Today is Easter Sunday. All around the world, millions of Christian congregations will celebrate the Resurrection (with a capital R) of Jesus of Nazareth.
It is the single biggest religious celebration in the world – bigger than Islam’s hajj or Hinduism’s mela, which garner much greater media attention. So how could I avoid writing about it?
You know the story -- Jesus went to Jerusalem, upset the local authorities, was arrested, tried, tortured, and was put to death. As the historic Apostles’ Creed puts it, he “was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again…”
In the majority of Christian congregations, the preacher will treat the Resurrection as a literal, physical, honest-to-gawd fact. It happened exactly as the Bible says – even though the Bible itself offers at least four variations on the story.
The narratives were intended to offer legal proof of their claim -- under Jewish law, two eye-witnesses were considered sufficient proof. The Bible offers dozens of witnesses; thousands, according to Paul.
Even in a modern court, a host of eye-witness accounts can override testimony by scientific experts.
Legal proof does not equal scientific proof. In science, the results of an experiment can only be considered valid if they can be replicated. One-shot results are either accidents, or frauds.
Remember “cold fusion”?
Clearly, the Easter Resurrection is a one-time-only event.
Neither embalming nor cryonic freezing has ever restored a dead human body to life. Cloning can perpetuate a donor’s DNA, but it cannot resurrect Dolly the sheep.
Science doesn’t actually say that resurrection can never happen. You cannot prove a negative – you can only argue that it has never happened yet, that the laws of physics and chemistry (as we currently know them) preclude such a thing happening.
A few preachers will attempt to reconcile traditional Christian beliefs with modern science. They’ll argue that the Resurrection was a spiritual and/or emotional event, that the eye-witness stories were devised later to explain the powerful conviction that Jesus was not gone, was not dead, was still with his followers in ways they couldn’t explain.
Out of death, new life
I once challenged my minister, a thinking man, to preach on the Resurrection. He said pretty much what I said above: “Something happened. We don’t know what, but it changed people’s lives, and it is still changing lives.”
Some scholars make a distinction between Jesus the person, and the Christ who lives on.
So what really happened? As Yul Brunner mused in The King And I, “Is a puzzlement!”
I grew up with the stories of the Resurrection. Those stories shaped the lenses through which I view the world.
I doubt if the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida would cite the Resurrection as a rationale for their opposition to U.S. gun culture. But they confirm my conviction that out of death, new life is possible.
I see dozens of other resurrections. The movement to abolish slavery in the late 1800s. The civil rights movement of the 1960s. Today’s #MeToo revolution. The rising of Canada’s indigenous peoples…
You pick the ending
To me, limiting resurrection to a single incident trivializes it. I see the Resurrection as part of a larger story.
It’s well known that Jesus taught in parables, stories that invited people to work out the point for themselves. It’s also widely accepted that his recurring theme was what he called the Kingdom of God – the way God wants the world to work.
In a couple of my books, I applied that “Kingdom” metaphor. And I imagined Jesus’ life itself as an enacted parable.
I wrote, “Once there was a ruler who believed that life and society could be fair, and just. To make sure that all was in order, he decided to test it for himself.
“So he disguised himself as a poor peasant, one who had no status or authority. Then he went around the country and was wrongly arrested.
“He had so much faith in the ultimate justice of his kingdom that he refused to reveal his true identity. He wouldn’t even defend himself against false charges. Not even when he was sentenced, not even when he was being executed, did he stop believing that justice would triumph in the end.”
If the parable ends there, I noted, we would have to conclude that his faith was misplaced. He did not receive the justice he expected.
But if the parable ends not on Good Friday but on Easter morning, then he was blindingly, blazingly, right.
Copyright © 2017 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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Steve Roney got into the spirit of last week’s column, with his own characterizations of the four politicians I cited: “Justin Trudeau: Pekinese or miniature poodle. Survives on being cute, but with no practical skills.
“Kim Jong-Un: gopher. Small and weak but sneaky and destructive.
“Vladimir Putin: monitor lizard. Not dangerous like a cobra. Looks scarier than he is. Relies on throwing his weight around, not generally killing. But certainly reptilian.
“Donald Trump: a rooster. With a bright golden crest. Struts about. But somehow more comic than imposing.”
