Lenten Talk on the Meaning of the Cross, Resurrection and Christians in Relation to other Beliefs.
Last week we reviewed the four sources of truth about God for Wesley: Scripture, tradition, reason and experience, with “experience” being his unique addition to what he had inherited from the Church of England. Scripture comes first, but as I said two weeks ago, part of the challenge of Scripture involves acknowledging that Scripture speaks in different voices, and that all of us who read and interpret Scripture make choices regarding which passages we will give more authority to — which passages we will use to interpret the rest of Scripture.
When it comes to the question of how Christians are to relate to persons of other religions, or to no faith at all, some Christians will invariably lift up the following words of Jesus from the Gospel of John as THE authoritative text: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) You can’t get any more clear than that, they will say. Unless you confess Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior — you are cut off from God, and you can’t get to heaven. Perhaps they will also quote John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish but have eternal life” where the implication seems to be, unless you believe in Jesus you WILL perish and NOT have eternal life.
But if we stop and consider the words of Jesus: “I am the way…” the question becomes, “what is the ‘way’?” You may remember that the Book of Acts tells us that in the earliest church Christians were called simply the people of “the way.” The way centered on a simple profession: “Jesus is our crucified and risen Lord,” but what truly distinguished the “way” was the quality of life lived together that revealed the ‘Kingdom of God” — a way of life involving sacrificial love, sharing and caring for the least among us, and mercy and grace. When Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life…” he was responding to a specific question of Thomas. It was Jesus’ last night with the disciples and he was speaking in veiled language about going to the Father, and frustrated, Thomas says, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ And the way, quite literally was through death. Jesus was about to die, and we, in following him are called to die daily, sacrificing our little egos that want to sit on the throne of our lives, so that we may embody God’s love in this world. Baptism, the sacrament through which one entered the way was a symbol of death and resurrection – dying to self to live for Christ.
Elsewhere during that same last night with his disciples, Jesus said, “This is how people will know that you are my disciples… (what? That you will go around and ask people if they have taken Jesus as their personal Lord and savior? No.) “that you love one another.” That we love as He has loved us.
The biggest problem with “Christendom” was that too often the Christians were understood to be who knew the code to unlock heaven’s door. The distinctive way of life that necessarily was lived if Jesus was the Lord of your life was lost.
So again: Scripture, tradition, reason and experience.
The funny thing about reason is that it isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be — it isn’t always truly reasonable. We’re all familiar with the term “rationalize.” Here is the way our religious beliefs often work: We choose certain scriptures to elevate, deciding what you believe to be true. We then rationalize an argument to support what you already decided was true. What often that avoid contact (perhaps unconsciously) with persons through whom we might have experiences that would challenge what we have decided to be true.
Such avoidance doesn’t sound like the way of Jesus, because one of the extraordinary things about him was his willingness to be in relationship with whomever was willing to be in relationship with him. He accepted the invitation to go to the house of Simon the Pharisee, and then allowed a relationship to arise with the “sinful” woman who crashed the party who wept at his feet. Perhaps the most striking example of Jesus willingness of Jesus’ part was the intimate conversation he opened up with the Samaritan woman at the well, an outcast from her own Gentile community.
There are two reasons why you will not find gay and lesbian persons in churches that condemn them for embracing the sexuality God gave them, and the first is obvious: the gay and lesbian persons don’t feel welcomed there. The second though is more subtle: if they actually entered relationships with gay and lesbian persons that allowed them to intimately know them would invariably lead them past the stereotypes they had been holding, threatening their unquestioned belief system.
I think there can be something similar at work when we talk about being in relationship with Jews, Moslems, Hindus, Buddhists, and atheists. If we are willing to be vulnerable (another distinguishing quality of the way of Jesus) and enter into relationship with an open mind and heart with people who believe differently from what we believe, with at least some of these people our hearts will tell us that we are in the presence of a rather “Christ-like” person — or at least someone who is closer to living like Christ than we are.
