Shuck and Jive

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Easter Sermon: What if We Found the Body of Jesus?

The Easter sermon I preached today is on the church's webpage. Here are some highlights. I began:

Before we get started I want to make two points perfectly clear.

Number 1: I believe fully in the Resurrection of Jesus. I don’t simply believe it. I trust it. I try to live by it.

Number 2: I believe the remains of the historical Jesus decayed like all human remains decay.

I concluded:

Easter is about a new consciousness and a new awareness.
It is courageously awakening to God's kingdom on Earth.
It is the power of love that confronts the powers of violence and oppression.

So…what if we found the body of Jesus?
Perhaps if we open our eyes we will see the body of Jesus all around us.

We are the resurrected body of Christ that bears Empire's wounds. We all bear the wounds that are the consequence of the ideology of peace through violence. Earth itself bears these wounds.

The resurrection of Christ to me is not about heaven in the sky when you die. It is not about believing in a resuscitated corpse. It is also not merely a metaphor, symbol, or subjective vision. To see the resurrected Jesus or the cosmic Christ is to glimpse in a person the summit of consciousness to which we are ascending.

There is, however, a particularity to Jesus who was called the Christ. There is a particularity to the kind of consciousness he achieved and in which we can participate. This consciousness has to do with how we live and relate with each other and with Earth. It has to do with who we are as human beings and the kind of future we imagine for our children. Raising our level of consciousness requires that we ask questions such as:

Who is our neighbor?
What is peace?
What is justice?
What is love?
What are our values?
How do we develop them into action?

Also, this resurrected Christ bears wounds. In the passage we heard today from the Gospel of John, the resurrected Christ bears the wounds of his execution and invites Thomas to touch them. Jesus was executed by Empire. Empire which promised peace through violence executed an innocent man. Jesus didn't die of old age or get trampled by a runaway horse. He was executed by established authority. He was crucified because the normalcy of civilization thought the world would get along better without him or his kind.

The logical conclusion of peace through violence is the death of the innocent and the death of justice. Jesus on the other hand, taught, lived, and died for peace through justice. His way was the way non-violence, love, and compassion for all with a special concern for the poor and the exploited. The resurrection is God’s ‘yes’ to the Empire’s ‘no.’ God reversed the Empire’s decision.

Easter is the joyful celebration that the God of Jesus is alive in all of us.
Easter is an invitation to awaken to God's kingdom on Earth as it is in heaven.
Easter is the hope that we are ascending to the summit of consciousness.
We may be in the basement or in the barn. We may be in darkness.

But there is a light. Light is the symbol for consciousness.
The Gospel of John says that Jesus is the light of the world.
Jesus is one of the great light-bearers.
He pointed us to the light within and among us.
Seek it. Let it shine.


  1. I want to thank Jodie for helping me with this sermon by her insightful comments regarding prophetic preaching. You can read our conversation here.

    On comment #29, she wrote:

    "The core problem can and should, however, be addressed from the pulpit. In all likelihood it will still be true once this war is over (even if it not over in our lifetimes). Who are we as a people? What kind of world do we want to leave to our children? What are our values? How do we develop them into action? How is the Gospel an answer to those questions? Use the war only as an example, a case in point, but do by all means use it. Let others figure out the details that apply to this one in particular." Jodie

    Of course, Jodie should get no blame for the final product!


  2. John,

    Interesting stuff. I think your emphasis on the importance of the resurrection for how we live as opposed to as an historical event is very appropriate.

    I wonder though, if your talk of consciousness doesn't lean pretty close to gnosticism. Maybe you can explain it better.

  3. Number 2: I believe the remains of the historical Jesus decayed like all human remains decay.

    Now, John, this is what will get you into trouble with Presbytery. This is an heretical statement and you know it. if you came before the floor of presbytery ands aid this to your fellow pastors, you would be asked to resign.

