It goes without saying, Easter is a big deal. I only have to mention the significance of passages like Paul’s claim in 1 Corinthians 15:13-15 (NIV)
13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised.
As I a pastor I looked forward to Easter so much, but I knew that we would have visitors, family members, and friends who would come to our services out of relational obligation or for social interest in the event. I knew that some of these would not believe in the literalness of the resurrection of Jesus’ body.
I always had to think through how I was going to talk about this as a way that was both faithful in proclamation for us as a community of faith, while also attempting to be invitational and sensitive to potential objections or barriers from our guests.
I have no interest in apologizing for what we believe as a faith community. But neither do I want to dogmatically push an ancient worldview that may, to the listener, be suspicious at best and incompatible at worst.
In light of the conversation that we have been having here over the last couple of weeks about the difference between the supernatural and the miraculous, the resurrection takes on an interesting twist.
Here is the thing: as in so many aspects of our modern life, we exist in a world dominated by dualism. Either-Or, Us-Them, In-Out, Right-Wrong, Creation-Evolution, Republican-Democrat, Christian-Secular, etc.
The resurrection is no different. The two options seems to be
A) it happened literally just like the Gospel accounts portray
B) the laws of physics can not be broken by even God and so the Gospel accounts are literary creations designed to portray theological themes.
I get both of those perspectives. I myself have no problem with the bodily resurrection as a miraculous event that carries deep theological implications (like prolepsis, ontological priority of the future, etc.)
But … in the same way that Jesus’ walking on water is not the POINT of the story [read about that here]. The point was to hear the word of Christ “be not afraid” . It was not simply to understand the physics of how Jesus might have walked on the water or to add it to a checklist of things you must believe even if you don’t understand them.
So… I would like to present a ‘third way’ to understand the resurrection that is in line with my reading of Jesus walking on the water.
What if the point of the resurrection accounts isn’t about the biological body of Jesus but that the disciples experienced Jesus’ presence and took this to mean that 1) death is not the end and 2) the Empire is not the victor – that something (someone) else is great than the domination of Rome and their crosses.
Most people object to this based on the grounds of the stories that we read about between the resurrection and the ascension. People point to the disciples’ experience in those days and say “but it had such a powerful impact on them”. I agree.
But the thing that we have to keep in mind is that in Acts 9, Paul experienced Jesus post-ascension and he was also powerfully changed. It was that same guy (now named Paul) who penned the words that I quoted earlier (1 Cor. 15) . But Paul did not encounter the biological body of Christ. He experienced something we can call the ‘real presence’ of Christ.
My question is ‘why could that not have been what the disciples experienced?’
I want to be clear: I am not trying to get everyone to believe this third option. I am simply trying to provided an alternative to the modern either-or argument that is stuck in an endless round-and-round stand off.
My only point is that those who buy into this third (real presence) option count as “believing in the resurrection”. Those who subscribe to a literal-physical option often claim that only their option (#1) counts as legitimate. I think that – in the case – the tent is big enough to include the ‘real presence’ crowd as “believers” in the resurrection.
The point of the text is not about physics or biology. I believe in that aspect of the story – but I have to remember that understanding or believing in the physics is not the point. To experience the risen Christ and be changed by that presence is the point.