Now the comeback we will likely hear from people who have convinced themselves that there is no room in the Kingdom of God for anyone except believing Christians is, “Your suggesting “works righteousness.” Sure, there are plenty of Moslems and atheists and such who do a lot of good works in this world, but you can’t get to heaven by good works. That’s what God’s word in Paul’s epistles declares: “We are saved by grace through faith and not by works of the Law.”
To which I would push back by pointing to a couple of other sayings of Jesus that on the surface contradict the fundamentalist interpretation. One is parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke’s Gospel (10:25 – 37). Jesus tells the parable in response to a specific question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus initial response is to affirm the questioner’s interpretation of the Torah on this point. He says, love God, and love neighbor. “Do this, and you will live,” says Jesus, at which point the question arises, “Who is my neighbor?” A Samaritan (read ‘despised other’) acts out of compassion – no apparent desire for reward – to help a man left half dead at the side of the road, while a priest and Levite (apparently following the Levitical law which says to have contact with a corpse would render them unclean) pass on by on the side of the road.
The other is are the words Jesus says regarding the judgment at the end of the age that determines some to be Sheep (receiving eternal life” and the Goats (those who don’t) (Matt 25:31 – 46) The Sheep are surprised when Jesus rewards them because, he says, “I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat…” (etc.) because they weren’t doing these deeds for the sake of a reward. They lost themselves, their self-centeredness, to be able to feel the pain of the other. The point in both of those stories is that the people doing the good deeds were NOT doing them out of a misguided attempt to win brownie points to get them into heaven. They did them purely out of compassion.
So there is common ground in all major religions (and with this I would include certain variations of “secular humanism”) in that in some form you find in all of them a version of the golden rule. You find teachings on humility, and concern for those less fortunate than yourselves.
My knowledge of other religions is extremely limited. But I think that there are things we can learn from other faith traditions. From Jews, we can learn the value of keeping Sabbath. From Islam, the practice of five times a day stopping whatever you’re doing and spending five minutes in prayer facing Mecca to re-center your heart. My mechanic running is own little garage keeps himself sane and centered by retreating into a back room in his garage for this very purpose.
There is a distinction to be made between having your heart converted and your mind converted; and though ultimately both are to be desired, the conversion of the heart is ultimately more important, and we who honor the example of John Wesley and his strangely warmed heart should particularly appreciate this. It makes sense to me that there could be all kinds of people in this world who have had their hearts “strangely warmed” by the invisible grace revealed in Jesus Christ, and yet their minds remain unconverted for any number of valid reasons, including that the Christians they know don’t act particularly Christ-like.
Now having said there is common ground, I don’t want to give the impression that in the end all religions are ultimately the same. The differences between Christianity and all other religions are highlighted in the events we remember in this week we call Holy.
I read a book by a scholar on Mohammed, and the impression I was left with was that he was a truly good and great man, who taught many wise and loving things including hospitality to non Moslems, and who, contrary than a frequent perception treated women with more respect than was the norm of his culture. But Mohammed’s religion was a “sensible” religion in the sense that he recognized there are points when the sensible person will set aside this obligation to love people – times to take up the sword and go into battle. Mohammed never said love your enemies and return good for evil, like Jesus said, and he especially didn’t allow himself to get nailed to a cross as an act of love for the whole world. And I suspect that without the emphasis on salvation through grace, it might be easier to fall into the trap of viewing the spiritual life as a matter of racking up brownie points to earn heaven.
And I don’t know much about Buddha, though I do know he emphasized compassion. But in my superficial understanding of the teachings of the Buddha and he identified the cause of the inevitable suffering of life to be our natural inclination to attach ourselves to things, and so the path he saw to enlightenment involved detaching yourself from this world There is something similar in the teachings of Jesus when he says “Where your heart is, there will your treasure be also.” We get attached to the wrong things. But we refer to the “passion of the Christ” – that in loving God and neighbor there can be a passionate attachment to this world and the people in it that will break our hearts. But the heartbreak isn’t the end of the story.