  4. Hi Aric,


    What is consciousness? I think this is an important question. I think the work of Pierre Teilhard De Chardin is helpful. I quoted him in the sermon:

    “For one who sees the universe in the guise of a laborious communal ascent towards the summit of consciousness, life, far from seeming blind, hard or despicable, becomes charged with gravity, with responsibilities, with new relationships….the doctrine of evolution is a ‘school of hope’—and, let us add, a school of ever greater mutual charity and ever greater effort.” (p. 106) Hymn to the Universe

    I find the real challenge in speaking of resurrection, is that we seem to be left with literalism on one hand or metaphor on the other. Literalism is bankrupt, and metaphor can easily become "just metaphor." Obviously, I think the gospels are metaphor as opposed to journalistic or historical, but does the metaphor mean there is not something real?

    I think there was something to Jesus. That something was a high level of awareness, spirituality, consciousness, you pick the best word.

    Consciousness may be a way we can speak about this reality. It is a way we can speak about hope.
    Consciousness is a term that can be approached through mysticism, psychology, and other disciplines, as well as the practice of meditation.

    I think plenty of the sayings and parables of Jesus found in the canonical gospels suggest that Jesus was all about raising the level of consciousness.

    What is gnosticism? I think our understanding of "it" is changing thanks to actual texts recently discovered and published.

    Karen King (Gospel of Mary) suggests throwing out that term altogether as it was a catchword for heresy by the church fathers. To call someone gnostic is like calling someone fundamentalist or liberal. There is no real meaning there, it is a term we use for those folks with whom we don't agree.

    Those who the church has dismissed as gnostic were quite varied, and when we can seek to understand their language and symbols we can get an insight into the issues these early Christians were facing.

    It is possible that these early Christians (formerly known as gnostics) may have treasures that we can use today.

  5. Stushie,

    Thanks for your concern. I think it is all more complicated than that. Paul, for instance, talked about a "spiritual body."

    I tend to agree with John Dominic Crossan in his article, Wounds Not Bones

    "Finally, I imagine myself asking this question of Paul. We have found the remains of Jesus, Paul, so what about his bodily resurrection? Get a life, Dominic! A human person is always a combination of body and soul so—if
    the bones are in a tomb somewhere—God has given Jesus a new and Spirit filled body. We can only speak of that new body, Dominic, metaphorically and never literally—like the seed that dies and lives again in absolute
    continuity and discontinuity with what went before (see 1 Corinthians 15:36-50).

    Let me ask you one other question, Paul. What if we—definitively—found the remains of Jesus and we—definitively—found that he died of old age? What if, Paul, Jesus had not died by Roman execution? What if, Paul, there were no wounds? What if that Spirit-filled body seated beside God bore no
    wounds from imperial execution but only the scars of aged arthritis? Would that change everything, Paul? Yes, Dominic, it would."

    Crossan goes on to write:
    Christian gospels, Christian artists, and Christian mystics have always borne witness that the wounds of imperial injustice never fade from the body of Jesus. The resurrection of Jesus is, therefore, a metaphorical or
    parabolical claim about the body—and not just the soul—of Jesus. My own Christian faith does not concern itself with the remains of Jesus—whether found or not found—but it concerns itself constitutively with the wounds of
    Jesus. Bodily resurrection is about imperial wounds and not about buried bones."

    Here is a link to a number of folks who were asked the question:
    "If the remains of Jesus had definitively been found, how would that change your view of Christianity?


  6. Sorry, John, but it doesn't cut it. If you want, I'll write to your Presbytery and ask them to invite you to explain why you believe the body of Christ decayed like other human bodies. I personally think you're leading the flock under your care astray, John.

  7. Stushie,

    Why doesn't it "cut it?" Do you have more to add to that or are you content with a slogan?

    I think I have written a pretty thoughtful sermon. I am not suggesting it is perfect, by any means. I think that many people think about these things.

    If we think about them, why not discuss them? What really are you afraid of?

  8. I'm afraid of nothing John, but I am concerned about your church.

  9. Stushie,

    I find that statement rather odd. Should I be concerned about the people in your church?

    How about we leave our churches out of it. You minister to yours and I will minister to mine.

    Now, if you are interested in a dialogue about the mystery of resurrection, that would be great.

    I'll start. What is the meaning or the value of resurrection?

    Here are some of the ways I interpret it:

    1) Resurrection is God's reversal of the verdict of Empire's death to an innocent man. Resurrection is God's no to violence and God's yes to compassion and love as evidenced in the life and teachings of Jesus.

