resurrection

Posted by on 03.25.09 | 4 Comments
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Well, it is getting on toward that time of the year when the folks in the spiritual tradition I share begin to concentrate on death and new life. Here are a few observations for those who might be interested.

For a long time the Church in its various forms has been telling us all that the central miracle of Easter was the resuscitation of the corpse of Jesus, which has historically been identified as The Resurrection. He was dead, and then for a short time after death he resumed living as he had before. Though there were some unique aspects to the risen Jesus, like the ability to appear behind locked doors, and retaining on his body signficant unhealed wounds in his hands and side, he was on the whole restored to his previous condition of existence until, after forty days, he disappeared once and for all.

That has always seemed like an unsatisfactory miracle to me. I realize that such a thing is truly amazing, but lots of spritual traditions believe in life after death in one way or another, and I still don’t know how to connect that event to the various beliefs that Christianity has embraced about the nature of God and the relationship of people to God. Beyond that, the resurrection is something that some people – both within and outside the Christian tradition accept as historical, while others – also both within and outside that same tradition – do not. Thus, there is nothing really unique or indisputable about this miracle, nor is it obviously connected to any other aspect of the tradition.

There is however an indisputable historical event connected with the death of Jesus that truly blows me away every time I ponder it for even a moment, a real miracle. Normally when the leader of a small reformist sect gets arrested on false charges and summarily executed one of two things happen. Either the movement dissolves and its partisans disappear into the social woodwork or else they swear to avenge this outrage, take up arms against those they blame, whether it be government or religious authorities, and fight. The first option happens typically because the second is seen by devotees of the fallen leader to be impossible. But when it appears that the second option is possible that is nearly always what occurs, and so violence begets violence until the insurgent force is destroyed or victorious.

Neither of those things occurred with the death of Jesus. Those who loved him most neither gave up his cause nor swore to avenge his death. Instead, imbued by his spirit they did not bow to the violence they had witnessed by running away, nor vindicate that violence as a way of life by becoming violent themselves, but rather they transcended that cycle of violence by reaching out in reconciliation and love to those who had so recently killed Jesus. It cost many of them their own lives, but that did not stop those who followed them. That, to me at least, is the central miracle of Easter, and one that connects his followers in every generation directly to his life and death. We participate in that miracle by responding to the death of Jesus the way those who first loved him responded, with works of reconciliation. In fact insofar as the first believers identified themselves as The Body of Christ, we become that same Body of Christ as we do what those who most loved Jesus did, transcend the cycle of violence that so characterizes this world by refusing either to capitulate to it or to vindicate it, but instead to do that third thing which the disciples did, seek reconciliation with those whose lives are lived within the cycle of violence, and so become their path out of that cycle, should they choose to take it. The forgiveness of God is thus changed from a theological abstraction grounded in a blood sacrifice required by an angry diety to the lived experience of real human beings who by their reconciling work convey forgiveness directly to those who most need it. The Body of Christ is likewise not some unworldly manifestation of the crucified Jesus, but rather it is exactly what St. Paul and the other earliest Christians said it is, the community of those people who have been so transformed by love that they are now able to live as the disciples of Jesus lived.

To be sure, there is nothing supernatural in this miracle, but I would insist that it is completely imbued by the Divine Spirit. Nor does it insist that we have to define resurrection as the physical resuscitation of the earthly Jesus, though people certainly could, and do. Resurrection is what happens when people die to the cycle of violence of this world and are reborn to the reconciling work that characterized those who loved Jesus. Nor does this view of the miracle of Easter require that people become Christian to be part of the Body of Christ. In this view the Body of Christ is not composed of Christians, but rather is composed of all people so transformed by the love of God that they have transcended the cycle of violence in the way Magdalene and the other disciples did. They respond to violence – whether external or internal I might add – with reconciling love rather than flight or further violence. Thus, the Body of Christ isn’t about religion at all, it is about life, about the life we all share as human beings in this world, and so it speaks to one of the continuing problems of Christianity as a religion, the inescapable fact that Christianity at some point lost its contact with the central miracle of Easter and so got sucked back into the cycle of violence which the first followers of Jesus so miraculously transcended. By recognizing the real of miracle of Easter we can see how Christianity, and every world religion and institution of whatsoever kind it may be, is in constant need of that very miracle.

The dialectic of violence is that either it overwhelms all opposition and so grants a monopoly of death to one group or another, or it breeds ever greater levels of violence until that monopoly gets established. The truth of Easter, a truth that emerges not from the pages of theological speculation, but from the facts of history, is that in a moment of time that dialectic was transcended, and in that transcendence a new way of life for people was shown forth. Our choice today is exactly the same as it was 2,000 years ago, to live in the shadow of the dialectic of violence or to emerge into that new way of life shown forth in the real miracle of Easter.

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