Resurrection and Certification
Opening Devotion for the
11 April 2013 Faculty Meeting
Concordia Seminary, Saint Louis
Like many of you, I presume, I have for some time now been receiving the patheos.com newsletter/blog. Please allow me to share with you some Excerpts from:
Easter Day is over.
But Easter has only just begun.
For 50 days, Easter continues, according to the Christian calendar, and those 50 days represent a singular great feast celebrating God’s triumph of love over the violence and hate that throttles our world.
Sadly, in our modern world, the discourse surrounding Easter has been reduced to whether the resurrection was an historical or a metaphorical event, a development that contributes to the winnowing of Easter from 50 days to a singular day in our minds. Indeed, this simplistic, dualistic conversation has worried many of us — fundamentalists, conservatives and progressives. But the modern conversation about Easter and resurrection is a conversation that fundamentally lacks imagination, and imagination — not the fundamentals of faith — is what Easter is all about.
Frankly, I don’t care if you believe Jesus was literally or metaphorically resurrected. And neither does Easter. I find it laughable we try to reduce the power of Easter to a proposition, as if the resurrection could be a prostitute for our petty debates about faith.
A better conversation would involve a discussion about whether Easter is true rather than whether it is historical. Because Easter invites us to so much more. It invites us to live as if death is not. Or perhaps more precisely, it invites us to live as if the power of death, the powers that be, the violence that reigns our world has been broken. And in a world in which death and violence surround us at all times, this takes a prophetic and profound imagination.
Rather than worry whether Jesus literally folded up his bed clothes and walked out of the grave; rather than worry whether Jesus was mystically and metaphorically with the disciples on the road to Emmaus when they broke bread together; rather than worry about our doubt or our inability to believe, perhaps it is finally time to start worrying about what Easter is all about.
Debating Easter’s historicity is a fundamental distraction that prevents Christians from engaging from the terrifying prospect of what Easter means for us.
Easter is costly for Christians.
Easter invites us to imagine a world without fear. It invites us to imagine what our world would look like if violence and retribution were indeed signs of weakness rather than strength and might makes right. It invites us to imagine that violence and death and the Powers that Be do not have the last word. It invites us to imagine the transformative, mountain-moving power of nonviolence and grace, of faith, hope and love.
In fact, Easter proclaims that this is true. Easter proclaims this is the reality of the world God has created, and that this had indeed always been the reality in which we live. God has always been calling to us, through prophets and sages of the past, to live as if love, not hate and violence, were the forces that matter most in the world. Easter isn’t true because Jesus was resurrected. Easter is true because it has always been true that God loves us, because it has always been true that God hasn’t been interested in controlling the world with war, violence and oppression like the Powers that Be, but in transforming it with love and the giving away of power.
Easter has always been true, from the beginning of time.
Easter asks us not to believe the resurrection, but to imagine it, to practice it.
[David Henson received his Master of Arts from Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, after receiving a Lilly Grant for religious education for journalists. He is currently a candidate for Holy Orders in the Episcopal Church. He is a father of two young sons and the husband of a medical school student.]
So far the text.
Three thoughts come to mind:
1. If this is what the world thinks our message is, what we do here is both very important and very necessary.
2. I think I want my resurrection to be both true and historical.
3. I hope the certification committee for Mr. Henson speaks to the Apostle Paul before it makes its decision. And we must never take our own process for granted.
Now for the message.
1 Corinthians 15:12-20a (from the translation by Anthony Thiselton in The First Epistle to the Corinthians)
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you claim that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, neither can Christ have been raised. Yet if Christ has not been raised, it follows that our proclamation of the gospel is hollow, and empty, also, is your faith. We, too, shall be exposed as liars in what we witness about God, because we gave testimony against God that he raised Christ, when, if, as they say, it were the case that the dead are not raised, he did not raise him after all. For if the dead are not raised, neither can Christ have been raised. But if Christ has not been raised, your faith is without effect, and you are still in your sins. It also follows, then, that those who were laid to sleep in Christ are lost for good. If in this life placed hope in Christ with nothing beyond, we are more to be pitied than all human beings.
In reality, however, Christ has been raised from the dead.
You who rob the grave and got away with it,
You whom we, like Thomas, can probe but, like Mary, cannot grasp,
You who break the bread and mend the heart,
come among us not as stranger, nor concept, nor imagination, but as friend.
Enter this upper room, where we gather behind closed doors, and speak peace. Let no fear, no worry prevent us from carrying out our work—Your work—with boldness and with joy. Cause our hearts to burn within us, our hearts—who with every passing year are more and more tempted to say, “But we had hoped.…” You “camest to our hall of death, O Christ, to breathe our poisoned air,” now revive us with Your life-giving breath so that we don’t choke on “the dark despair” that permeates our world and haunts our campus. Your rising to life means we no longer live and never again will live “as if.” Come to us; remain with us. Our Lord and our God.