    2) Resurrection is the on-going presence of Jesus (and everything he was about) in the life of humanity. Resurrection cannot be understood without its immediate connection to his ascension and lordship. The Resurrection is witness to the presence of God (as revealed in Jesus) and the hope of the world. It may look like violence, cruelty, and oppression is the way the world works, but the resurrection points to a future hope in which humanity fulfills what Jeremiah said about the word of God written on our hearts. We can participate in that hope now.

    3) Death loses its sting as the resurrection fills our present lives with meaning. Resurrection is the witness that in life and in death we belong to God, that nothing (not even death) separates us from the love of God in Jesus Christ, and that God is the God of the living, not of the dead.

    Three tries off of the top of my head. What is important is what it means, right? What it does for us? What does it mean and do for you?

  10. To go back to your original statement, John. You write that you believe that the historical Jesus' body decayed like any other dead human body and affirm that His resurrection was only a spiritual one.

    This is Docetism, which was rejected by the Church sixteen hundred years ago and has never been a part of Reformed Presbyterianism. If you are preaching this, then I am gravely concerned about your congregation because you are no longer preaching Christianity. In fact, you are preaching something that is more akin to Islam, who believe that Christ's body was never real.

  11. So which is it, Docetism, or Islam, or is it Gnosticism as Aric suggests? Throw out a bunch of names and hope one will stick?

    I think Stushie does raise a teaching moment. This first regards how the New Testament writers regarded the resurrection of Jesus. They all differed.

    Paul sees Jesus in some sort of vision. He talks about the resurrected body as a spiritual body. John has the body still bear the wounds but yet can appear and disappear. Mark doesn't even bother with appearances. Matthew adds a bunch of bodies in his zombie scene. Luke's resurrected Jesus is not able to be recognized by the two on the Emmaus Road until he blesses and breaks bread, as soon as they see him he vanishes.

    The NT writers don't agree and can't possibly agree as to what happened. Try to harmonize the four Easter accounts. It is impossible.

    Then of course we have the wonderful question of where did his body go? Did he self-propel through the galaxy? Where did he finally land? Or is he still on his way? Are we supposed to believe that he is literally up there, literally sitting at the right hand of God--and is God's hand a physical one, too?

    If that is a silly question to you, then it is just as silly to go back a couple of steps and insist that the only we can understand and participate in this mystery is to insist on a resuscitated corpse.

    The second teaching moment has to do with how we connect the claims of faith with what we know about the universe. Think of some of the differences betweeen the time of Jesus and now:

    then: three-tiered universe with earth as the center and heaven above.

    now: Earth is a planet that circles a star which is one of billions.

    then: Earth is a few thousand years old, created in six days with the first humans being Adam and Eve.

    now: Earth is 4 billion years old, in a universe around 15 billion years old. Humans evolved from other beings and have developed consciousness among other things.

    In light of this and in light of many other things, what is the heart of the Christian faith? That is the question I ask with my congregation.

    While many church leaders (apparently such as yourself) insist that Christianity and its faith claims must be understood literally or it is not Christianity, not everyone agrees with you.

  12. I really enjoyed reading this sermon on your church website. I missed church on Easter to go "commune" with others in a wilderness setting. This turned out to be as I thought it would, which was more spiritually fulfilling than going to church on Sunday.

    I would also like to add its rather presumptuous to just assume Minister Shuck's "Flock" is just that, a bunch of following sheep. Websters calls sheep
    3. a meek, unimaginative, or easily led person.

    I would be insulted if someone called our congregation a Flock of our minister.

    I don't feel like Minister Shuck needs my defense. I post this only because I am personally offended by the statement, "no longer preaching Christianity." in relation to what Presbyterians have defined sixteen hundred years ago. It saddenes me that there is a minister in Knoxville that believes his denomination has the market on Christianity cornered. Whom has the right to define whom is Christian? Isn't our relationship with God and Christ supposed to be based on personal prayer and communication with God? Or does it instead require a mediator of minister to commune with God under certain predetermined, bureaucratic, century old guidelines?