So what distinguishes Christianity are the events that take place in Holy Week, so lets take a quick review of the story as told in the Gospels, in particular Matthew, Mark and Luke.
A quick backup: Jesus began his ministry in the north country of Galilee in villages where poor peasants lived. Over the centuries, the farm land had come into possession of the rich, so the peasants worked for the owners of the land who moved to the big cities. The religious/political/economic elite conspired together to have money flow from the country side to the big cities. And Jesus threatened the system when he claimed the authority to forgive sin, releasing people from the obligation to make the strenuous trip to Jerusalem where they were required to purchase the unblemished animals to make sacrifice in the Temple to atone for their sin.
Demonic forces recognize Jesus as the anointed one of God, but otherwise he seemed somewhat ambiguous in regard to embracing the identity of the messiah, telling people not to talk about it. At a certain point he began making his way to Jerusalem, speaking repeatedly to his disciples that he would suffer and die there at the hands of the religious authorities, and rise on the third day. As he drew near to Jerusalem, he seemed to allow the talk of himself being the messiah to come out into the open, even as it remains clear that his disciples are having a hard time grasping “his way.” (Of particular note, James and John ask for the top two seats in the kingdom they imagine Jesus is about to bring about.)
His arrival in Jerusalem on a Sunday occurred as thousands of pilgrims were flooding the city for the Passover festival. He entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey – a fulfillment of a messianic prophecy, but one that suggested one who comes to bring peace rather than a warrior king come for conquest. He is greeted jubiliantly by a great crowd of peasant followers and Passover pilgrims.
His entrance was in striking contrast to a procession that would have occurred on the same day on the other side of the city in which the Roman governor Pilate entered the city with legions of armed Roman soldiers. Pilate would have realized that the Passover Festival with its theme of liberation from oppressors and the influx of tens of thousands of Jews would be the time that a rebellion might occur, and so he arrives from his luxury residence down by the seashore with a show of force to intimidate any would be rebels.
All four Gospels contain the story of Jesus entering the Temple and driving out the money changers, though John has the story at the beginning of his Gospel. Although it is hard to find a portrayal of this event in which Jesus’ isn’t pictured with a whip in his hand, only John’s Gospel mentions him using a whip.
Clearly Jesus was attacking the system that combined religion, politics and economics to oppress the poor of the land. He referenced the “den of robbers”, implying that the Temple had become a hangout for the elite oppressors of the poor, allowing them to deceive themselves with a veneer of holiness.
Both his triumphant entry, and his driving out of the money changers, are prophetic, symbolic acts, a kind of street theater, providing a sign of the Kingdom of God. In the immediate present, Jesus’ procession in no way directly threatened the might on display in Pilate’s procession. And what Jesus did in the Temple may have briefly shut down business as usual, but by the next day, the status quo would have been back in place.
Nonetheless he represented a threat to the establishment – to the power elite — and his attack on the Temple was essentially the last straw. But there is a problem. The crowds love him. And Jerusalem was packed to overflowing during the week of Passover. The authorities could not “take him out” in the presence of the crowds, or a riot would invariably insued.
There was an unholy alliance between Jewish religious authorities and the Romans. Both want to keep things quiet, keep the status quo, so business as usual could be carried out. If the city stayed subservient, paying its tribute to Rome, then Rome would allow the Jewish authorities to do their thing, deriving the wealth and status their positions awarded them.
So every evening, Jesus and his disciples would slip out of the city in the company of thousands of pilgrims to spend the night in villages outside the walls of the city, in their case to the village of Bethany.
And everyday they would come back into the city where Jesus would teach in the Temple. The Religious authorities come to debate him, hoping to trip him up in the eyes of the people. Their “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Rome” question was a particularly devious one. Say “pay taxes” and the people would turn against him. Say “don’t pay” and the Romans would be called in to carry him away.
It was the challenge the authorities faced of not being able to get to Jesus away from the crowds that made Judas’ services so valued. is to find a way to take him down when Jesus is away from the crowds — which is where Judas comes in.
