Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Resurrection-Myth or Reality? 

An excerpt from:
Resurrection - Myth or Reality?
By John Shelby Spong
One essay from the Search for Jesus series

...Let me be specific about the following parts of the resurrection story: An angel did not descend from the sky on the wings of an earthquake to roll away the stone from the door of the tomb in order to make the resurrection announcement. A deceased man did not walk out of his grave physically alive three days after his execution by crucifixion. The risen Jesus did not walk, talk, eat, teach or invite the disciples to handle his physical flesh. Jesus did not literally defy gravity and ascend to the top of a three-tiered universe. These legendary aspects of the Easter story are no longer viewed as literally true in the academic world of biblical scholarship. We are not going to make sense out of the meaning of Easter if we have to defend the accuracy of these pre-modern details.

Buttressing these conclusions is the fact that a close study of the gospel texts reveals that these details did not find their way into the written gospels until the ninth decade of the common era. These details are the products of a tradition that arose more than 50 years after the Easter moment. They are not original to the story and therefore should not be thought of as either literally true or as descriptively accurate.

Yet, even if one is skeptical about these details, can one with credibility still argue that nothing of profound significance actually occurred? I do not think so. There was something powerful and life-changing about the Easter experience that the earliest Christians could not deny. That something must be examined deeply even as we move far beyond miraculous claims of erupting supernatural power. Whatever Easter was originally, it appears to have broken open the human sense of being bound by finitude and death. It seems to have captured people inside a sense of transcendence that was not bound by time. It removed the barriers impeding human consciousness, and it emerged in the startling realization that a life-changing power was connected in an intimate way with Jesus. That is the reality that cries out to be explored.

Easter dawned when a small group of people felt that their lives and their consciousness had been expanded to new dimensions. How could they describe something ultimately beyond the limits of their humanity, but which had, they believed, embraced their humanity. It was a time when certain people's eyes were opened to see that life was more powerful than death, that love was more powerful than hatred, and that being was more powerful than non-being. It was an awakening to a totally new reality. It was real beyond dispute, and yet no words existed in the human vocabulary that could capture that reality. So our task when trying to understand the meaning of Easter is to look not at the ancient descriptions, but rather to examine the effects that occurred in the lives of those who claimed this experience.

Those effects are seen when the disciples who had forsaken Jesus in fear and who had abandoned him in cowardice suddenly became fearless, heroic people ready to die for the truth that now possessed them. Easter's effects are seen when the perception of God changed so dramatically that it represented something new. Something happened that caused Jewish disciples, taught their whole lives that God was wholly other and that this God could never be captured in finite words or symbols, to claim that Jesus was part of what they believed God to be. From that moment on, the way these people thought of either God or human life would never be the same.

That Easter experience caused people to say that Jesus must now be seen as part of who or what God is. God had, in effect, left the sky and was now found in the self-giving love of Jesus, in whom a new depth to human life was also revealed. That was a profound revolution in human thinking. From that moment on, they were convinced God could be encountered in human form as life, love, and being. So they said that Jesus had entered the fullness of life and love whose source is God, and that Jesus had touched the ground of being whose depth is God...


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