Sunday, 2 March 2008

A Risen Lord

The Christian faith is one that has survived many eras of humanity. It has seen the fall of mighty Rome, the conquest of the West and the rise of modernism. In each period Christianity has been influenced by prevailing thoughts and social ambitions, but throughout all of time the Church has summarized, in one simple phrase, its victory. “CHRIST IS RISEN.”(Mt 28:6)
I can only imagine what it must have been like to come the tomb of Jesus, baring such sorrow as Mary did, only to find that the dawn had come and the Son had risen. The world has entered the eschatological present; a time when the Kingdom of God has been established here and now among us, and the fullness of that Kingdom is yet to come. Yet without the resurrection there would be no Christianity. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:4, that ”if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”
I grew up in a small town in southern New Hampshire and attended a small congregational church there. The church itself is an old barn that has been renovated and I spent a good portion of my adolescence scampering around its rafters. The pastor is a man in his late fifties or early sixties, but looks young for his age. I can’t remember many of his exact lines from sermons, but I do remember one distinct statement. “Everything rises and falls on the Resurrection.” If Christ is not raised then we are still victims of death itself. The redemptive blood of Christ is made holy because it is not the blood of a dead rebel leader, but the blood of a man who darkness could not bind.
In the Garden of Eden death was brought into the world, Adam and Eve chose the knowledge of good and evil, and we as their ancestors have been paying the debt of death ever since. No matter how great the man, how pious the woman, death cannot be evaded. Yet in Christ Jesus we can find a new ancestry one of life.
“So it is written: "The first man Adam became a living being"; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.” (1Cor 15:45-49)

Over the last 200 years the world of biblical scholarship has changed materially with the birth of the critical methods. The amount we have learned about authorship and structure of the Gospels has been largely beneficial, yet it has widened the rift between scholarship and the living Christian community. As a student who seeks ordination I want to bridge the gap between the faith I live and the theology I am taught. It has been a journey full of harsh growing pains and I suspect it is far from over. I have been persuaded to throw away some of my old convictions and embrace others. Some scholars have searched for the so-called “historical Jesus” in contrast to the Jesus of Faith assuming that there is no way they could be one in the same.
The Jesus seminar has taken the Gospels and made a mockery of them, taking upon themselves the pretension to say what is and is not possible. One of the things that they deemed myth, nonfactual and unreliable is the Resurrection of Jesus, stripping the title Christ from him all together. It is here that I have drawn my most fierce line. Without the Resurrection I see no Jesus of faith or history, just a feisty Jew under Roman oppression and a group of people who died for the substance of their own lies. I am unwilling to see the Resurrection as a “spiritual” one. People don’t die horrible deaths for metaphors they know are just symbolic, but they do die for the hope of life eternal.
My favorite resurrection account comes from the Gospel of Luke, where two men are walking to Emmaus. After Jesus has died, the disciples are disheartened because they still do not understand Christ’s words. They are confused and are certain that Israel is no longer to be redeemed by Jesus of Nazareth. It is in this setting that our story, the road to Emmaus, occurs. The two disciples, not part of the twelve but part of the seventy from chapter 10, are distraught and have as Eugene Peterson puts it, long faces . They are commiserating with one another when Jesus appears to them, yet they do not even recognize him. This is the same blindness that has been portrayed throughout Luke, and this is its climax. The disciples express their hopelessness and recount their loss to the resurrected Lord himself. It is ironic to the point of humor that these disciples accuse the incognito Christ of ignorance, while they themselves are the ones who are ignorant.
Jesus tells the disciples, “Oh how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!” Here Luke makes it clear that the suffering of Christ was necessary for him to enter into his glory. Christ then begins to share the scriptures with them, concerning himself within all the prophets, and this sharing of God’s word through God’s word was the first step towards the disciples recognizing Jesus.
When they approach the village we see a profound symbolism unravel. The disciples beg Jesus to stay with them, yet his path was set farther down the road; just as the disciples will have to bid their resurrected lord farewell at the ascension. Still Christ must fully reveal himself in what is the most theologically important part of the passage. The Lord takes bread, blesses it, breaks it and gives it. In this moment the identity of Christ is revealed and the disciples fully recognize Christ as their veil of blindness is lifted.
The Emmaus disciples spoke to each other on their way to see the other disciples saying “ were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us.” This is the message we bring forth into our lives; that even when we may be blinded to him, Christ is with us. The Holy Spirit works to kindle the flame of Christ’s everlasting love in our hearts; that we may come together as the body of Christ and share in his brokenness, and in that brokenness share in Christ’s resurrection.