The Passover Seder meal fell on Thursday evening, and Jesus was determined to hold his Seder in the Holy city of Jerusalem itself. Jesus directed two of his disciples into the city, where followed pre-arranged plans they inconspicuously followed a man carrying a jar of water (he would stand out because typically women carried water) to an upper room where they would prepare the Seder, so that the authorities would not know the location.
In the midst of the meal, Jesus spoke of a new covenant being established in what was about to happen. “This is my body broken for you, and this is my blood poured out for many.” The words are repeated by Paul in 1Corinthians 11:23 -26. Matthew inserts the words “for the forgiveness of sins”, which is the language of our liturgy of Holy Communion.
At the end of the meal ends, Jesus predicted that the disciples would all fall away. Peter’s vociferously objected, no matter what the others did, he would never abandon Jesus. Jesus predicted his thrice denial that night.
(To pause to catch up with John’s Gospel: In his version, Jesus last night is not the Seder meal. Jesus spends the evening teaching his disciples, preparing him for his departure. He washes their feet in a sign of His way. Afterwards, Jesus does not agonize in the Garden of Gethsemane, but from that point on, John closely follows the pattern of the other three Gospels.)
As the meal ends, Judas slipped away to got to the authorities. He knew where Jesus and the disciples were headed – to the Garden of Gethsemane. There he prayed. The disciples fell asleep, unable to keep him company.
Judas led the Temple police to the Garden, where he betrays Jesus with a kiss. All four Gospels report a disciple pulling out a sword and wounding a slave of the High Priest and Luke, Matthew and John portray Jesus telling the disciple to put the sword away. In Luke Jesus heals the slave. Jesus points out to those who have come to arrest him that they have done this in the darkness, rather in the daylight in front of the crowds.
They take Jesus first to the High Priest where an emergency session of the Sanhedrin was convened. They accuse him of threats against the Temple. They question him as to whether he is in fact the messiah. Mark says he answered, “I am”, but there is some ambiguity of translation, and it can also be translated, “Am I?” Matthew and Luke don’t have Jesus giving a straight answer.
He is beaten by the Temple guards and mocked. While this is happening, all four Gospels portray Peter denying Jesus three times. This is remarkable. The leading figure in the movement is portrayed failing Jesus at his hour of greatest need.
In the morning the take Jesus to Pilate. Legally, it is only Rome that has the authority to execute. Nailing people to the cross is Rome’s method of execution. Jesus is accused of sedition against Rome. “Are you the King of the Jews?” He answers ambiguously.
Luke includes a side trip to the tetrarch of Galilee, a Herod brother.
There was a Passover tradition that the governor would release a prisoner of the crowd’s choosing – an act intended to appease the potentially riotous crowd. The crowd is offered Barrabas or Jesus? We often imagine this crowd to be fickle, made up of the same people who welcomed him on Palm Sunday. And yet the arrest has all been done in secret to avoid the crowd, so the crowd was more likely a trumped up crowd of followers of the Temple Elite.
Jesus is flogged, mocked and given a crown of thorns to wear. They begin the march to Golgotha, a hill outside the city gates. Jesus is too weakened from his beatings to carry the cross, so a Jewish passerby, one Simon of Cyrene is compelled by the Roman soldiers to carry the cross for him. (In the Sermon of the Mount, Jesus had spoken of the imperial right of a Roman soldier to compel a Jew to carry his pack for a mile. Astonish him, Jesus had said, by your willingness to carry it two miles.)
The sign “King of the Jews” is placed mockingly by the Romans at the top of his cross. Soldier cast dice to win his garments – of some value in those days. Two others are crucified with Jesus. They join in mocking Jesus, except in Luke’s Gospel, where one defends him, and asks to be remembered when Jesus comes into his kingdom. Jesus replies, “this day you will be with me in paradise.” Luke also has Jesus asking his Father to forgive those who have nailed him to the cross, “for they know not what they do.” He dies with the words, “into thy hands I commit my spirit.”
