Christ’s resurrection: not imagery

Rev. Jack Van Ens

Some churches train parishioners never to say “Jesus Christ” in the same breath. Sometimes they speak exclusively of Jesus who was crucified. At other times these church members refer to Christ, whose resurrected memory they keenly keep in heart and mind. They study a human Jesus. The Christ for them is merely alive today in the Christian community’s recollection of values he espoused. Churches that separate Jesus from Christ deny that Jesus actually rose from the dead. Christ lives in our memories.When orthodox Christians affirm that Jesus the Christ really did rise from the dead, what do they mean? Though we commonly speak as if the Savior carried two names, the first being Jesus followed by a surname Christ, this is not correct. Jesus, meaning, “God saves,” is a common Jewish name, but Christ is a title. More precisely, we should say, “Jesus, the Christ.” This is why Mel Gibson titled his movie “The Passion of the Christ.”Christ is derived from the Greek, meaning “the anointed one.” Jews in Jesus’ day longed for the Messiah, the special one of God’s choosing who would run the Roman Empire into the ground. “Messiah” from the Hebrew and “Christ” from the Greek are synonymous.For orthodox Christians, Christ’s resurrection is the real deal. God saved Jesus from endless death. God resurrected his anointed Christ. Easter makes true these claims.Those who desire to make Christ’s resurrection fit into what reasonably happens sharply disagree with this Easter fact. Biblical interpreters Marcus Borg and John Shelby Spong correctly teach that Jesus, like so many defeated revolutionaries who tried bucking the establishment, died on Good Friday.They err by teaching that Easter is not about a resurrected body escaping an empty tomb. No resurrection happened to Jesus, Borg and Spong believe. For them, Christ’s resurrection only occurs when Christians don’t let die the moral clarity Jesus showed and the compassionate help he shared. When the Bible speaks of Christ’s resurrection, say Borg and Spong, the writers who knew that Jesus was dead used picture language to suggest that life is renewed. Defeat is not a Christian’s final word. Hope is.A parallel to using picture language describing the resurrection occurs when Americans speak of Uncle Sam. This bewhiskered gent with a patriotic sparkle in his eye is not real.Or is he?Uncle Sam strides into life when Americans proudly salute Old Glory with moistened eyes or as they belt out the National Anthem. Then Uncle Sam is resurrected. He snaps to life in our minds and hearts. In a similar way, teach Borg and Spong, the Christ is resurrected when we follow his way, guided by his precious teachings.I don’t find it helpful separating Jesus as a historical figure from the Christ who rises to life through believers’ vivid imaginations as they resurrect their devotion to him. This winter under gray skies with snow afoot, I visited the graves of relatives. I couldn’t pull off mental exercises bouncing them back into my life. Memories had dimmed. Some of their adventures I had forgotten. My hope of their resurrection to eternal life does not depend upon my mental gymnastics. It only comes when God, who raised the Christ from the dead, gathers unto himself those whom I have loved and lost awhile.Some dismiss the Christ’s resurrection because of discrepancies in biblical accounts. Why wouldn’t we expect such inconsistencies? Yes, gospel Easter stories do not agree. For instance, did only one angel, looking like a young man adorned in white robes, announce “He is not here; for he has risen,” (Matthew 28:6) to Peter alone, or did his jogging partner John accompany him? Were two angels, not one, at the empty tomb?Such discrepancies within the Bible’s diverse accounts are not bothersome. Visitors at the vacant tomb were dizzy with excitement, shivering in fear at the unbelievable. What’s unique often jars us. Resurrection defies common sense. God does the uncommon in rescuing Christ from the grave. No wonder the accounts don’t jibe.Marcus Borg and John Shelby Spong remind me of Thomas Jefferson. He took a sharp shears to the Bible, cutting from it accounts that didn’t make sense. He dismissed the Apostle Paul as the “first corrupter of the doctrine of Jesus,” including the Christ’s resurrection.Stripping from the Bible portions that defied reason, Jefferson closed his heavily edited Bible with the Gospel of John’s story of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial. He tacked on a half-sentence from Matthew. The cut-and-paste Bible according to Thomas Jefferson ends grimly. “Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden there was a new sepulchre, wherein was never yet laid. There laid they Jesus … (John 19:42) and rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre and departed (Matthew 28:60).” Jesus is dead. Christ never rises from the dead in Jefferson’s Bible.”No miracles, no metaphysics, no mystery for Jefferson,” concludes premier historian Martin Marty. That’s true about Borg and Spong, too. Jefferson’s Bible records stories that make sense, with aphorisms that lift our spirits. But Christ’s resurrection is missing.Curiously, Jefferson did not rationally crimp his most intense longings. Late in life, he desired to be reunited one day with his dead wife and child, and to meet again deceased classmates. from school. He believed an immortal God granted him this wish.Martin Marty, noting Jefferson’s rejection of Christ’s resurrection, concludes, “He made a Socrates out of Jesus.” The Christ literally arose. He is not another Socrates, just a good guy who ran into bad luck and died, living in our imaginations. The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the non-profit, tax-exempt CREATIVE GROWTH MINISTRIES, enhancing Christian worship through storytelling and dramatic presentations. Van Ens’ book, “How Jefferson Made the Best of Bad Messes” is available in local bookstores for $7.95.Vail, Colorado

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