Posts Tagged ‘resurrection’

JOHN 10:11-18

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

The telling difference between the good and true shepherd and a hired hand is that only the former cares enough for his sheep, rather than for the reward of his earnings, to risk injury and death for their protection. When danger comes, the hired hand decides that the sheep are only “so much an hour” in value anyway, and saves himself instead. The good shepherd, on the other hand, knows his sheep and values them as having intrinsic worth – that they are “worth saving.”

In just about any life domain you can easily tell between those who are there because they believe in the cause, and those who are in it for the payoff.

One of the things that dawned on the disciples in that revolutionary moment of realization called the resurrection, is that Jesus had been genuinely committed to his cause. When the cross appeared on his horizon he didn’t calculate in the interest of his own safety and individual survival. Whereas other self-proclaimed messiahs had appeared around the same time – the named “Barabbas” of the Gospels may have been one – many had forsaken their apocalyptic visions and promises by abandoning their followers at the eleventh hour.

Not so with Jesus. He had remained focused and faithful to the bitter end, and this courageous integrity on his part authenticated his gospel in the very instant of his self-accepted martyrdom.

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1 JOHN 3:16-24

16 We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 17 How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?

18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.19 And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20 whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22 and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.

23 And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24 All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.

Now we can see that believing in the name of Jesus Christ and loving one another are really two ways of saying the same thing. In other words, Christians believe that “Jesus” names the gracious outreach of God in the form of a love that brings us to the heart of the divine Mystery itself. In naming the core we name the center around which all the other qualities and facets of God are coordinated and unified.

For that reason, Peter had been bold (but not narrow-minded!) enough to claim that there is “no other name” by which we are saved. “Jesus,” then, names not only the unique revelation of unconditional love profoundly demonstrated on the cross, but by association every form of grace, even grace itself. Importantly, such belief is not so much dogmatic as it is practical: we show we “believe in Jesus” by loving as he loved. It’s not a question of which religion is true, but how love was and is made real.

That’s why, despite the tendency in so many churches and traditions toward some type of gnosticism where correct doctrine is necessary to salvation, the authentic New Testament view is that, not the purity of our doctrine (“word and speech”) but the integrity of our love (“truth and action”) is the determining factor. And the Spirit that indwells the one who truly loves is, according to the core Christian experience (resurrection), none other than the spirit of Jesus. Our acts of love thus become present-day appearances of the risen Christ and fresh incarnations of divine grace.

LUKE 24:36b-48

36 Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37 They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate in their presence.

44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.

What proved eventually to have more persuasive value than the appearance stories that were circulating among Christians was what might be called the “argument from the scriptures.” Since the Jewish population made up the major field of earliest Christian outreach, a basis for believing in Jesus as God’s messiah had to be generated out of the writings and traditions that held their respect. Granted an undeniable liberty in the early Christian handling of the texts, there was still something to be said for the discernible current of God’s promise in scripture and its fulfillment in history.

Whether their method used in interpreting the Bible was water-tight and logically sound or not, these early believers found confirmation of their resurrection experience in the sacred texts. The writings themselves testified to a process unfolding through time, various names for which were grace, blessing, redemption, and salvation.

Time and again, this grace had broken through and passed beyond the obstacles of human neglect, habit, rebellion, and oppression, in order to achieve its realization at the next level and for a new generation. What to all appearances had been ignored as without value, discarded as useless and abandoned as hopeless, had become, time and again, the very means through which the divine blessing advanced.

That’s what had happened! What had seemed dead and gone was experienced as alive and present, gathering heat like a glowing ember in the depths of the heart, where hope is born ever new.

LUKE 24:36b-48

36 Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37 They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate in their presence.

44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.

The essential mystery of the resurrection had less to do with the chance encounter with a body-once-dead-but-brought-back-to-life than with the post-crucifixion experience of a grace that had become so identified with the presence and personality of Jesus that its event inspired the conviction: “He is alive!”

The fact that even in the appearance stories Jesus is frequently unrecognized by even his closest followers until he identifies himself to them, reinforces the view that we are dealing here with something much more profound than a merely resuscitated body. Again, it is not the thing “out there” but the experience “in here” that is the heart of the resurrection mystery.

Why, then, does this storyteller portray the risen Jesus as inviting verification from his dumbfounded disciples? We can sense behind this episode what must have been a significant criticism in and around the author’s community, from individuals and parties who were beginning to challenge the validity of the so-called resurrection experience. As safeguard to the authentic Christian experience, the Gospel writers inserted into their stories narrative remarks and reported events that would address these doubts and rumors.