Mark and Matthew portray Jesus saying only, “My God, my God, why hast thy forsaken him,” the first verse of the 22nd psalm. He dies experiencing what it is to feel abandoned by God. He dies about 3 p.m. Matthew tells us that the curtain of the Temple was torn in two.
A Centurion present at the foot of the cross declares, “Truly this man was the Son of God.” In Luke he says, “Truly this man was innocent,” and the crowd beats their breasts in repentance, moved by what they have witnessed in Jesus’ death.
Joseph of Arimathea, a rich man described as a secret disciple offers a tomb for Jesus’ burial. The women follow as Jesus is placed in the tomb. The sun is setting, marking the beginning of the Sabbath. They do not have time to properly anoint his body for burial, but they have seen where his tomb is.
So, what does the story mean? Why did Jesus end up on a cross? Clearly he knew he would end up there. Why did he allow this to happen?
It is universally believed within the Church that with Jesus’ death on the cross, something was accomplished that reconciled people with God. But how, exactly?
Paul’s phrase perhaps sums it up; it is “the mystery of Christ crucified.” It was the abomination that certain Jews were proclaiming that the messiah was a man who ended up on a cross like a common criminal that led Paul on his journey to Damascus, and it was this crucified but risen Lord that confronted him in a blaze of light, where, to his utter amazement he experienced an outpouring of God’s unmerited love and grace.
There have been various “theories” offered up to “explain” this mystery, which I will get into, but first a quick overview of some relevant passages:
Isaiah 53:4-5 “Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.”
In a story that occurs shortly before Jesus enters Jerusalem, after James and John have shown their cluelessness by asking for the top seats in the kingdom, Jesus concludes his teaching of his way in contrast to the way of this world with this verse: “For the Son of man also came not be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45 (repeated in Matthew 20:28) The word translated “ransom” is the sort that would be paid to win the release of captives.
At the outset of the John’s Gospel, John the Baptist points his followers towards Jesus, twice saying, “Behold the lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world.” In John’s Gospel Jesus dies on the day of Passover. In the ancient story commemorated on Passover, the Jews were instructed to slaughter an unblemished lamb and to drip the blood over their door frame, so that when the angel of death came to take the first born sons of the Egyptians, it would know to “pass over” the homes of Jews. For John, Jesus is the ultimate “Passover lamb.”
In John 11:50, the High Priest speaks words that are intended on the level of justifying the execution of Jesus – that if he isn’t executed, the riots that ensue would lead to riots that would lead to the Slaughtering all the people: “You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” The author intends for the words to have a deeper meaning.
Paul often speaks of the redemptive sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, but there is debate about how he meant this, and whether if fits into any of what are called “Atonement theories.” (At-one-ment: How Jesus’ death makes us one with God.) There are basically three put forth over the history of the church:
First, the “Substitutionary”, or “Satisfaction” Theory of Atonement. God’s justice, and the offence taken at human sin, required that punishment be rendered. Jesus took the punishment that was due us, winning us forgiveness, once and for all. At some point this became the dominant theory, but it wasn’t articulated until a thousand years had passed by St. Anselm. It many Christian circles it remains the primary theory.
If you lived in a culture where it was assumed that animals needed to be sacrificed to atone for sin, then the idea that Jesus has paid the debt once and for would be good news indeed. But we don’t nor have we for centuries, and the notion that Jesus appeased God’s wrath is, well, frankly appalling. It doesn’t jive with the image of God Jesus taught of a loving father, “Abba” – “Daddy. The father who throws the party for the son that comes home after bring shame on the household. It imagines God is locked into some legal framework that God is powerless to escape. Where is forgiveness in all this?
Second, there is the “Ransom” theory, and it was put forth earlier than the Substitutionary Theory. The idea here is that in the “Fall” humanity became subject to the Devil and in order to redeem humanity, a “ransom” had to be paid, and Jesus paid the ransom with his death, setting us free from the devil’s grip. (In this theory, apparently the Devil didn’t realize the resurrection was a possibility.)