    Check your brain at the door please. And by all means don't listen to what you find when you search in personal prayer and contemplation on the teachings of Jesus.

    This kind of attitude of insult towards congregations is a part of what pushes people away from congregations.

  13. What he said. I completely agree with you Michael. I thought John delivered an honest, thoughtful sermon for Easter services; well done John! Now, as to the big questions:

    Who is our neighbor? The people on either side of our McMansions.
    What is peace? Massive stockpile of nuclear weapons.
    What is justice? Two thirds of the world going to hell for choosing the wrong religion.
    What is love? Strict adherence to the nuclear family.
    What are our values? Strict adherence to capitalism for social change.
    How do we develop them into action? Go to church on Sunday; shop at Wal-Mart.

    There, that was too easy, we should move on to some tough questions…

  14. I am not a part of Pastor John's church, as I'm a way too far away to be there every Sunday. But I love reading his sermons and thoughts here.

    I think the main issue that has been brought up by the comment dialogue I have been reading is the biggest problem we have as Christians. That is the need to argue amongst ourselves about what is right and what is wrong when it comes to belief. Arguments like this are very dangerous, as mini wars amongst ourselves and our brothers and sisters evolve, and the most important issue becomes HOW to believe and not just simply being God's children and the salt and light of the world. How are we to be an inspiration to those around us when the politics of the religion get in the way?

    Does it really matter if one person takes the bible literally, and another takes it metaphorically? Will God really deny those who do not interpret the Bible exactly "right" the Kingdom of Heaven? If that were the case, I think ALL of us would be in trouble. The Bible is called the Living Word for a reason. It is full of different interpretations. One person can get one thing out of the Bible, while his neighbor will understand it completely different. I have even read passages one way, and then read them in a completely different way in another stage of my life. The words printed on the page never changed. The way God spoke to me did.

    I appreciate Pastor John's views on all of this. I think he raises some very real questions that are sensitive to Christians, almost scary to talk about for some. We can choose to agree or disagree. But when Christians battle other Christians for not believing exactly the same way, well, I think that the whole purpose of being God's children becomes lost in the battle.

  15. John,

    Point well taken about the casting of names. It is unproductive and distracts from the real point, which is that this is an important an interesting discussion that I wanted to engage with you in. It was certainly eye-opening to be included in the same breath with the views of Stushie, which I find stultifying and unhelpful. So I withdraw my intimation of gnosticism.

    What I do think is important, and have been trying grappling with since reading your sermon is whether the objectivity of the event of resurrection is important or whether it is the meaning in the subjective experience of those that have followed that matters. In one sense, I can say along with you that the meaning is all that matters since the event can't be proved or disproved in anycase (even if the "corpse" was found most would not accept it as true - the standard of evidence that archaeology can provide just isn't sufficient to "prove" anything).

    On the other hand, it does seem to me that we are talking about God's actual action in the world and not just our perceptions of that action. In other words, if God did not actually act in some objective fashion to raise Jesus from the dead (whatever that means) then all our faith is based on an illusion - as Paul says. I think the basic confession of faith of the Christian is that God did in fact act in this unprecedented way in the case of Jesus of Nazareth.

    Now I am not committed to saying it was a literal corporeal reanimation a la "Dawn of the Dead", but then I don't completely reject that either. It seems to me that the event must retain some unique significance beyond our present experience of the risen Christ.

    On the separate issue of "consciousness" - do you feel that this idea fits solidly within a reformed theology of grace? Or does it stray close to a wesleyan doctine of perfection?

  16. Thanks for all the comments!

    All of this theological gobbledygook regarding the bones of Jesus does seem to miss the point to me. Resurrection ought to make us do something or be something. As Justagirl implies, we should at least be nice! And as Bobby hammered all my lobs over the fence, those questions are really the ones important to me. If religion doesn't help me be a better human and make the world a better place, than why bother?


    Sorry, man. I used your comment for rhetorical purposes!

    I am not quite sure if resurrection must be either subjective or objective. It could be both/and. I don't know. I am certainly open to an objective reality. Jesus did something (or God in Jesus) which is why so many great stories were written about him. If this is appropriate, he was an enlightened being.