For instance, Matthew inserted a brief exchange between the guards, who were as close to being witnesses of the resurrection as anyone could be, and the chief priests of the Jews. After reporting to the priests what they had seen, the guards were paid and instructed to say that some disciples had come by night and stole away with the dead body of Jesus.

 

JOHN 20:19-31

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Jesus helped us understand that forgiveness is the essence of God, or Spirit, and that being both forgiven and forgiving is the experience upon which the world’s future depends. When he breathed upon his disciples on the evening of Easter Sunday, he imparted to them the power to let go, an internal freedom against which no outward form of liberty or permission can compare.

Jesus’ gospel centered on the act and realization of forgiveness, of living in such a way that all resentment, grudge-bearing, lingering disappointment, and other fixations on the past are released and forgotten. It isn’t necessary – nor is it healthy! – to “set the record straight” and “get the balance even” before you can move on with your life. God is not holding your past against you, and neither should you be dragging it along. You have been set free, but now it is up to you to drop the chains and embrace your freedom.

This ideal of forgiveness was unlocked from the confinements of common sense and retributive justice through the personal choices that Jesus made on a daily basis, culminating in his decision and supplication with God to forgive his enemies from the cross. Right then and there, the redemptive power of forgiveness – of a love that is unconditional, unfailing, and totally gratuitous – was personified, embodied, and released into our human history. To symbolize the presence of that transforming power now at work in the world, the spirit of Jesus moved upon the dark fear of his disciples, as upon the primordial waters of Genesis, and called forth a new creation.

ACTS 4:32-35

32 Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. 33 With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. 35 They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

Earliest Christianity, according to the view provided in the New Testament book of Acts (“Acts of the Apostles”), was a true form of communism, where the later axiom of Karl Marx – “from each according to ability, to each according to need” – was collectively honored and faithfully practiced. There was little ambition for personal property or worldly success, as their focus and allegiance were fastened on something transcendent and future-oriented. This reality, being both the providential support as well as the driving power beneath and within the emerging community of the Church, was the reign of God as proclaimed and personified by Jesus.

In fact, what is called the Easter Event can be understood as the experience of being grasped by the very power that Jesus embodied, along with the vision that had inspired his devotion and personal sacrifice. The moment after the cross when the fearful company of disciples was seized with the realization of this spirit of Jesus as miraculously enduring and presently available, was the resurrection of Christ into the community of the gospel. Such living and functioning together as one is what the apostle Paul would refer to as “the body of Christ, his Church.”

MARK 16:1-8

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

What, really, was the resurrection all about? Was it simply a matter of a body coming back to life? Was it some kind of mystical transport to another realm, outside the dimensions of ordinary consciousness? The crux of the problem, surprisingly, has less to do with the intrinsic meaning of the resurrection itself than with the way our question is phrased in the first place. We shouldn’t be asking what the resurrection was, but what it IS.

Taking a clue from Paul, whose ministry and writings predate our earliest Gospel (Mark), the resurrection needs to be understood as a possible experience in present time, and not simply a reference to a miraculous event in the past. Just as the redemption of the cross is unfinished until that moment the believer grasps its import and surrenders to its simultaneous judgment and forgiveness, so the resurrection is more an event vibrating on the threshold of reality than something for the history books. In fact, in the larger picture the cross and the resurrection belong together, as two sides of a single yet dynamic mystery.

The darkness of the cross is our realization of standing with those who put Jesus away, owning within ourselves that which rejects the essential truth by nailing it to the beam of our anxious certainties. But when the experience comes to us, utterly unexpected and undeserved, of a generous love that is given again and again despite our best efforts to destroy it, and opening at last to its irresistible grace, we are set free and filled with the holy light of new life.

MARK 16:1-8

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

There’s another thing about Mark’s version of the story. What later writers (Matthew, Luke, and John) would expand and elaborate into dramatic and even first-hand accounts is a simple discovery on the part of the women who came to finish the job of burial that early Sunday morning. No earthquake and descending angel, as in Matthew. No glorified body capable of eating a piece of broiled fish, as in Luke. No resurrected flesh still with the wounds of crucifixion that could be fingered and touched, as in John. In Mark’s Gospel, all we are left with is … absence. “He is not here.”

Once more we must ask, Why the brevity? Why such thin support from the supernatural beyond?  Why leave us with nothing to hold onto but a vacant tomb and the hysterical report of a few terrified women? If Mark is writing for the purpose of promoting the early Christian movement, then his choice of an ending amounted to bad advertising. Who wants to get behind that?

We get the sense that Mark is trying to draw our focus away from such surface sensations as angels, appearances, and palpable proofs of what can only be grasped, felt, and understood by way of an inner realization. Faith has never been about evidence, or the lack of it. The true disciple walks by faith, not by sight.

