It appears this blog has raised some eyebrows. Awesome! I was going to tackle another topic, but I think I will stay with the body of Jesus for at least one more post.
When the writers of the Gospels wrote about Jesus, particularly the resurrection accounts, what were they communicating? What did they want those who heard their stories to take home with them? What is important about these stories?
Two are walking to Emmaus. They are bummed out. Their hero is dead. A mysterious stranger walks among them, listens to their story and reframes their story in light of a larger story. They stop and share a meal. In the midst of the breaking of the bread, they discover that the mysterious stranger is their hero. As soon as they recognize him, he vanishes. The two are renewed with hope. Their hearts are on fire.
This story is found in the Gospel According to Luke. That doesn't mean a guy named Luke actually wrote it. It was common practice to attribute the name of a famous person (ie. an apostle, or in this case, a companion of Paul) to a text to give it authority. As to the actual author, we don't know. We don't even know the author's gender. Luke could be a she. But for shorthand, scholars refer to the author as Luke anyway.
What is the author of Luke's Gospel saying? How do I read this story? Do I read it as I would an account in a newspaper? Is Luke's goal for me to read this account as something that literally happened? I don't think so. The author is a better writer than that. S/he is writing to strengthen the hope of people who have been demoralized by the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in the Jewish War of 66-70 CE. The Jewish hopes of an independent state--of the kingdom of God--are dashed. The Roman Imperial Army has won again. Caesar is Lord. Caesar and Rome proved it in the way that imperial armies always prove it, with ruthless force and public executions. Thousands have been crucified. Our hero was one of many. We have been beaten again.
Luke writes this story quite a bit after this event. Between 80 and 90 CE was the consensus of scholars when I was in seminary. Some scholars are now suggesting that it might be as late as the early second century.
By the time Luke writes, time has elapsed since the Jewish War. Time for reflection. Time to go back to the Scriptures and try to make sense of what has happened. Why has Yahweh appeared to have failed them? Where is the promised Kingdom of God?
Luke reframes the story. S/he writes about Jesus. S/he looks at what has already been written, Mark's Gospel, perhaps some of Paul's letters, other sources, and s/he writes a narrative, which is in two parts, Luke and Acts.
Luke wants to communicate to them about the kingdom of God. Where is it? We find in Luke 17 that Jesus says: "The kingdom of God is within/among you." (17:21)
Luke's story is the story of Jesus and the work of the Spirit in the community. The Walk to Emmaus story is a story about communion and the sharing of this hope. It is a story about the presence of Jesus in their midst when they break bread together. That gives them strength to keep on, to love their enemies, to trust in the way of compassion, and to be honest even at great risk.
I read these gospel accounts of the empty tomb and the appearances as parables of the power of the hope of God for people who need their hope renewed. The authors of the gospels used the media, methods, and literary devices available to them to inspire.
As time went on and the church evolved, these literary stories were were interpreted as literal accounts. Historical Jesus scholar, Dominic Crossan, once said something to this effect:
"Are we so smart that we interpret these stories symbolically when they were intended literally? Or have we been so dumb as to interpret these stories literally when they were intended to be interpreted symbolically? I think the latter is true."
The point is not to "believe" that the corpse of Jesus was resuscitated. The point is the power of the Spirit alive in us. The presence of Jesus with them is so powerful that he changed their lives. Without that hope, without that presence, life is hopeless. That is what Paul is talking about in I Corinthians 15. He saw Jesus in a vision. He didn't see a resuscitated corpse. But his life changed.
Our lives can change too. Emmaus continues to happen when we break bread, when we tell the story to one another.
What is that story? I think today it is the story the divine realm. How would we live if we lived with total awareness of the divine realm within us? For starters, it would be a way of life that included loving our enemies, engaging in new ways to deal with our conflicts, working for justice, speaking the truth, sharing the world's resources, living in harmony with Earth's creatures, denouncing war, seeking to reinterpret the faith in ways that make sense to people, developing compassion and peace within ourselves, and our communities. We would do this regardless of risk. We would do this even if we may be killed, shamed, lose privilege, or be taken to ecclesiastical court!
But it looks bleak. Sometimes it appears as if the divine realm is far from us. The worst thing we can do is to give up hope. The story is that the risen Christ in our midst. Don't give up. The Spirit of Jesus is with us. We are the body of Jesus. The kingdom of God is among us. Let us open our eyes, see it, and live it.
I am indebted to my seminary teachers and courageous scholars in the Jesus Seminar who enabled me to, as Marcus Borg put it: "Meet Jesus again for the first time." I recommend Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time and The Heart of Christianity by Borg. Borg helped me to understand the Emmaus story.
I also recommend other books by scholars of the Jesus Seminar such as the classic, the Five Gospels , and A New Spiritual Home by Hal Taussig. Plus many more!
Hal Taussig and Perry Kea will do a workshop at our church November 3-4. More details to come on this blog!