“Your animal characterization of The Donald seems on the mark,” Tom Watson responded. “As for yourself being a donkey, I'm not so sure. Being willing to carry the load fits, but you're way smarter than most donkeys I've known.
“I'm reminded of a Sufi story: Mullah Nasruddin's neighbor came to ask to borrow his donkey. Nasruddin didn't like that neighbor very much so told him, ‘I would love to loan you my donkey but only yesterday my brother came from the next town to use it to carry his wheat to the mill to be ground. Sadly, the donkey is not here.’
“The neighbor began to walk away. Just as he got a few steps away, Mullah Nasruddin's donkey, which was in the back of his compound all the time, let out a big bray. The neighbor turned to Nasruddin and said, ‘I thought you told me that your donkey was not here.’
“Mullah Nasruddin turned to the neighbor and said, ‘My friend, who are you going to believe? Me or a donkey?’
“The moral of the story, as I understand it, is that donkeys aren't especially believable. Want to stick with your choice or take another animal?”
Everett Bosch asked, “Describing yourself as a donkey? Carrying huge loads without complaints? While I enjoy the column, what is it but a long series of very public complaints?”
Frank Martens also questioned my choice of a donkey for myself: “I don’t think I would have assessed myself as a donkey. There are other terms for that… As for Trudeau, he’s an obvious pussy cat – without claws. Just pet him and he’ll lay back, meow, and fall asleep. Like all cats, he’s just there for the decoration.”
John Hatchard thought I was being unfair to Donald Trump: “Ninety-nine per cent of the time, I find myself resonating positively about the way you express your thoughts and feelings on an extraordinary range of topics. There is usually an uncommon sanity present until....you stumble across Trump.
“Even handedness would require you look at the candidate he defeated, yet there is never any mention of her and what her legacy has been and would continue to be.
“According to Jordan Peterson, Trump has a very high IQ, circa 165. But he is not a politician so he is not professionally devious and a skilled liar. That is why I am happy that he won.
“You need a fresh piece of paper, a line down the middle, Trump's name one side and Clinton's on the other. Then do the same degree and quality of research into the records of both of them.”
JT: That might be good counsel if I were re-running the election. Had Hilary Clinton been elected president, I would (I hope) have felt as free to criticize her as Donald Trump.
Bob Rollwagen commented, “An alligator is one of the few animals in the wild that kills for pleasure. As for metaphors, Hyena is one that comes to mind and I feel it covers most of the characters you used as examples. Ugly, sneaky, travels with a pack of like-minded creatures. It will attack and eat while its prey are still alive, while it is seen generally as a scavenger because it forces other carnivorous competitors off their hard-earned kill to feed cubs. It walks with its chest protruding, attempting to look bold or dominate but in fact it is slinking around, trying to approach the victim, unobserved. Disney captured hyenas well in The Lion King.”
Lillian McLoed questioned a couple of my caricatures: “Your Donald Trump is right on, as well as Kim Jung Un. Putin fits the cobra quite well, although the cobra may be insulted.
“However, I would not agree with Justine Trudeau being a golden retriever. Golden Retrievers are loyal, smart, and useful in many ways. The Chinese panda would be closer, as they seem to have no specific purpose in life except to have people remark how cute they are and take selfies with them.
“Your descriptions give us a way of putting these leaders in perspective when we shake our heads and wonder what is really going on.”
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Ralph Milton ’s latest project is called “Sing Hallelujah” -- the world’s first video hymnal. It consists of 100 popular hymns, both new and old, on five DVDs that can be played using a standard DVD player and TV screen, for use in congregations who lack skilled musicians to play piano or organ. More details at wwwDOTsinghallelujahDOTca
Ralph’s HymnSight webpage is still up, http://wwwDOThymnsightDOTca, with a vast gallery of photos you can use to enhance the appearance of the visual images you project for liturgical use (prayers, responses, hymn verses, etc.)
Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. <http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca>
I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom
Alva Wood’s satiric stories about incompetent bureaucrats and prejudiced attitudes in a small town -- not particularly religious, but fun; alvawoodATgmailDOTcom to get onto her mailing list.
Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom or twatsonATsentexDOTnet