Resurrection– not so much the what as the So What?

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.

6 thoughts on “Resurrection– not so much the what as the So What?”

  1. Hi Becca,

    I need to chew on your comments a bit, but thought I might float a couple of thoughts. First, the thread that you are responding to on 7V is asking a loaded question. While the historicity (and/or the physical reality) of the resurrection should be discussed, there is a lot to be talked about prior to a yes/no answer. If I answer yes, because I am “progressive” I will be told that I am lying. If I answer no, then I am a heretic!

    I come at it a little differently than you, but not necessarily in an unrealted fashion. I start with the note that the Christian community (or any community for that matter) is formed by its narrative not in the first instance its beliefs. Kenneth Boulding talked about images, Ortega de Gasset talked about maps, others talk about paradigms. I prefer to talk about narratives (retold in story, captured in symbols, and rehearsed in rituals).

    In that context, when I begin to study the resurrection, I must first get the narrative straight. Certainly, the narrative includes the resurrection – generally one that is physical although Paul speaks more of a vision than what the gospels talk about. Whether the story is about a resusitated corpse, or one who has received a different body, etc. is less clear.

    NT Wright does make clear that the narrative is not talking about something that happened alone to Jesus (thus making him a special case for whatever reason – a kind of sacred X-man) and it did not have to do with the separation of a pre-exisiting immortal soul that then has a condo in heaven (to borrow from Walter Wink). That is more a Greek concept that emerged as the early Jesus movement morphed from a Jewish sect to a hellenistic cult. Interestingly, my bet is that it is probably what most Christians mean by the message of Easter.

    Someone like me, who does believe that past death I will interact with those who I love, but that because I am a process theologian, I can not affirm a pre-exisitng soul. For me, talk of having a body past death has to do with struggling to find a way to say that identity is differentiated. As opposed to some folks notion that we are just remembered forever in God’s mind.

    On a different tact, it does seem that the fundamentalist question about whether I believe in the physical resurrection must also ask the question I asked but that nobody reponded to – Do I believe that Jesus floated up to heaven – the upper story of our three story universe). After all, the cloth is sewn together but still cut from the same kind of material. Since, I guess that most would not say that one could float up to heaven in the 21st centruy then it seems to me that the original quextion doesn’t matter – which is I think your point.

    1. John,

      Thank you for your thoughtful response. It’s a fascinating thing to ponder and reflect on, and we do all of our faiths great disservice when we reduce such rich questions to yes/no answers.


  2. Here’s my own answer, Becca, from an essay I wrote a few years back. It used to be online, on a web site currently sitting in indecision; maybe I’ll post the full thing on my LJ sometime.

    * * *

    When Jesus defied the ruling powers of his day and was summarily seized and executed, his friends and followers, the ones who believed in his message that the Reign of God was in their midst, were devastated. Now what? What did it all mean? Jesus was dead; the power of tyranny, oppression, and domination had triumphed. Might had defeated right. What hope remained?

    In the liturgical calendar, Pentecost is considered the culmination of the Easter season, and indeed the experience of Pentecost *is* the experience of Easter: He is risen. *We* are risen! Pentecost was the moment of epiphany, coming at first to a few, the earliest followers of Jesus, and then spreading through ever-widening circles into the world. Pentecost was their dramatic and experiential realization that the same Spirit that had breathed in and empowered Jesus also breathed in and empowered them.

    And in this was their hope: There is no power, no persecution, that can destroy the Spirit that dwells in all and is continually reborn to inspire the growth of the Divine Reign.

    You can kill Jesus, but you cannot kill the Spirit that was in him. You can kill his followers, but you cannot kill the Spirit that lived also in them. You can kill, maim, torment, wound, bend, and break people, harass and persecute and oppress and discriminate against people, treat people unjustly and turn against them without cause, mutilate them in body and wear them down in mind even to the point that they no longer have the strength or ability to actively manifest the living presence of the indomitable Spirit, but still the Spirit endures.

    This, to me, is the true message of Easter, and the true meaning of heroism. Suffering and sacrifice may befall us, at times, but we find redemption not in imparting power to suffering and sacrifice itself but in experiencing the power of the Spirit that lives on despite the suffering and sacrifice that people and circumstances inflict upon us.

    The Spirit becomes flesh, again and again and again, and though you may kill its embodiments again and again and again, on the third day it will rise again, the enkindled flame that will never be extinguished.

    1. Karyn,

      That’s beautiful, and a wonderful way of tying Pentecost back to Easter, which so often we fail to do. I also appreciate how your reflection takes seriously the pain and suffering of life, and where we find hope n the midst of it.


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