ACTS 2:14a, 22-32

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.

22 “You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— 23 this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. 24 But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. 25 For David says concerning him,

‘I saw the Lord always before me,
    for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken;
26 therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
    moreover my flesh will live in hope.
27 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
    or let your Holy One experience corruption.
28 You have made known to me the ways of life;
    you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’

29 “Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. 31 Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying,

‘He was not abandoned to Hades,
    nor did his flesh experience corruption.’

32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.

“David … both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.” Jesus, on the other hand, was “raised up” by God and is alive now. Should we imagine a ‘CSI Jerusalem’ team going out in search of proof either way?

It is obvious that empty tombs are not really proof of anything – except maybe emptiness. Christianity – as distinct but not separate from the kingdom movement centered around the life and teachings of Jesus – did not explode on the scene because some of his early followers found his tomb empty.

His body could have been misplaced or stolen. Or, going on the theory that the garden tomb tradition was a fictional embellishment on a biblical text taken as prophecy, it might have been thrown into a shallow grave and later scavenged by vultures and wild dogs.

It appears that this claim of resurrection grew harder and harder to defend as a factual statement about a once-dead body and a now-empty tomb. By increasingly desperate measures, the evolving stories started to include white-robed men, an Easter earthquake, a descending angel rolling away the stone, and then various encounters with Jesus and his personal appearances at larger gatherings of believers.

The apostle Paul would later testify on behalf of his own one-on-one with the risen Christ – which really makes it the first claim to a live encounter, since Paul wrote about his experience almost 20 years prior to our earliest Gospel account (Mark). In fact, Paul may have been the first to employ this metaphor of resurrection, perhaps as a way of making a connection between his transforming experience on the way to Damascus and the founder of the messianic movement he was working hard to extinguish. The very one he was persecuting suddenly spoke or appeared to him with forgiveness and a missionary calling.

We are obviously chasing down a rabbit here, but let’s go one step farther.

What if all the later stories of post-resurrection appearances and encounters, earthquakes, angels and the empty tomb itself were narrative representations of an essentially mystical experience of death-and-rebirth, of “dying” (letting go and falling) into grace and “coming to life” in freedom, joy, and gratitude? This experience in itself is profoundly interior and beyond words, yet everything changes as a result.

In one of his authenticated early letters, Paul professes: “I have been crucified with Christ. Now I [ego] no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). For Paul, the resurrection wasn’t something that happened to Jesus. It really has nothing to do with an empty tomb somewhere, and it wouldn’t be nullified with the chance discovery of Jesus’ remains.

As you identify with Jesus – that is to say, you understand and inwardly accept the gift of unconditional love and forgiveness that came through him – you cannot help but drop your agenda, surrender your will, and live fearlessly in the moment.

Resurrection is an experience; the myth is commentary. Here, once again, we have the dichotomy of mysticism and orthodoxy that is a paradox inherent in every living religion.

Whether it’s true or not is up to you.

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