I have this ridiculous picture in my head of three small groups of people verbally dueling outside of Jesus’ tomb. One side: “You have to believe in the resurrection of the body or you can’t be a Christian!” Another side: “We believe in a spiritual resurrection and that’s just as Christian!” A third side: “What difference does it make?”
I’m sure there could be other groups join in the word duel. Groups 1 and 2 are stuck in dualistic (either-or) thinking. I prefer to spell it “duelistic” because of the predictable verbal, emotional and spiritual duels it always produces. But I think the third group may have a larger picture in mind with their question.
Duelistic thinking is always a distraction from more important matters. It focuses too much on who is right rather than on what is right. In this instance: What if there is more to resurrection than we normally settle for? In “Speaking Christian,” Marcus Borg puts our challenge this way:
“Focusing on the empty tomb reduces the meaning of Easter to a spectacular event in the past. It makes the resurrection of Jesus vulnerable to skepticism … . Can I be a wholehearted Christian if I have doubts about this?”
I know many Christians today would say “no” to that question. As respectfully as I can, I say, “Yes, I can.”
To first-century Christians – as reflected in the Gospels and the various New Testament letters – Jesus’ resurrection meant three basic things: “Jesus is Lord,” “Jesus lives” and “Love is stronger than death.”
They saw Jesus as “Lord” above all other little gods, including the rulers of Rome who executed him. I don’t happen to be comfortable with “kingly” language, so I am one Christian who feels free not to say “Jesus is Lord.” But that doesn’t mean I am naïve about the competing “lords” we follow.
We are successfully seduced by all kinds of false promises every day. Some are self-delusions. Some are cultural. Some come from either our religious fervor or religious disdain. Jesus is up against some stiff competition for our ultimate allegiance. However we might say it, “Jesus is Lord” is a call to remember who and whose we are.
Many Christians today settle for some variation of literal interpretation of the resurrection. I don’t see the early Christians doing that. They understood that Jesus spoke in parables and metaphors, which focus less on facts and more on meaning.
Whether through a literal or metaphorical resurrection, the early Christians experienced Jesus as some kind of significant experience – for, with and through them.
Consider Luke 24:5 when the angels at the tomb ask a simple question of the women who came to anoint Jesus’ body: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” An important meaning of that brief encounter can be too easily forgotten when seen only literally.
Leave the tomb to find Jesus. He’s now out in the world. Don’t spend your energy on arguments that distract you from joining Jesus. He is out there loving others, serving others, trying to bring justice to people imprisoned emotionally, economically, politically.
Jesus lives in the same world you live in. Join him where he is, not where you might want him to be.
One more reminder about resurrection: There is something infinitely more important than our fear-driven petty duels about resurrection, religion, life or whatever. It is the third basic meaning of the resurrection: “Love is stronger than death.” Not just after death, either. Love is stronger than any forms of death – here and now.