"Send out Your light and Your truth, that they may lead me, and bring me to Your holy hill and to Your dwelling." Psalm 43:3

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Yes, The Resurrection Actually Is That Important

I am not much given to ranting.  I'm a pretty non-confrontational guy, and I like to look for the good in things, and focus on that.  I'm committed to the Church and to living faithfully as a follower of Christ and helping others to do the same, and I don't see how an incessant focus on the shortcomings of the Episcopal Church or individual leaders in that church does much good for the Kingdom, or helps others to live as disciples of Jesus.  I hardly ever visit places like Virtue Online, and I try to steer clear of those blogs that seem to have nothing to say other than to righteously lambast the most recent demonstration of TEC's "apostasy".  Honestly, I have no desire to be that guy.  And frankly, as someone who is seeking ordination in the Episcopal Church, I'm not sure I could keep my sanity if I didn't simply accept that there are indeed a lot of people in this church who say and do some pretty crazy things, and I can't change that.  I'm not going out looking for reasons to bewail the sad state of TEC; if I was, I would just be angry and frustrated all the time.  Definitely not my thing.

That said, I'm now going to allow myself a rant.  For one thing, it's probably good for me, at least every once in a while, to stand up and state something emphatically.  Because that's really not my style.  Like I said, I'm non-confrontational -- probably a bit too non-confrontational.  Sometimes, confrontation is unavoidable, and to simply let things go may not so much be a demonstration of loving patience as a proof of cowardice or apathy.  But more to the point, the source of my angst in this instance has just been really bugging me, and the more I think about it the more upset I get, so I'm going to get it out here.

The bishop of Washington recently posted a reflection on her blog, which I think may not unfairly be summarized as follows: 'Yes, the resurrection of Jesus is of vital importance to the Christian faith -- but, the resurrection really means whatever you want it to mean.'  Seriously?  I mean, I wish no ill will to the bishop, but seriously?  Sometimes I just want to throw my head back, Charlie Brown-style, and yell "AAARRRRGGH!  I can't stand it!"  It's just hard to conceive of how we've arrived at this point, where the sermons, statements, and books of so many of the leaders of our church seem to be so wanting.  It's embarrassing.  It's not simply that basic doctrine is being questioned, and in some cases flatly rejected; it's that the "rational, philosophical" alternatives so seldom strike me as even being very creative or interesting.  God's revealed truth is not being displaced by the enlightening truth of enlightened man, but by intellectual laziness built on a foundation of feelings.

In responding to a parishioner's question about whether or not "we needed to be bound by so unreasonable a proposition that Jesus’ tomb was, in fact, empty", Bishop Budde responds,

"To say that resurrection is essential doesn’t mean that if someone were to discover a tomb with Jesus’ remains in it that the entire enterprise would come crashing down. The truth is that we don’t know what happened to Jesus after his death, anymore than we can know what will happen to us. What we do know from the stories handed down is how Jesus’ followers experienced his resurrection. What we know is how we experience resurrection ourselves."
Well, I'll have to differ on that.  First, I think the New Testament writers go to some lengths to prove precisely that Jesus was, in fact, raised from the dead by the power of God.  The tomb really was empty, and this really is the vital point that ultimately declares the victory of God in Christ and gives power and legitimacy to the gospel message.  The Apostle Paul stresses this numerous times in his epistles, nowhere more clearly than in I Corinthians 15, where he writes that if Christ has not been truly raised from the dead than this whole Christian faith thing is a sham, his preaching and their faith is empty and worthless, the dead who had placed their hope in Christ have perished, and we find ourselves the most pitiable people on earth, because we've been duped.  Pretty strong language.  But to Paul, yes, the resurrection actually is that important.  The gospel writers take pains to relate clearly that Jesus truly did die, and then truly was raised in His body.  He gave up His spirit and was sealed in a tomb.  But then God raised Him to new life.  The apostles and many others witnessed and attested to this fact, they embraced His resurrected body, they ate with Him.  Yes, His was a new resurrection body, "sown perishable, raised imperishable"; yes, He appeared in a locked room; but the testimony remains emphatic: Jesus was raised from the dead, leaving behind an empty tomb.  This is the Gospel.

