moments in time. It was over. He was not the Messiah. He was dead. The Jewish authorities said good riddance. The Roman government was happy to get rid of another troublemaker. And his followers were probably ready to chalk it up to a gross error in judgment on their part. Jesus was a failure. As much as they may have loved him and believed in him, his death confirmed it.
Or so it seemed…
Because then… out of death came new life… it was the ultimate transformation and confirmation for John that what Jesus had been saying was true. In the mystical experience his followers had of him after his death, they knew everything he had taught them had been true. He was One with the Divine; this world did not have a hold on him. They just hadn’t quite understood. It was not about inhabiting a body, it was about a spiritual oneness with the Source of life and love, and it was unbounded, unlimited… that life and love could not be stopped, even by death.
The thing is, we often find ourselves very Peterish in the face of what we can’t be certain of or can’t see. In the Gospel of John, after Mary of Magdala discovers the empty tomb, Peter and the “beloved disciple” rush to see for themselves. The “beloved disciple” takes one look in the empty tomb, sees the grave cloths discarded, or wrapped and placed to the side, and believes. But it doesn’t say that Peter believes, it just isn’t that easy for him! Then they went home, not understanding, the author of John says, “the scripture that Jesus was to rise from the dead.”
Peter is truly the epitome of the human struggle between what we yearn to be true, and what lived reality seems to tell us. It is the struggle to believe in transformation even in the midst of pain. And, it is the struggle to believe beyond what we can see. I’m sure Peter wanted to believe that everything Jesus had said was true, but instead, Peter was full of doubts… maybe someone did just steal the body? Maybe it was a set up? Who knew?
We all react differently when we experience what appear to be failures, or loss, in our lives. Sometimes we are quick to believe that resurrection is possible, that we will find new life, a new way of being, and that there can even be abundance there. Sometimes our fears and doubts and the lack of certainty and physical evidence (I’ll believe it when I see it) holds us back.
But the resurrection message of Easter is that death does not end us. In whatever form that death takes, it does not end us, resurrection is not simply possible, but probably. And in that resurrection there is always an expanded consciousness, a new perspective, and broadened horizons.