Some Theses on the Church in North America Today (12)
12. Resurrection. Everything Christian comes down to this. Everything. Minus the bodily resurrection Christianity is either a moralistic religion or a gnostic-trending philosophy or spirituality. And before we can talk about meaning we have to talk about reality. Theologian Karl Barth once admonished his friend and student Thomas F. Torrance, “Wohlverstanden, leibliche Auferstehung” (“Mark well, bodily resurrection”).
A. John Updike gives a writer’s take in his well-known poem “Seven Stanzas at Easter”:
“Make no mistake: if he rose at all It was as His body; If the cell’s dissolution did not reverse, the molecule reknit, The amino acids rekindle, The Church will fall.
It was not as the flowers, Each soft spring recurrent; It was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled eyes of the Eleven apostles; It was as His flesh; ours.
The same hinged thumbs and toes The same valved heart That—pierced—died, withered, paused, and then regathered Out of enduring Might New strength to enclose.
Let us not mock God with metaphor, Analogy, sidestepping, transcendence, Making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded Credulity of earlier ages: Let us walk through the door.
The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache, Not a stone in a story, But the vast rock of materiality that in the slow grinding of Time will eclipse for each of us The wide light of day.
And if we have an angel at the tomb, Make it a real angel, Weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair, opaque in The dawn light, robed in real linen Spun on a definite loom.
Let us not seek to make it less monstrous, For our own convenience, our own sense of beauty, Lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are embarrassed By the miracle, And crushed by remonstrance.
B. Meaning aplenty blossoms from the reality of Jesus’ resurrection. First, we have the dawning of new creation. John pictures this for us in the scene with Jesus and Mary Magdalene in the Garden. A new Adam, a new Eve, in a Garden - can’t miss the allusion to our foreparents in that first garden. Now Jesus, the second and last Adam, and Mary, the new Eve, in a new Garden open a whole new reality for us. No longer can the old fallen world, its dynamics, perspectives, and compulsions, dictate to us the possibilities and “realities” of our lives. This is a most significant freedom. Sadly, far too few of us enjoy it.
C. The great power in our world is death, or rather, the fear of death (Heb.2:16). But Jesus’ resurrection means the “death of death.” Death swallowed up life but couldn’t hold it there. Life defeated it and henceforth death serves life as a vehicle of God’s victory (martyrdom). We have no reason to fear it. This is freedom on the most profound level of being.
D. By raising Jesus from the dead God validates and vindicates his way of life (a cross-shaped way of life). This man and the life he lived is what genuine human life looks like lived under the conditions of fallen existence. It is this life to which we have been called and for which we have been equipped by God. we participate in the freedom he displayed to live wholly and fully for God.
E. By virtue of Jesus’ resurrection we live in an overlap of ages. The old age of sin and evil is defeated but not yet banished from God’s creation. It is decaying and passing away. But like a wild beast who is most dangerous thrashing around in its death throes, the powers of death and evil still resist and fight on to the death, futile though it may be. God’s new age dawns with Jesus and exists in tension with the dying old age. The church, God’s SCRM, is like Allied forces in World War II during the time between D-Day, when the outcome of the war was decided, and V-Day, nearly a year later, when the war actually ended. It continues the fight against these evil forces implementing and extending Jesus’ victory as they go while awaiting Christ’s return to establish God’s kingdom finally and fully. The fruit of the freedom that is ours in the risen One is participating in God’s SCRM.
F. Jesus’ resurrection affirms the body and the created order. Dietrich Bonhoeffer:
“It is not a destruction of the embodiedness, but rather the new creation of embodiedness that takes place here. The body of Jesus leaves the tomb, and the tomb is empty. Just how is it possible or conceived that the mortal, perishable body is now present as the immortal, imperishable, transfigured body remains a mystery to us. Perhaps the different versions of the disciples’ encounter with the Resurrected help to make clear that we ourselves are unable to imagine what is meant by this new bodiliness of the Resurrected. We do not know that it is the same body — for the tomb is empty; and that it is a new body — for the tomb is empty. We do know that God has judged the first creation, and has created a new creation in the exact image of the first. It is not an idea of Christ that lives on, but the real, physical Christ. That is God’s yes to the new creature in the midst of the old creature. From the resurrection we know that God has not abandoned the earth, but has reconquered it, has given it a new future, a new promise. The same earth that God created bore God’s Son and his cross, and on this earth the resurrected appeared to his disciples, and to this earth Christ will return on the last day. Whoever affirms Christ’s resurrection in faith can no longer flee the world, but neither can they fall prey to the world, for in the midst of the old they have recognized God’s new creation.”G. Keynotes of resurrection are newness and freedom. Unfathomable newness and extraordinary freedom. Beyond what we can think or imagine. The life we see in Jesus become ours.