I still remember the existential gut wrenching I felt when I first read John Dominic Crossan’s assertion that underneath the resurrection story that cracks like holy thunder on Easter morning was the more likely scenario that the crucified body of Jesus was probably consumed by wild dogs. I was just beginning to push my long held religious construct beyond its moorings in traditional Christian dogma and to embrace a more progressive view of faith. Crossan had so inspired me with his book, In Parables, that I quickly adopted him as my own personal guru as I searched for a more enlightened faith. But dogs? Wild dogs barking in the eerie dawn of Easter morning are a far cry from the empty tomb, the chocolate wrapped bunnies and the radiant, redeemed body of my Lord and Savior. This was not going to be an easy journey.
I spent a few Easters shutting out the brutal wisdom of my Irish mentor and gradually worked my way into a metaphorical Easter morning. That seemed like a decent compromise. I was able to reframe my well-loved, literal resurrection scenario into a provocative proclamation of those first followers who now had a Galilean peasant to glorify on the heels of his brutal death. And yet, every Easter I could still hear the dogs barking in the distance. At some point, I was going to have to let my life-long Savior meet the same fate as all the others who got caught up in the Roman crucifixion system. I still needed to face the hard realities that Jesus of Nazareth really did die on a cross and that his humiliating death is really the end of my story. Or is it?
As the realities of Crossan’s savage scenario slowly found a greater place within my consciousness, I began to feel a different kind of Easter coming on. This resurrection was both deeply physical and deeply historic despite my efforts to disengage from the bodily resurrection of a Galilean Jew. This resurrection was all about me. With a force that I could not anticipate, Easter after Easter I began to look at my own flesh and blood and wonder if I had broken from all the forces of death that brought an end to what seemed like our best hope for life. Was it my flesh that needed to break from the tombs that hold me? Was it my historical context, my time and place in the Northern California suburbs that needed to find its Easter legs? With the dogs barking in the background, this life that Jesus revealed was now to course through my bones and find expression in my time and place. I needed to find my way out from this dog eat dog world and experience Easter in the flesh, my flesh.
With a few Easters now under my belt since I began to walk out of that empty tomb, I feel like I have begun to embrace the mystery of the resurrection as a progressive Christian. I am able to let the dogs bark as they participate in the frenzy of flesh as Roman guards look on, and I am able to feel the force of Easter in my own bones. The resurrection is taking place within my beating heart and within the heart of the community life I strive to foster.
Crossan closes his book on parables with a poem by W. H. Auden. It’s the one poem I have committed to memory these days.
Thanks for the evening; but how
Shall we satisfy when we meet
Between Shall-I and I-Will,
The lion’s mouth whose hunger
No metaphors can Fill?
Can you hear the dogs barking in the distance?