In the resurrection story that is recorded in Luke, there is a group of women who go to the burial place of Jesus to bring spices and oil to anoint Jesus’ body. This is different than the story depicted in the book of John where only Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb or in the book of Mark where three women, Mary Magdalene, Mary, Jesus’ mother and Salome go to Jesus’ burial place. I point this out because, unlike the other gospel writers, Luke wanted his readers to understand that Jesus was not just the messiah for the Jews as depicted in Matthew but he wants his readers to know that Jesus was the messiah, the anointed one, for the whole world.
Therefore, he has a large group of nameless women show up to anoint their fallen leader, and it would have been presumed that some of these women were gentiles. Now this seems more like the Easter Services that we have in our churches these days, when a whole extra group of people show up for their semi-annual church experience. I used to enjoy getting reacquainted with the Christmas and Easter segment of our congregation.
And I have always liked Luke’s version of the empty tomb visit by all of these women. According to this version of the resurrection story, the women meet a couple of dazzling men inside the tomb. The women were terrified, of course, but then the men asked, “Why are you here?” Now on the surface that sounds like a dumb question, doesn’t it? “Why are we here? We are here to do what we always do with dead bodies.”
According to the writer of Luke, the two dazzling men continue, “Well he is not here. He is risen.” But unlike other writers of the gospels these dazzling fellows don’t give the women any instructions about where to go to find him or meet him…not in Galilee; not in Emmaus; or not in Jerusalem. We just get the idea that he is gone…out there…somewhere.
Over the years as I struggled with Easter sermons, I often found myself asking some of the same questions. “Why am I here?” “Why are we all here?” “Are we standing in an empty tomb?” I wondered what I can do as a scholar of scholars with the Resurrection.
I once heard a Professor of Church History and a consultant for the Alban Institute challenge his audience that was made up of mostly clergy. He said, “Churches are rapidly becoming the empty tombs of the Christian story.” Quoting from the same passage from Luke he suggested that more and more people are asking the question like the dazzling men in Luke’s story, “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?”
Someone recently wrote me a couple of years ago, quoting from what he considered a scholarly publication: “In the Christian faith, Easter is the most sacred of holy days because it commemorates the cornerstone of the miracle of the Christian faith; had Christ not risen, Christianity could never have flourished, since the man Jesus would not have been proven to be the Son-of-God Jesus.”
Did he say, “proven to be the son-of-God?” I don’t know who wrote this commentary but clearly he has not read recently published books like the one written by Bernard Brandon Scott, The Trouble with Resurrection (Polebridge Press, 2010)
I would also like to ask him why Buddhism has flourished. And why has Islam flourished? There is no incarnate God/son in either of these traditions and the only proof that Buddha said was necessary was to try it and find out for oneself. The “proof” was in the practicing.
I don’t know why it is so important for some people to think that there is historical or even scientific proof that their religion is the only right one. Why do they need to think that their guy was really the only one true God and not a prophet or enlightened teacher? Is it too much of a threat to accept that the message came from out of one’s real experience of the Holy, the Sacred…God? Is their faith so weak, that it requires some perceived proof that 2000 years ago there was a one-time miracle of a physical resurrection that proves this? Of course this leaves out Lazarus and a whole lot of other resurrection stories. Let’s face it, Greek, Egyptian and Middle Eastern mythologies all had some form of resurrection story. We just happen to call them mythology.
The reality is that modern scholarship has made these traditional Christian super-miraculous beliefs more difficult to accept as a form of proof. Furthermore we have 2000 years of history to observe how the arrogance in thinking that one’s religion is the only right religion has led to terrible atrocities and horrible consequences that no loving God would ever have endorsed. Over the years it has become clearer to me that any religion that divides people into the “ins” and “outs” cannot be an expression of anything we could call God the Creator, Sacred Unity or Alaha.
But you see I do believe that the contemporary Christian story still has a resurrection. I speak here not as an historical event seen through the eyes of simple people who believed in a judging God that caused lightning, floods, wind and epidemics; nor am I referring to evangelist gospel writers who wanted everyone to know how special Jesus was, so they naturally used common terms of the day, such as “Son of God,” “son of man,” “messiah” and the “anointed one,” to let people know how special they thought he was. I say this not through the eyes of the First Century Jew who at that time had no concept of a separation between body and soul, or body and spirit so had to try and explain an “experienced phenomenon” in terms that were common concepts to their listeners…a physical resurrection.
I do believe there is real resurrection in the Christian story. The Resurrection story reminds us that there can be new life as an experienced phenomenon. Theologian Tom Harper suggests that we should view the Resurrection as a primordial myth. It is about dying to ourselves, (egocentric, self centered, frightened selves) so that we might experience new birth, new life with a radical new way of seeing reality. It is waking up “with eyes to see and ears to hear” as part of the path that Jesus left for his followers.
This Jesus story does offer a different kind of resurrection. Jesus told his seekers where to find him. He told them if we wanted to meet him, to go and do likewise. “When you see a stranger and welcome him, I will be there. When you see someone naked and you clothe them, I will be there. And when you see someone hungry and you give him or her food, or when you see someone thirsty and you give him or her drink, I will be there. When you visit the sick or the imprisoned I will be there. “
John Cobb, eminent theologian and father of Process Theology, suggests that whenever there is an expression of compassionate love, Christ (Logos-God or Incarnate) is there. Christ, according to Dr. Cobb is the creative transformation, which is at work in us as human love.
The post resurrected Christ, is manifested in our love, in our compassion, and in our actions…not in history. Jesus is resurrected in spirit, not in body. As Paul put it, “What goes into the earth is physical, what come out is spiritual.”
Resurrection is something to be experienced not debated. It is not a historical date; it is an expression and an experience of a Profound Love. It can happen in your home, your work place, your neighborhood, wherever you encounter someone in need. It can happen when we unconditionally offer someone a hug, a kind word, or forgiveness. It can be experienced in our quiet repentence. Jesus didn’t tell his disciples to meet him at the temple to pray or to hang out around an empty tomb and worship him. He told them to go and do likewise and he would meet them there.
So the question is still “What are you looking for?”
Unfortunately if you are someone looking for proof of a historical event to bolster your faith or prove your beliefs, then you may not be satisfied with much that you read here. But if you are looking for ways to experience God Incarnate, to find the sacred in your secular world…to learn to live a resurrected life now in this incredible place we call earth, then I suggest you try living it.
And just think what that kind of living could create in the world: a place where everyone listens to everyone; where everyone is treated with dignity regardless of their color, gender, sexual orientation or economic standing; where the poor have as much right to govern as the rich; where the insights of women are valued as much as the insights of men; and where there is a reverence for all life and shared abundance for all.
That’s what the resurrection could mean…and when that happens and when enough of us experience and believe it, then we can raise our voices together and shout with utter joy…Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!