I find this theory more appealing, because Jesus’ death is in some way about the problem of evil in this world. He spoke of himself as being like a mother hen who would gather her chicks under her wings, referencing a well known phenomenon in which during a fire, hen’s will protect her young, from the heat of the fire, even to the point of death. John’s image of Jesus as the Passover Lamb suggests that he died protecting us from the consequences of the shared evil of our sin. That some how he absorbed the evil that otherwise would befall us.
The third is the “Subjective”, or “moral influence theory”. Christ’s passion was an act of exemplary obedience which affects the intentions of those who come to know about it. Gazing upon the sacrificial love of Jesus dying on the cross for us, our hearts are pierced, moving us to repentance. This is what happens in Luke’s Gospel with the Centurion and the crowd, and in Acts when Peter preaches about the death of Jesus. In some form, this theory was present from the start.
Clearly, Jesus came to Jerusalem to confront evil. One of the problems I have with the “substitutionary theory” is that it can completely takes the story out of the context of justice and oppression that played a big part of the story of Jesus’ death. The evil Jesus was confronting wasn’t lodged only in individuals; it also resided in institutions, power structures.
Apostle Paul writes this in Ephesians 6:12: “Our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” The New Testament scholar Walter Wink coined the phrase “Domination Systems” to speak of the evil that resides not in flesh and blood but in the communal structures within which we live out our lives.
In this fallen world, institutions are also simultaneously created to be good and but are tainted, to various degrees with sin, just like individuals. The way of the world, as Jesus said, is for rulers to “lord it over others.” To dominate and oppress them. We have all experienced this. In certain institutional settings – a work place, for instance – there is a toxic spirit that dehumanizes the people who have to function within it. Other institutions can promote people flourishing, though there is always some darker dimension to every institution. You can sense this sort of thing in families, churches, governments, and economies.
Were the people of Germany as a whole – as individuals – better than the American People? I would suggest not. They were caught up in a demonic system of domination. Did the Germans people individually bear some guilt for what their nation did collectively? Yes. But as Steve pointed out a couple of weeks ago, the seeds for the evil of the Nazis were planted in part by the injustice of how World War I was resolved, and the degree of retribution the allies sought to bring upon the Germans. There is plenty of guilt to go around. Perhaps in part Jesus was speaking of the way we unconsciously get caught up in the domination systems in which we exist when he prayed from the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
Jesus was crucified through a conspiracy involving the Jewish Authorities and the Roman powers. At that point in time, Judaism was the most moral religion the earth had ever known. And Rome was the most noble and humane Empire the world had ever witnessed. (Severe as it seems from our perspective.)
So why did Jesus come to Jerusalem to die? To speak truth to power. To witness to the Kingdom of God, which is opposed by the Kingdoms of this world.
Jesus taught that we are not to return evil for evil, but good for evil. When we seek to contain evil through the use of violence, we are engaging in evil, even though we are compelled to do so at times. World War II is the ideal example.
But evil isn’t overcome, isn’t healed, by violence. Only love can do that. If, as John’s Gospel said, Jesus is the one who came from heaven, then he had experienced the place where there is only love, and knew that to engage in evil is to contradict the deepest truth of creation. His death planted seeds of the Kingdom of God.
For me, part of the appeal of Christianity is that it is not polyanna about life in this world. It recognizes the evil, the violence, the injustice. The most loving man who ever lived ends up getting crucified, and from the point of view of the world, it seems like a sensible thing to do. The crucifixion expresses this truth. And it also says that in some mysterious way, God is right here in the midst of the suffering of this world. We are not, in fact, abandoned.
But the crucifixion isn’t the final word. The final word is the Resurrection.
There are challenges to believing in the resurrection of Jesus. I didn’t believe it when I was a college student. I figured that Christianity was just about Jesus’ teaching living on after him.