MARK 16:1-8

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

It is difficult for modern readers to believe that the original manuscript of Mark’s Gospel ended with the women’s fleeing the tomb in terror. That’s hardly a mood you would want to leave your audience with – or is it?

It’s possible that the so-called appearance narratives where Jesus is seen by the women (or Mary Magdalene), his disciples (except for Judas), and hundreds of others (according to the tradition) came later, as the experience symbolized in the resurrection was further explored and understood. If they were around at the time Mark was writing his Gospel, and assuming he knew about them, then the question arises as to why he chose to leave these appearances out of his story.

The answer may lie in the effect that Mark had been trying to cultivate throughout his biography of Jesus. A primary theme in Mark’s story centers on the cost of discipleship, on whether the reader is ready to accept the call to follow, all the way to the cross. Great courage is required, for this path of Jesus is guaranteed to be filled with dangers, sacrifices, and opposition from every side.

As Mark is writing, there are no supernatural sightings of Jesus to either embolden the believer or convince the skeptic. The resurrection made discipleship no easier than it had been when Jesus first issued the challenge to follow.

EPHESIANS 1:15-23

15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. 20 God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

To say that “God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead” (and so forth) might lead us to think that the resurrection was the decisive moment when Jesus became Lord and Son of God. Christian orthodoxy insists that he was Son of God since before the beginning, tending to blur even this distinction in its doctrine of Jesus as God. But this wasn’t Paul’s view. Jesus – Christ, Lord, and Savior to use some of Paul’s favorite designations – was not himself God, but rather was “declared” Son of God by the power of his resurrection (see Romans 1:4).

For Paul, everything changed at the resurrection – which wasn’t a mere miracle, but the transforming moment when Jesus was set free, raised up, and granted authority over the nations. Whereas the cross had been the world’s “No” to Jesus, the resurrection was God’s “Yes.” By declaring (which is more than just making an announcement, but making it so) Jesus his Son, God gave warrant to what Jesus had been all about.

The contrast between the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus was even more significant to Paul, however, for it wasn’t simply “the world” that rejected Jesus, but the Law that had put him away. The accusation, rationale, and judgment that had sentenced him to die was based on and justified by the Mosaic Law at the heart of Paul’s own religion. Jesus’ kingdom movement had promoted the values of human dignity, liberty and neighborly love over the authority of Tradition, Temple and Torah (Jewish orthodoxy).

The Law wasn’t against these values, we should be clear. But in defending itself – as orthodoxy and empire are wont to do – it forced the condemnation of Jesus, an innocent and truly righteous man of God. For that reason, the merit system of purity and obedience informed by and organized around the Law was nullified, undermined and rendered invalid by its own self-contradiction.

                                                                                                     

It doesn’t appear that Paul was personally familiar with the early history of Jesus and his kingdom movement. Nowhere in his letters does he refer to Jesus’ teachings or notorious way of life. He started out as a “bounty hunter” for Christians, taking them into custody for prosecution. As a Pharisee, Paul (as Saul) was deeply devoted to his religion and upholding its Law. The followers of Jesus broke the Law, or at least didn’t observe it to the extent Paul knew they should, and so they needed to be brought to justice – just as Jesus himself had been.

Tradition has it that the young Pharisee was looking after the cloaks of those who started stoning a Jesus follower named Stephen. As he looked on (with approval, we presume), Paul heard Stephen call to God in his last breath, to forgive those who were taking his life. It may well be that this (admittedly reconstructed) encounter with the kingdom movement in the martyrdom of Stephen impressed Paul in a way he wasn’t yet ready to acknowledge or fully understand. But the seed of revolution was sown.

On his way to find more Christians, the inner tension caused by the polarity of his fanatical devotion to God’s Law and the unconditional forgiveness of Stephen finally “broke” (resolved itself) in the realization that the spirit of Jesus was still alive and active, even after his crucifixion. Although Paul recounts this experience as more like a mystical illumination than a supernatural encounter, the distillation of its significance was symbolized as resurrection.

Perhaps we can state Paul’s transforming experience as simply as this: in a moment that would become the turning-point of his life, Paul understood that God’s love is freely given (grace) and unconditional (forgiveness) – not in some abstract sense, but personally, for him (Paul), the one who had been fighting against this love with all his religious conviction.

Resurrection, then, marked the threshold into a new age. The cross had canceled out the validity of the Law as a way of salvation; now grace, and the trusting response of full acceptance called faith, is the path for everyone – Jews and Gentiles, male and female, saints and sinners alike.

The resurrection is not some miraculous event locked in the past, and it’s not merely something that happened to Jesus. Rather it is that decisive and life-changing moment when a person fully accepts his or her acceptance by God. Love wins.