Grant, we pray, Almighty God, that we who celebrate with awe the Paschal feast may be found worthy to attain to everlasting joys; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
I take the position, along with the historic church, that Jesus’ bodily resurrection is necessary for salvation. If Jesus was not physically raised, then the Christian faith is false and not worth salvaging.
Please consider the following:
The New Testament writers would not have known the concept of resurrection without the body. To be sure, there was the concept of the immaterial soul in Platonic philosophy, but the language of the New Testament is not Platonic in this respect. A superficial reading of the New Testament demonstrates this. The Gospels claim that the tomb was empty, which meant that Jesus’ body was not there. Now this claim in and of itself does not demonstrate that Jesus rose physically, but it does show what resurrection meant to the Gospel writers and their readers. Something had indeed physically happened to Jesus’ body. Years ago, the Jewish scholar, Geza Vermes stated that the evidence of the empty tomb of Jesus was incontrovertible. It is outside of the bounds of historical competence to imagine that the disciples knew Jesus was dead, but somehow started proclaiming his “resurrection” because his life and ministry changed their hearts. The Jewish leadership would have seen as no serious threat Christians running around Jerusalem proclaiming that a still dead Jesus had been spiritually raised within them.
Such individuals as Bishop John Spong, who proclaim belief in miracles, including the resurrection of corpses, as somehow out of date, are themselves not espousing new, enlightened ideas in their rejection of such things. Such disbelief has been around for centuries, and their divorce of body from spirit is more primitive and older than the claim of bodily resurrection.
Moreover, the Apostle Paul bears witness to the necessity of the bodily resurrection of Jesus, not only in 1 Corinthians, but also as he, prior to his conversion, persecuted the first Christians. Ellis Rivkin, another Jewish scholar, asks what would have set Paul (Saul) off against those early believers sending him off to Damascus to incarcerate Christians. He concludes that it had to be the claim of a bodily raised Jesus. As a Pharisee, Paul would have believed that only the righteous were raised. The claim of Jesus’ resurrection meant, therefore, that this Jesus was indeed God’s man and God’s favor rested upon him. The implications for Paul (Saul) were clear. Once he became convinced of Jesus’ resurrection, he had no option but to accept him as God’s Anointed.
If indeed the first Christians had non-corporeal visions of Jesus, they would not have used the language of resurrection. In Jewish literature we read of such visions. The Jews had language to describe such visions; it was not the language of resurrection.
I could go on and on, but just one last point: It mystifies me that many whose theology tends to be more “liberal” (sorry about the label; I hate labels) reject the necessity of a bodily raised Jesus, yet they place so much importance on social justice in this world, caring for the poor in this world, and being good stewards of the environment in this world. The bodily resurrection of Jesus is God’s affirmation that this world matters, that God intends to save this world, and so it is critically important to seek justice in this life, to feed the poor in this life, and to care for the environment in this life.
An early Christological argument for the full humanity of Jesus was “that which he has not become he has not saved.” In like fashion, that which Jesus has not overcome he has not defeated. If Jesus’ body remains lifeless, death is still in control and stalks us with no hope for victory. If Jesus’ resurrection is simply a metaphor for his spirit rising to be with God, then salvation is nothing more than pie-in-the-sky in the sweet by-and-by. Such faith becomes other-worldly, divorced from the real problems of human existence that God desires to eliminate. When faith is divorced from history, it is divorced from the reality of this world, and when it is divorced from the reality of this world, all that matters is going to heaven when we die. We do not need to be concerned that the poor are fed; after all, they will die soon enough and go to be with God. Those who care so much about justice in this world need to embrace the bodily raised Jesus; it is the most powerful affirmation that the work of social justice matters.
In conclusion, allow me to quote Tom Wright, bishop of Durham:
“Jesus’ resurrection is the beginning of God’s new project, not to snatch people away from earth to heaven, but to colonize earth with the life of heaven. That, after all, is what the Lord’s Prayer is about.
When Paul wrote his great resurrection chapter, 1 Corinthians 15, he didn’t end by saying, “So let’s celebrate the great future life that awaits us.” He ended by saying, “So get on with your work, because you know that in the Lord it won’t go to waste.” When the final resurrection occurs, as the centerpiece of God’s new creation, we will discover that everything done in the present world in the power of Jesus’ own resurrection will be celebrated and included, appropriately transformed” (Surprised by Hope).
We sing during Easter, “You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart.” Well, that is nice, but it is not good enough. The Jesus who “lives” within my heart is not sufficient to renew all of creation. More is necessary.
A reductionist faith that minimizes Jesus’ resurrection to nothing more than spiritual niceties cannot meet the challenges of a world in desperate need of resurrection, in desperate need of new life.
He is risen indeed!
Allan R. Bevere, All Is Not As It Seems: Random Reflections on Faith, Ethics, and Politics, 159-162.
Lord of all life and power,
who through the mighty resurrection of your Son
overcame the old order of sin and death
to make all things new in him:
grant that we, being dead to sin
and alive to you in Jesus Christ,
may reign with him in glory;
to whom with you and the Holy Spirit
be praise and honour, glory and might,
now and in all eternity.
After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.
There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.
The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
After someone dies, we often say, “Rest in peace.” Jesus completed all things in accordance with scripture and by his death—awaiting the confirmation of that and result in his resurrection—God’s atoning work was done.
For us who see the entire story, there is kind of a pleasing rest about all of this. Yes, Jesus somehow in spirit (with a provisional body?) saw the repentant thief in Paradise. His atoning sufferings were over. And death would not hold him.
Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea, and he himself was waiting for the kingdom of God. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body. Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid. It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin.
The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.
O God, Creator of heaven and earth: Grant that, as the crucified body of your dear Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath, so we may await with him the coming of the third day, and rise with him to newness of life; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Perhaps more than any other day on the sacred calendar, Good Friday is marked with a sense of awe, even foreboding. Such a sacred place, that we dare not come near. Hushed, hardly daring to raise up our faces and look and listen to all that occurred during those few, yet all too long—six—hours. The Son of God from the heart of the Father had come into the world for this, to save the world from itself, from its sins. This is where sin reached its highest point and climax, so to speak. And where it was dealt with once and forever, a final death blow. That to be verified three days later in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. And why this day is called, “Good Friday.”
This is why the symbol of the cross marks the Christian tradition. Crucifixes in my view have value, because they remind us of the sufferings and death of our Lord. But the cross is best seen as empty. Because the one who died on it, was buried, and now is resurrected from death into the new life which is for all, for the world, indeed for all creation.
We do well to spend time today going through the sacred texts. As if we were present. Seeing the sights and hearing the sounds. Especially listening to Jesus’ words. Beholding his cries and death.
As the soldiers led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then
“‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!”
and to the hills, “Cover us!”’
For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”
Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.
The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”
The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”
There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews.
One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.
The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.” When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away. But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.