It is challenging because nothing like it has ever happened in the history of the human race. It is challenging because the four Gospels, not to mention Paul in 1Corinthians 15:3 – 8 don’t line up in their accounts of what happened after Jesus arose from the dead.
There are minor reasons for believing the story has at its center truth. These include the fact that the women were the first witnesses to the resurrection. If you were making up a story, in that day you never would have had women be the first witnesses. They weren’t consider reliable witnesses in a court of law. The fact that the Gospel accounts don’t line up oddly also implies that it didn’t matter to the early Church. If they had a story they were trying to sell that wasn’t true they would have made it line up.
The major reason to believe that there is truth at the core of the story of Easter is this: There were plenty of other messiah movements that came and went. Why should this one be different? What would empower people who weren’t very impressive to begin with to move from grief and self-contempt in the face of the execution of their leader to suddenly turn the world upside down with brave, joyous proclamations of their Good News? To every man and woman the reason was consistent: they had experienced him alive again. If Peter and Paul had had some hallucinations of the appearance of Jesus, that would not have been enough to convinced all the others it was true.
A word about resurrection. Resurrection is a Jewish concept, because for the Jews, there a person doesn’t exist apart from a body. For the Jews, the concept of the immortal soul, which is what the Greeks taught, was laughable. Who wants to be a ghost, unattached to a body? Hence, the body itself was risen. But Paul makes it clear in 1 Corinthians 15, there is a physical body that dies, and then spiritual body that is eternal that arises. This is a mystery – one beyond our comprehension that might make it easier to appreciate how it might be that Jesus wasn’t always recognized at first when he appeared walking about in his new resurrected body.
There is a mystery here beyond our comprehension, but the message for us is that in following the way of Jesus, we need not fear death, for we are in good hands. We will be safe in the arms of our loving God when we take our last breath on earth.
Here is the last point I want to emphasize. It wasn’t just anybody that God raised from the dead to demonstrate the “victory won” over death. It was a specific man, with a “Way” of radical love witnessing to God’s intention for this world. The resurrection of Jesus was God placing God’s stamp of approval upon the “Way” of Jesus – that all that Jesus taught and lived out and expressed in his death – the wonder of the love – is true in the deepest sense of the word. To live in any other way is to live in contradiction to the deepest truth of God’s creation.
We are called to follow the way, the truth and the life.
Prologue: Quotes from a book summarizing Walter Wink’s concept of Domination Systems and the evil of powers and principalities:
“Every Power tends to have a visible pole, an outer form – be it a church, a nation, and economy – and an invisible pole, an inner spirit or driving force that animates, legitimates, and regulates its physical manifestation in the world. Neither pole is the cause of the other. Both come into existence together and cease to exist together” (Naming, 5).
The New Testament offers a crucial insight that should govern how we think about all the Powers. The Powers are simultaneously (1) a necessary part of the good creation, providing the ligaments of human social existence, the structure and even languages that we require to function, (2) part of creation as fallen, with a tendency to seek to usurp God’s centrality and pervert God’s purposes for the good of the whole, and (3) part of creation as the object of God’s redeeming work, seeking to heal and transform brokenness into wholeness.
“To put the thesis of these three volumes in its simplest form: The Powers are good. The Powers are fallen. The Powers must be redeemed. These three statement must be held together, for each, by itself, is not only untrue but downright mischievous. We cannot affirm governments or universities or businesses to be good unless at the same time we recognize that they are fallen. We cannot face their malignant intractability and oppressiveness unless we remember that they are simultaneously a part of God’s good creation. And reflection on their creation and fall will appear only to legitimate these Powers and blast hope for change unless we assert at the same time that these Powers can and must be redeemed” (Engaging, 10).
He coins the useful term “domination system” to help us understand our present context. Only with the aid of the analysis of the role of the principalities and powers in human culture may we make sense of why it is that our structures are so destructive of human well-being. The domination system operates according to the myth of redemptive violence, and entraps us all in the amazingly self-destructive dynamic of violence responding with violence to violence and on and on.”