This comes from thoughts I posted on a discussion board at 7Villages, but I thought I’d post it here. It was framed as a yes/no question, but I think it’s a question that might take months or years or decades or a lifetime to answer. I’m still answering it– if not the initial part, the what does it mean part. It’s similar to something we had discussed in our worship team meeting as well– that we don’t always know what exactly happened in the Easter story, but we’re certain that what it means is everything!
Do I believe that Jesus actually, literally, bodily, historically rose/was raised from the dead?
This is a question that took me about four months to answer, years ago when, for the first time in my life, I encountered writing that proposed Jesus had not been truly dead, or not been truly buried, or not been truly raised. It would take too long to describe the pain I went through in that time, questioning everything I held dear (some other post on doubt and wrestling and coming to our own authentic faith, perhaps!). What is important for this discussion is that I emerged on the other side of the question with an answer I didn’t expect.
It doesn’t matter to me.
It doesn’t matter to me if Jesus’ resurrection was physical or metaphysical, if it was done by him or by God-the-Father, if it happened on Friday just after they placed him in the tomb, at three minutes to dawn on Sunday morning, or if it was eternally accomplished and known at the foundation of the universe. It doesn’t matter to me who got to the tomb first, or how many men robed in white were there, or if there were any at all. It doesn’t matter to me if Jesus told Mary not to cling to him because she should pursue the life of faith in this life first, or because his body was so changed that her arms would pass through it or because the author of the fourth Gospel thought it might sound weird to have her embrace the risen Christ. The details, the What and How of what happened, do not matter to me. They are not the cornerstone and foundation of my faith.
What matters to me is the Why and the So What. Why would God or Jesus do this? Out of love for us! Whoa (to quote Keanu Reeves). So What does it mean? What the resurrection means, I believe, is that God loves the world with deep, sacrificial, transformational love. It means that sin, death, oppression, fear, despair, agony are not the most powerful forces in the world, but that God is stronger than all of these things, God brings life and abundant life and eternal life out of even the most dead and desperate situations. It means that Jesus is who he had at once seemed to be and yet not seemed to be: God incarnate, divinity in flesh, somehow the uncontainable Life of All contained in human form. It means that we are given the sure and certain hope that we too can live beyond death, can be with God in Christ eternally. I believe these are eternal truths, revealed in the resurrection, but true always, just as true for us today as they were for the women at the tomb, the disciples in the upper room, Saul on the road to Damascus.
I personally believe that Jesus actually lived and died and was truly dead (not unconscious because of some laced vinegar that was on the sponge or something). I believe his body was laid in a tomb (not taken somewhere else). I don’t think that his disciples made off with the body in the night. I believe that what is written is what they experienced: the tomb was empty; they encountered Christ after his death. I don’t pretend to know exactly what that looks like, bodily or whatnot. I couldn’t possibly imagine how that was accomplished. I don’t know if what the disciples experienced and what actually happened are the same thing (or if what any of us experience and what actually happens are ever the same thing!). And if any of these details were questioned or disproven somehow, I wouldn’t care because they are not what matters to me. What matters to me is why it happened and what it means then and now and for all time. This is what I preach. The risen Christ, the eternal truth of God’s love for us and God’s power over the forces of destruction. That in Christ, all of Christ, his life and death and life eternal, we are transformed and ushered into the same–life (we have to live like him!) and death and life eternal.