Monday, April 09, 2007

He Is Risen Indeed!


"On the third day, He rose again, in fulfillment of the Scriptures."

The Resurrection is a singular event, not unlike the creation of the universe itself. It is virtually impossible to theorize on the Resurrection because it is the free act of a free and Sovereign God. To theorize, one would need to abstract upon what is, by definition, an action of God outside the normal laws He insituted in the material world. There are no previous instances of Resurrection into which we can insert the Resurrection of Jesus as one instance of a genus or species, so as to compare and analyze it. When Saint Paul presented the idea of the Resurrection to the philosophes of Athens, he was mocked.

Rather, the Resurrection is proved by the bodily appearance of Christ to the Apostles and is corroborated by a love of God, born of a life in relationship with God "according to the Scriptures." Those familiar with the travails of God's chosen people, and especially of David, the exemplar of the Christ/Messiah, come to an understanding of God's 'personality' (to use that term very loosely). The notion of resurrection as a category existed in the time of Jesus precisely among the Jews who knew God. The idea of resurrection was consistent with God's previous actions in history. The chosen people awaited this, and in Jesus Christ, God delivered.

It would seem that from this perspective, the Jews would be the first group to accept the 'new Way' of discipleship of the Messiah, Jesus, the Son of God. The Scriptural witness at times seems at odds with this: Saint Luke, an apologist for the Gentiles, portrays Jews as mainly hostile toward the Gospel, at least as Acts is traditionally interpreted by the (largely Gentile) Church.

This traditional image of the Jews as staunchly opposed is understandable if we read 'Jews' as meaning 'those Jews who did not accept the Resurrection'. For just as surely as 'the Jews' called for Jesus' crucifixion, the Twelve, to whom (with the faithful women) we owe our faith, were Jews. In our chapel, I enjoy pointing out the fact that, with the exception of one window showing Pope Pius IX and his curia and another showing the Magi, every person depicted in our stained glass windows is Jewish. Recent archaeology and biblical criticism has also suggested that diasporic Jews were rather more open to the gospel than certain readings of Acts and St. Paul would suggest. As an example, the population of Jews in the eastern portion of the Roman empire declined sharply in the fourth and fifth centuries, the most likely reason being that most Jews at the time received the Gospel and became part of the Church. I recognize that this historical datum, even if fact, is open to cynical interpretations. However, I still stand by my main point, that is that the Gospel only makes sense in reference to 'the Scriptures', and those familiar with them are more likely to believe in the Resurrection than those who are not.

Robert Louis Wilken, in his Bernardin Lecture of several years ago, made the point that the Early Church needed the Jews because faithful Jews were evidence of God's consistency in character and therefore, indirectly gave witness to the plausibility of the Gospel. In his lecture, he focused mainly on the importance given to antiquity in the time of St. John Chrysostom (late 4th century). Christian faith was doubted by serious pagans for being something new-fangled, and one important response to this doubt was to point to the Jews and to Moses. On this evidence, Christianity was not something new, but the culmination of the ancient faith of Abraham. Jesus rose, not without prediction or intelligibility, but 'according to the Scriptures'.

Today, the reality of the Resurrection is denied, even by many who retain the title of 'Christian'. Some say that it is not a necessary part of the faith, others out of embarassment in light of Jewish and pagan denials of the possibility of resurrection, want to explain it away in psychological or existential terms (see: Schillebeeckx, Crossan). Perhaps if we were more familiar with the Scriptures, we would more readily defend the truth of the Resurrection. Before I end, I must again point out that an objective knowledge of the Scriptures among the Jews gives support to the notion of the Resurrection of the Dead. Thus, I highly recommed the latest from noted Scripture scholar Jon D. Levenson, Resurrection and the Restoration of Israel: The Ultimate Victory of the God of Life.

Now back to celebrating!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Amen! The resurrection is central to my faith, because it was that with which I associated my conversion experience.

Someone might consider the raising of Lazarus, as well as Elisha's raising of a dead man, as being equivalent with "resurrection". Perhaps you can point out the difference in a future post?

I would not want to attempt it myself!


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If I, who seem to be your right hand and am called Presbyter and seem to
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may the whole Church, in unanimous resolve, cut me, its right hand, off, and
throw me away.

Origen of Alexandria
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