He is risen! … now what?
Last week I was a part of two vigorous online conversations regarding the resurrection. Then I had a wonderful opportunity to celebrate Easter Sunday in a glorious way. I thought it might be good to recap the implications of last week’s conversations and celebrations as we turn the corner toward Pentecost.
The next question seems to be “what do we do with this?” – also known as the so what question. People want to know because there are 3 key passages in the New Testament that say Jesus’ resurrection has consequences for what we as believers can expect after our death.
Here are the 4 layers of thought that seem to come out of the Resurrection conversation.
Layer 1: The disciples experienced Jesus after his death
and that signaled many things including that A) death is not the end and B) the Roman empire was not the final authority.
I like this interpretation. If this were all that there was, it would be enough for me. Last week I heard a number of times that this is nothing more than a ‘ghost story’ and offers no hope. I don’t see it that way, but I already wrote on it last week.
Layer 2: At the end of our life, we are taken into (or absorbed back into) the life of God. This position holds that life after death is total and absolute communion with God and that all the other ‘streets of gold’ and ‘pearly gates’ stuff is just anthropomorphic projection and imagination.
I like the language of this view. It also helps that I think the book of Revelation is a political critique of the Roman empire and has nothing to do with the end of the world and is therefor not instructive in the least about life after death. So I don’t have to worry about the personification stuff. It frees me to enjoy the thought of release and embrace: release from this life and embrace by the divine other.
Critics of this view say that it is too spiritualized and not specific enough and doesn’t give dignity to the existence of the individual. I hear what they are saying, but it opens us up the to anthropomorphic critique again.
Layer 3: Jesus was resurrected with a trans-physical body. So we can expect a glorified – bodily – spiritual/physical existence in kind.
This is the classic reading of the text. Jesus both interacted with the physical (making breakfast on the shore and letting Thomas touch his wounds) while also not being limited to the physical (walking through walls, etc.)
I am, of course, comfortable with this view as it is what I was raised with and ordained into. The only downside is that it desperately needs to humbly engage the gaps that emerge in Biblical scholarship instead of arrogantly raising it’s voice to anyone who dares question any aspect of the accounts that were written so much later and which vary from each other.
Layer 4: Some really thoughtful modern theologians have put forward some new theories or vocabularies with which to have this conversation. Notable are N.T. Wright, John Cobb, and a honorable mention goes to philosopher John Caputo.
I was listening to an interview with John Polkinghorn and he said something that caught my attention.
“What is the real me? It is certainly more than the matter of my body, because that it changing all the time. The atoms are always changing – but in some sense it is the pattern of how the atoms are formed. That,I think, is what the soul is (agreeing with Thomas Aquinas).
It is an immensely rich pattern that doesn’t end at my skin. It involves my memories, my character, my personality. I think it involves all the relationships I take on. It is complex and we struggle to even say something about it. But I do not think that God will allow that pattern to be lost and I think that God will recreate that pattern after resurrection.
Faith and Science are in conversation about what could be the continuity between this world and world that has yet to come.”
I love this language. It gets away from the historical argument of only literal vs. merely spiritual and points to the possibilities of a preferable future – but does so without being dogmatic, wooden interpretation or concrete physics. It leaves the door open for faith and invites us into a conversation. In my mind, that is better than rote
regurgitation repetition of old formulations. It encourages us to think and causes us to explore.*
* I would even go so far as to say think biblically and explore theologically.