I was recently reading the book of Acts.  Perhaps it's due in part to our now being in the midst of the Easter season, but I was struck by how truly central the resurrection is in that book.  Right off the bat Luke sets the tone by asserting that after His resurrection, Jesus presented Himself to the apostles with many "convincing proofs" that He was indeed truly alive.  The resurrection as the ultimate demonstration of Jesus' exaltation as the true Messiah of God is the whole thrust of Peter's message to the crowds on Pentecost, and later before the Sanhedrin.  Later still, when Paul preaches to the Athenians at the Areopagus, his address culminates in the assertion of Christ's resurrection.  The Athenians sneer, and later Festus says that Paul has gone out of his mind when he speaks of the resurrection.  To which Paul replies, "No, you misunderstand.  I'm not necessarily talking about an actual bodily resurrection.  Ha!  That's crazy!  I mean, I know that's what I said, but it's not what I meant.  I'm not asking for your 'intellectual acceptance of an outlandish proposition' (to borrow a phrase from Bishop Budde) --"  Oh, wait ...

See, it's not just that the whole New Testament obliterates the kind of subjective, experienced-based interpretation of the resurrection that is put forward by Budde and others.  It's that I don't find the alternative even remotely compelling.  Budde's remark about how the disciples' "experienced his resurrection" sounds like the old Borg-Spongian idea that the disciples had some kind of mystical, indescribable "experience" of Jesus after His death, and that we don't really know what that means.  I remember reading an explanation by one of the two (I think it was Spong), that "the disciples just knew that Jesus was with them in a special way now, so special that they could even talk about him being alive" or something like that.  You know, like how Aunt Sally said that she could really feel grandma's presence at the family reunion, that grandma was here, even though we all know grandma is actually stone-cold dead underground.  Real earth-shattering stuff, this "resurrection experience".

I wouldn't mind it so much if this was simply an individual Christian thinking out loud, pursuing truth and asking questions and groping towards God.  But this is a published reflection by a bishop of the Church.  She solemnly swore before God "to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of The Episcopal Church" (BCP pg. 513).  The office of bishop entails a number of duties, but perhaps none so important as that of serving as a "guardian of the Church's faith" (ibid pg. 519), which faith is sufficiently summarized in the Nicene Creed, which states that "On the third day, he rose again, in accordance with the Scriptures".  I imagine Bishop Budde would claim that she does indeed believe that He rose, but I feel at this point that words don't even much matter to the people who make these kind of subjective arguments in an attempt to make the faith rationally palatable.  According to the BCP ordinal, the bishop is to "boldly proclaim and interpret the Gospel of Christ, enlightening the minds and stirring up the conscience" of the people (ibid pg. 518).  When we look to our bishops to do this, surely, surely the Episcopal Church deserves to expect better than to hear, "Yeah, the resurrection, like, whatever."

Alleluia!  Christ is risen.
The Lord is risen indeed.  Alleluia!

1 comment:

  1. This Christmastide I've been reading 'On the Incarnation' by St. Athanasius. In reading the following, I was reminded (unfortunately) of this post.

    "He who disbelieves the resurrection of the lordly body would seem likely to be ignorant of the power of the Word and Wisdom of God. For if he had fully taken to himself a body, and made it his own with proper consistency, as our argument has shown, what would the Lord do with it? Or what kind of end should befall the body, once the Word had come to it? It was not unable to die, since it was mortal and offered to death on behalf of all, for which purpose the Savior had prepared it for himself. But it could not remain dead, because it had become the temple of life."

    Is it possible to conceive of a more blatant example of neo-gnosticism in the Church than such an assertion that the finding of the bones of our Lord would be inconsequential? As if the incarnation itself were a thing indifferent? I'll stick with Athanasius. Thankfully, I don't face the prospect of 'Rob et Athanasius contra mundum' but rather just contra a few misguided leaders in TEC. Maybe things aren't so bleak after all!

    "With demons thus confessing and the works bearing witness, it should be manifest, and let no one be shameful against the truth, that the Savior raised up his body, and that he is the true Son of God, being from him as the Father's own Word and Wisdom and Power, who in the last time took a body for the salvation of all, and taught the world about the Father, destroyed death, granted incorruptibility to all through the promise of resurrection, raising his own body as the first-fruits of this and showing it as a trophy over death and its corruption by the sign of the cross."