    In fact, that is why I was interested in Teilhard De Chardin's ideas. His concept of the cosmic christ as the summit of consciousness is intriguing. I also like the subject of consciousness because we can talk about it with other disciplines.

    He also speaks about evolution, which I think is another issue regarding the whole system of Christianity, especially Christian hope.

    I didn't really think about consciousness as in regards to grace or perfection. I'll guess I'll be reformed and say grace. : )

    In fact, I would say it is grace objectively! Anyone who experiences a raising of one's awareness experiences it as grace.

    Grace to you!

  17. I don't really understand what is meant by the concept of grace. I guess its because I usually hear it used in an abstract, evangelical way. I've never grasped the concept that is meant by the word.

    I realize its likely pretty complex to explain, and maybe I don't want to bother as it probably is a substitute word for something I'm already aware of, but anyway, a pointer to some definition or explanation would be helpful to me, if its easy to find. Or maybe a "grace in a nutshell" sentence or two??


  18. Hi Michael,

    Grace in a nutshell. There are certainly more elaborate and sophisticated definitions than the one I will offer.

    Grace, gift, gratitude all come from the same word. As opposed to something we deserve or earn, grace is the experience of life as a gift.

  19. I think on some level of the body of Jesus is found then I think we should scrap the use of the NT (which makes logical sense). Then Jesus is not the messiah he so claimed and we need to revert back to true Judaism (who do not accept this Jesus as messiah nor the NT). I think that makes some sense.

    It would also mean the disciples are making up a fictitious character out of Jesus and it would make no sense to follow those teachings...since they are not truly representative of who Jesus was (apparently just a human who strayed from Judaism). I mean, I think I for one would refuse to follow Jesus' teachings in light of a discovery like that since it would mean I would be betraying my own conscience.

    I come from a religion of myth - First Nations stories - about creation, flood, values, etc...but they are framed as definitive myth (ie: turtle island). But if Jesus is fake then I can return to that mythos of teachings (which have heavily weighed superstitions built in). I mean one myth is as good as another - all things being equal. Maybe these myths carry more weight about God than a mythical Jesus? Well, they would for me I think.

    The Christ-ian faith is built upon the belief Jesus is the Christ - if this is not so any longer - then this is no longer Christ-ianity - I am not sure what that would be called (Jesus-ism). Since we would no longer proclaim a faith in this figure being the Christ - then I don't see a the dire need for it.

    Am I off on this or is that resurrection the crux of the story?

  20. Hi Society,

    Thanks, very thoughtful comments. You wrote:

    "Am I off on this or is that resurrection the crux of the story?"

    I think that resurrection is the crux of the story. The question is what is resurrection?

    I think that resurrection is such a huge mystery that it is open to many interpretations.

    I think there are a variety of ways resurrection has been understood and its understanding differs between the New Testament writers themselves.

    My own personal view (which could change tomorrow) is that resurrection is different from resuscitation of a corpse. It is more than that. The article of faith is not that Jesus was simply resurrected (ie. resuscitated) but that he has a resurrected spiritual body--both continuous and discontinuous with his earthly body.

    God could have taken anything to make a new spiritual body. He doesn't need the DNA of the historical Jesus to make a spiritual body of the resurrected Jesus.

    But resurrection is about much more than bodies. The ascension to the right hand of God is connected with the resurrection. It is not that some guy came back to life but that this particular one was elevated to the place of highest authority in the universe (symbolized by ascension to heaven).

    This was a challenge to Empire and the ascension of the emperor to the right hand of Jupiter. The scandal of the Christian faith is about who is in control of the universe, Casear or Jesus? Who does God recognize as legitimate, Caesar and his way in the world, or Jesus and his way in the world?

    What does that mean? I think it means a great deal for how we live our lives. What do we follow, the way of Caesar or the way of Jesus?

    This is why the teachings of Jesus are critically important. How do we know the way if we don't know the teachings?

    Which leads us to:

    What are our values and how does the presence of the risen Christ (whose substance is known by his teachings) transform them?

  21. Thanks for the reply John - I would say your spot on about the value of the teachings - thanks!