Friday, April 14, 2006


My new feature article on Ekklesia is entitled How Easter brings regime change, and is mainly about what you might call the 'alternative political ecclesiology' of the death and resurrection of Jesus. But while we are about it, Christians have significantly lost the plot when it comes to explaining the meaning of the Easter Gospel in a culture which is now out of touch with the depth of traditional Christian language, and in a church which long ago abandoned the intellectual rigour demanded of theology in a post/modern world. So, inter alia, I try to say something less than usually misleading and inadequate on the topic of 'resurrection'. It's a tough job normally best left to luminaries such as Nicholas Lash, but here goes - an account of the substantiality of the conviction that "God raised Jesus" which seeks to go beyond the naive physicalism of many popular accounts (both those of believers and sceptics) and the alternating woolly metaphorical inferences which say less than meets the eye. The difficulty, of course, is that, God being transcendent, all our God-language will be necessarily metaphorical at some leve. But there is still metaphor that 'makes the connection' and metapohor that obscures it. (Back, I suggest, to Lash's Holiness, Speech and Silence, Ashgate 2005, if this needs more unpacking).

What could it possibly mean – let alone for our day – to claim that “God raised Jesus”? Part of the answer lies in considering the alternatives. In St Paul’s time many (outright sceptics aside) believed in the immortality of the soul or cyclical rebirth – the idea that there is a spark or substance in us that survives death or is reincarnated.

Early Christians rejected such notions for two reasons. First, they were realists not fantasists. Death is not something that can be survived. It is the boundary that makes life impossible. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it: “That Christ was indeed dead was not the possibility of his resurrection but the impossibility of it.”

Second, Paul’s followers dismissed the dualistic notion that body and spirit are two divisible entities, of which one part survives death and the other does not. In his writings the Apostle uses the term ‘flesh’ not to refer to ‘the physical bit of us’, but to designate the whole, embodied human person oriented towards death. The word ‘spirit’ he used to describe not some allegedly ‘non-physical bit of us’, but the whole, embodied human person oriented towards life.

But just as resurrection is not the survival of some part of a person beyond death, neither is it the reconstitution of a corpse, as is popularly (but wrongly) supposed today.

Rather, when Christians announce, with St Paul, that “God raised Jesus”, what we are claiming is not that a part of Jesus survived death or that his atoms were reassembled in some magical way, but rather that the very power, presence and personality of the earthly Jesus was assumed, transformed and made substantially available again within the endless creativity of God.

In other words, the resurrection speaks of a new creation, a different order of being beyond our current grasp which incorporates all that we have seen and discovered of love in this world, but much more beside.

This depth of life is the work not of us, but of a God who goes on loving and creating beyond the death which we inevitably face. If we have been touched by God’s love, we will begin to know that it has no boundaries, even if its essence (like God) lies beyond our description.
And here is the catch. For as St Paul says, with startling honesty: “If Christ is not raised, your faith is futile, and you are still in your sins” – that is, you are still captive to that which is moulded on death rather than life.

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