As I mentioned in my second post on this blog, I don't think we would need to find the remains of Jesus to ask this question. I wrote:
I wonder if it would make that much difference if, beyond a shadow of a doubt, we found the body of Jesus or we determined that Jesus did not physically rise from the dead? What if we were certain that he died like the rest of us will some day. Would that shatter your faith? What would your faith be about?The task for an authentic faith is to deconstruct before we construct. Sometimes our faith invites us to challenge what we thought was central in order come to a deeper understanding of the mystery of God. We are on a journey. We don't have to have a final answer. It is really all right to live with the mystery. I think it is important to ask questions and to encourage questions. Even since I wrote that post last August, I have begun to think again about resurrection. I am exploring the connection between resurrection and consciousness thanks to the work of Pierre Teilhard De Chardin. My point is that it is good, at least I think, to continue to learn and to seek. A vibrant church, in my view, is one that encourages this work by offering permission and a safe place for search and discovery and growth, even as we challenge one another to articulate more clearly what we are finding.
I don't think we need to find the body. Critical study of the Bible and the study of comparative religions have combined to shatter the historicity of the resurrection. I would guess that many who call themselves Christian regard the resurrection symbolically. For many of us, the resurrection is a myth or a metaphor. We may understand the meaning of this metaphor differently. Perhaps it means that what Jesus lived for lives on in his followers. Perhaps it means that justice will have the final word. Or perhaps it is a reminder in fable that what we see isn't all there is and that mystery surrounds us.
Regardless how we interpret it, many Christians do not believe or think they should believe that the resurrection was an historical event. On the other hand, many Christians think that the resurrection was an historical event. As far as I am concerned, both types of Christians can co-exist and celebrate life together in worship.
Last night I read some of Uta Ranke-Heinemann's book, Putting Away Childish Things: The Virgin Birth, the Empty Tomb, and Other Fairy Tales You Don't Need to Believe to Have a Living Faith. The title is a reference to Paul in I Corinthians 13:11: "When I was a chld, I spoke like a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became an adult, I put away childish things." Had I known this book was so good, I might have suggested it for our Thursdays with Jesus group rather than the Spong book.
The book provides necessary deconstruction before we can begin construction. She has a wonderful chapter on Easter. I quote a paragraph:
The Christians have misunderstood the resurrection of Christ pretty much from the beginning. Equating the empty tomb with his resurrection, they mistook the one for the other. They looked on the empty tomb as a sort of consequence of the resurrection, and then they classified it as proof of the resurrection. But an empty tomb can be empty for the most varied reasons, and it never proves that any resurrection occurred. Converely, a dead man may certainly lie in a tomb: Such a fact is no obstacle to faith in his resurrection, because resurrection is something different from a dead man's coming back to life. (p. 134)If you are curious about the empty tomb narratives, you might try the Easter challenge. Thanks to King is Sailing, They Say for this link. The challenge is to write a coherent narrative about what happened on Easter morning without omitting any details.
Before you go there, here is my concern. Christianity is losing its most thoughtful people. They leave the church not because they are misguided or arrogant or think they know more than God or have been possessed by Satan. We lose our most thoughtful people because we insist on a literalistic faith and say choose this or choose atheism. Atheism becomes the obvious choice.
I am a Christian. I am a Christian minister. I refuse to give up on trying to understand the heart of the Christian faith in a credible way. I don't have the answers. I am searching and growing. I love the Christian faith. Jesus, the Bible, and the traditions have been an aid to me even though I know its dark side as well. I don't write or minister with my congregation as someone outside the fold. I am in it. I would hate to see this beautiful religious tradition turn into "choose literalism or nothing."
To become adults we must put away childish things. So take the Easter challenge as a tool for deconstruction. Then think about construction. Here is the challenge:
I HAVE AN EASTER challenge for Christians. My challenge is simply this: tell me what happened on Easter. I am not asking for proof. My straightforward request is merely that Christians tell me exactly what happened on the day that their most important doctrine was born.
Believers should eagerly take up this challenge, since without the resurrection, there is no Christianity. Paul wrote, "And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not." (I Corinthians 15:14-15)
The conditions of the challenge are simple and reasonable. In each of the four Gospels, begin at Easter morning and read to the end of the book: Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, and John 20-21. Also read Acts 1:3-12 and Paul's tiny version of the story in I Corinthians 15:3-8. These 165 verses can be read in a few moments. Then, without omitting a single detail from these separate accounts, write a simple, chronological narrative of the events between the resurrection and the ascension: what happened first, second, and so on; who said what, when; and where these things happened.
Since the gospels do not always give precise times of day, it is permissible to make educated guesses. The narrative does not have to pretend to present a perfect picture--it only needs to give at least one plausible account of all of the facts. Additional explanation of the narrative may be set apart in parentheses. The important condition to the challenge, however, is that not one single biblical detail be omitted. Fair enough? (Read more)