Friday, April 05, 2013

This. Changes. Everything.

Much has been written about the Easter blog post by the Episcopal Bishop of Washington, D.C., Mariann Edgar Budde, in which she says:
To say that resurrection is essential doesn’t mean that if someone were to discover a tomb with Jesus’ remains in it that the entire enterprise would come crashing down. The truth is that we don’t know what happened to Jesus after his death, anymore than we can know what will happen to us.
Consider for a moment the Apostle Paul's words on this very subject:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.  Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.  Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.  Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.  (1 Corinthians 15:3-8)
The Gospel writers and the Apostle Paul are not merely telling us "how Jesus’ followers experienced his resurrection" (as Bishop Budde puts it).  It is quite clear from their accounts of the empty tomb and of Jesus resurrection appearances that they are telling us what happened, and they clearly expect us to believe it as fact.  If the empty tomb and the appearances of Jesus after his resurrection are not factual occurrences, then these writers are not giving us stimulating material for our own spiritual journey, they are lying to us.  And it is a lie with terrible consequences.

The Apostle Paul describes consequences of there being no resurrection in these words:
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?  But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.  And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.  We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised.  For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised.  And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.  Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.  If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.  (1 Corinthians 15:3-8)
How much clearer can he make it that the resurrection he is preaching is either factual or else it is the most serious lie of all time?  No, make no mistake about it:  Paul and the Gospel authors are telling us about a tomb that is really empty and a Jesus who is really risen. 

As much as I abhor the view of John Dominic Crossan, expressed in his book Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography (pp. 123-124), that wild dogs dragged the body of Jesus away and ate it, at least he attempts to do what Mariann Budde doesn't, which is to explain the fact of the empty tomb!

Nevertheless, in an effort to draw meaning from something that may or may not actually have happened, Budde continues:
What we do know from the stories handed down is how Jesus’ followers experienced his resurrection. What we know is how we experience resurrection ourselves.
I am not sure what that last sentence means.  It is a kind of jargon that is in vogue among certain preachers when speaking of the resurrection--words designed to make us feel something spiritually profound while really meaning very little.  But the Apostle Paul's words confront us with the fact that, if Jesus did not, in fact, rise, all of our claims of experiencing resurrection are merely wishful thinking--and a dangerous self-delusion.

I want to propose that those of us who disagree with Bishop Budde on this issue pray for her--and I hope that it is understood that I am saying this sincerely and not condescendingly.  As one who came into the Episcopal Church 30 years ago, already a seminary professor with a PhD in Systematic Theology, I have had some astonishing conversations about the Resurrection with liberal Episcopalians more times than I can count.  When they find out you actually believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, they look at you in bewilderment.  When they realize that you think they ought to believe it too, one of two things happens: either they regard you with abhorrence, or else (in a small percentage of cases) they stop and think that maybe there is something about Christianity they might have missed.

Mariann Budde has probably read the comments on her own blog that respond negatively to her disbelief in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and perhaps she is thinking one of those two things.  My prayer is that it dawns on her, just as it dawned on those who looked into the empty tomb or who placed their hands in Jesus' wounds:  "So it really happened after all!"  And their second realization:  This.  Changes.  Everything!

(P.S. There are plenty of contemporary resources out there for anyone who wants to examine the question of the Resurrection.)