Friday, April 06, 2007

Easter week is not as significant or as meaningful to my spiritual development as it once was in my life. Just trying to be honest. My life has changed a lot in the past ten years and I no longer belong to a Christian community that emphasizes the literal historical accuracy of the resurrection of Jesus. Also, I have spent a significant amount of time reading and thinking about the death and resurrection story of Jesus and currently feel content where I stand. It's not that I don't care or am totally indifferent to Easter and the meaning of the crucifixion/resurrection story. There are always potentially new ways of finding new meanings and significance in such great stories no matter how many times you hear the same story over and over again. I don't have anything profound to say about Easter this year but I do want to take the time, in the spirit of Good Friday, to share some thoughts from Crossan, N.T. Wright and myself regarding the Resurrection of Jesus. Last year I read The Crossan-Wright dialogue on the resurrection of Jesus and I'll pass along some of the things from the book along with my own commentary.

One thing that I remember most about the dialogue between Crossan and N.T. Wright is that "both" men believe the resurrection story whether one interprets it literally or metaphorically is important...because...both... "insist one must not stop at thinking about the actual historical accuracy of the resurrection...and...one must consider the "significance" of the resurrection for individuals, the church, and the world". As I ponder the potential significance of the resurrection story the word transformation comes to mind and transformation implies justice, equality, healing, and hope...and... We live in a world that so desperately needs transformation,personally and communally, and the Easter story is a critically important potential "reference point" for those who have ears to hear...

At this point in my life I don't particularly care whether the Resurrection story is literal history, history embellished, a myth, or an ancient "X File" encounter. Sorry Saint Paul, but I have to part ways with you on this one. Historically, I understand the heretical implications of my statements but this is what I believe and I really don't have any interest in undermining or changing the minds of my fellow brethren who insist on the historicity of the Easter story.Over the years, I have come to my current position, in large part, because I do believe in the "power of myth" and I believe it is unfortunate that a lot of modern people don't either understand or perhaps care to understand that myth and history are not "necessarily" mutually exclusive. I say, unfortunate, because according to the modern myth, they are polar opposites...and...in the process of waging war between myth and history I believe we have drifted away from the meaning of the story and the significance of transformation which is from my vantage point the heart of the myth/ history of the Easter story.

Now that I have laid my cards on the table regarding what I believe about the Easter story here is what Crossan, and N.T. Wright have to say about the Resurrection. These excerpts are taken from the book, The Resurrection of Jesus: John Dominic Crossan and N.T. Wright in Dialogue.

N.T. Wright: "only with the bodily resurrection of Jesus, demonstrating that his death dealt the decisive blow to evil, that we can find the proper ground for working to call the kingdoms of the earth to submit to the Kingdom of God...Not that science has disproved Easter, but that Easter challenges the social and political pretensions of modernism, both right and left wing, and modernism knows it. Perhaps the most important thing then about the resurrection is also the most deeply counter-cultural in our own day--that a deeply orthodox theology about the resurrection, and a good deal else besides, is the proper seedbed of radical politics."

Crossan:
Why is it important for me speak of the metaphorical? Is it the Enlightment? No, it really isn't---because I am in a pre-Enlightment age when I am reading this. It really is this: if you look at the world in which Jesus and Paul lived, the world, in which Caesar, Caesar Augustus, was divine, was Son of God, was God, was God from God----at least in Egypt--was Lord, was savior of the world, was redeemer, was liberator, and you ask yourself, or make the mistake of asking a classicist, "Did those millions of people who say, who read those texts, those structures, did they all take it literally or metaphorically? The honest answer must be, I do not have the faintest idea, nor does anyone else. But I do know that they took it operationally, they took it functionally, they took it programmatically. To say I believe in the divinity of Caesar meant I am getting with the program, I'm supporting Roman imperialism.If I were certain that all of that was taken literally, no question, then I might be more certain about how to read Christian and anti-Caesarian theology. That is the issue for me. How do we know, know enough for to demand of our people in the name of faith, that everything must be taken literally as distinct from metaphorically?. What I am suggesting is that whether you take it literally or whether you take it metaphorically, you must take it programmatically. And that means you must be able to spell out in detail from the program of the divine Caesar. That is the first century question. The first-century question is not "Do you think Jesus is Lord? It is "Do you think Caesar or Jesus is Lord? And when you say Jesus is Lord you have just committed high treason... We can go on debating whether the resurrection is literal or metaphorical...It seems to me that we have been debating it for two hundred years, and we have reached an impasse: nobody is persuading anyone else about it that I can see...but there is something else: the question of meaning. I would like to ask anyone who says literally to spell out exactly what is the meaning of that? That is, what are the implications, how does it work out, how does ti change the world, how do we participate in a new creation?....

N.T. Wright:
"The resurrection language...used by the early Christians literally and was meant to be taken denoting a concrete event--if you don't go that route, you're left with saying that whatever happened, whether you refer to it literally or metaphorically, was an abstract event, was a nonconcrete, nonbodily thing,which then leaves you without the groundwork for dealing with the bodily realities of martyrdom, Caesar's world, and all the rest of it. In other words, is not your political agenda going to push you ulitimately to saying that there really was an empty tomb on Easter?

Crossan:
For me....A literal statement and a metaphorical statement can both apply to exactly the same concrete event....For example...Two people are talking in the last election. One says, Well, President Bush is my President. The other says, President Bush is my eagle. One's literal; The other's metaphorical. They both mean the same concrete thing. They both mean, we approve of the program, we approve of the politics...

1 comment:

julieunplugged said...

Bill, thank you so much for this. It is heartening to read your comments as I resonate with them. The dialog between Wright and Crossan is also really useful. I love the term: programmatically.

I will be blogging more about this topic, but you have added richness to my reflections.