October 30, 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from Luke 24:1-12.
But at daybreak on the first day of the week they took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb; but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were puzzling over this, behold, two men in dazzling garments appeared to them. They were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground. They said to them, “Why do you seek the living one among the dead? He is not here, but he has been raised. Remember what he said to you while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners and be crucified, and rise on the third day.” And they remembered his words. Then they returned from the tomb and announced all these things to the eleven and to all the others. The women were Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James; the others who accompanied them also told this to the apostles, but their story seemed like nonsense and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb, bent down, and saw the burial cloths alone; then he went home amazed at what had happened.
Why is it that I have such a hard time believing what is not familiar or known or expected? What makes me so skeptical of the good news? Why does it sometimes seem to me to be nonsense as it was to the eleven? Why do I look for Jesus among the dead? As Barclay writes, “Many of us still look for Jesus among the dead. There are those who regard him as the greatest man and the noblest hero who ever lived, as one who lived the loveliest life ever seen on earth; but who then died. That will not do. Jesus is not dead; he is alive. He is not merely a hero of the past, he is a living reality of the present….[H]e is someone to be met and lived with every day. He is not only a figure in a book, even if that book be the greatest in the world; he is a living presence. There are those who see in Jesus the perfect pattern and example. He is that; but a perfect example can be the most heart-breaking thing in the world….He is not only the pattern and the example. He helps us and guides us and strengthens us to follow that pattern and example. He is not simply a model for life; he is a living presence to help us to live. It may be that our Christianity has laced an essential something because we too have been looking for him who is alive among the dead.”
All of these perceptions describe the way I see — and relate to — Jesus much of the time. Dead. Sometimes I think we make too much of the resurrection and Jesus ascending into heaven to sit at his Father’s right hand. That leads me to think of him as distant, as part of another world, another experience. It’s been hard for me to eradicate the anthropomorphic imagery of the Bible and the countless depictions in art. I know that it’s intended for us to better comprehend God and the risen Jesus, concepts that we can more easily get our minds around. I am coming to the understanding, though, that God and Jesus with Him are pure spirit. Jesus is not a body ensconced in some heavenly kingdom. By thinking of him as spirit it actually brings him closer to me and more easily able to immerse myself in him. To realize that all my thoughts, my feelings, my words, my actions are in relation to him and his Father, an endless stream-of-consciousness dialogue with them.
I think this is what Rohr is saying in The Good New According to Luke, “God’s miracle in Jesus is not the resurrection as we’ve made it out to be. Is God able to raise up a body that has died? Of course God can do that. If God is God, of course God can raise up a body. The resurrection of Jesus’ body is not big miracle. The unbelievable word of faith that should be spoken to all of us in the Easter story is what the Spirit of God achieved in the heart of Jesus: that the Spirit liberated Jesus’ heart so he could let go of himself to God. Even though he did flinch, have questions, and feel doubt, he still remained faithful. That’s the Easter miracle achieved in the humanity of Jesus….For us, he is everything. He is the Word of the Father, He is what God can accomplish in humanity when we say yet to God. This insight about the resurrection has not commonly been taught. Traditionally, we were told the resurrection was the proof that Jesus was really God. Now to say that God is really Love is different from saying that the resurrection proves that Jesus was really God….If we gather all the gospels together, we see that the teaching on the resurrection is not focused on the physical resuscitation of the body of Jesus. The resurrected body is a whole new type of corpo-reality, a new type of bodiliness which is open to universal presence and yet is immediately available to one person. Jesus has become the all-available Christ….At present, our human nature in its physical form is limited to a space-time continuum. My current body is a limited presence; if I’m here, I can’t be there. That’s not true of Jesus any more. What the gospels seem to be trying to say is that in the resurrection of the body we’re getting into a new kind of bodiliness, a new kind of presence which is unlimited. Moreover, this limitless presence is a presence that is active and alive in each situation.”
Johnson writes of the women puzzling over the empty tomb in The Gospel of Luke, “[T]he fact of the empty tomb does not itself lead to faith. It must be interpreted.” He goes on, “[T]wo elements common to the Chrisitan accounts about Jesus should be noted (I’m only including the first.). The first is that the Jesus of the resurrection accounts is not vestigially or marginally visible but is rather emphatically present in a more powerful way than ever.”
These aren’t new teachings or interpretations. However, I’m like Peter in that I have been amazed by the empty tomb, but it’s taken me some time to come to faith that Jesus is spirit present everywhere to everyone in a way that is comprehensible to me. It is a new type of bodiliness that my limited mind cannot imagine, but I can imagine him as spirit and being immersed in that spirit. It’s no longer nonsense to me.