A Naturalistic Resurrection

A Naturalistic Resurrection March 26, 2015

There is no getting around Easter if you belong to the Jesus movement. Jesus’ first followers were transformed by their encounters with the Risen Christ. Once fearful, they became courageous; once uncertain, they became confident in that Jesus was unique, the savior of humankind, victorious over sickness, sin, and death. The power of the resurrection to transform lives can’t be denied by any honest observer. The narratives of Jesus’ resurrection – not to mention the resurrection experiences themselves – has brought healing and wholeness to peoples’ lives. Belief in the resurrection has literally raised the dead!

On that first Easter, something dramatic happened that can’t be reduced to a tall tale, cross-cultural myths of death and rebirth, or a rotting corpse. Something mysterious and amazing occurred that also can’t be encompassed by literalist understandings of the biblical stories. As the gospel of John proclaims, there is always more to Jesus than our own fabrications or the words of a written text: his life, death, and resurrection will always transcend and often transform the rational mind, opening the mind to a deeper rationalism in which all is wonder and miracle.

The resurrection will always remain a mystery, equally hidden from rationalists, skeptics, literalists. It is always more than we can ask or imagine; it drives us to a place where, like the practitioners of Zen Buddhist koans, we simply give up and unexpectedly receive a flash of world-transforming insight.

Some try to domesticate the Easter message by positing its origin the circulation of fanciful death-rebirth stories, trying to locate Jesus’ tomb and the corpse buried within, or suggesting that dogs have devoured Jesus’ bones. The gospels even suggest that a rumor arose that Jesus’ corpse had been stolen by his followers. But, the gospels make plain that a stolen body can’t inspire a spiritual revolution. Others try to control the story by literalizing flesh and bone and questioning the piety of those who provide imaginative visions of the resurrection or seek to discern the events beneath the texts. The quest for the resurrected Jesus is always an act of faith. Still, we can’t separate the pre-Easter or post-Easter Christ, or the Christ of history and the Christ of faith: they are one holistic reality that transformed cells and souls in the first century and continues to do so today. The power of each energizes the power of the other.

We can never fully encompass Jesus’ resurrection, but we can find a clue in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. As the tale goes, in order to save Edmund, the lion-savior Aslan must sacrifice his own life. The White Witch, however, is unaware of the laws of Deeper Magic, which promise resurrection to the innocent victim. Aslan rises and the White Witch and her minions are defeated. The Deeper Magic embedded in the creation of the universe is mysterious, but it is part of the larger causal interdependence of the universe; in fact, it may be its animating energy. The resurrection of Aslan does not circumvent the laws of nature, but occurs as a result of deeper laws of nature. This opens the door to seeing resurrection as part of God’s amazing universe and affirming that certain moments can be so closely aligned to God’s vision that unexpected and transformative energies can be released, radically changing cells and souls. Such moments leave us amazed and this is the proper response, since as Abraham Joshua asserted, “radical amazement” is at the heart of religious experience.

I will not try to explain resurrection. It will always take us beyond the known world. However, it is clear to me that throughout his ministry Jesus tapped into deeper energies to promote the transformation of bodies, minds, and spirits. The energy of the universe flowed through Jesus, in response to a woman’s faith, immediately curing her of a hemorrhage. A Syrophoenician woman’s child is healed at a distance of a mysterious disease through the interplay of a mother’s faith and Jesus’ intentionality. Waves are calmed as a result of Jesus’ spiritual powers. All of these amazing events can be understood in light of the interdependent and energetic nature of the universe, described by cosmology, physics, and biology. The congruence of faith and science hardly minimizes our wonder but places our wonder in the context of an entirely wonderful universe, of which we are mostly oblivious. As Walt Whitman noted, for those with eyes to see, “all is miracle.”

There is a deeper naturalism, dynamic, open-ended, many-faceted, and containing random events. This deeper naturalism gives birth to the resurrection of Jesus and the experiences of his first followers. In a deeper naturalism, reflective of a deeper energy of love, even random events are touched by a gentle providence that moves through the universe, giving direction and life to personal, communal, planetary, and cosmic evolutions.

Resurrection does not defy the causal relatedness of life or the dynamic laws of nature, but reflects the deeper energetic nature of reality which is always amazing and revelatory of more than we can ask or imagine.

What, then, happened on Easter morning? While we may never know for sure and should never domesticate such amazing moments, let me suggest that Jesus’ resurrected body incarnated the deeper laws of the universe that were already manifest in his ministry of healing and hospitality. Perhaps, Jesus’ resurrection body became a highly charged quantum body, able to move from one place to another in a blink of an eye and move through dense material bodies, such as walls, as if they were air. While we can’t literalize the gospel stories, the narratives asserting that Jesus was recognized by his followers and known by his wounds points to a continuity of his post- resurrection body with his pre-resurrection body. Such events are possible in a lively, dynamic universe, and are surely no more marvelous than invoking the big bang as the first moment of our universe. How can one not be amazed to recognize that from a microcosmic energy event a universe of 125 billion, and counting, galaxies emerged? All is natural, yet all amazing, mysterious, and beyond our imaginations. Perhaps, the resurrection is of the same order of improbable, yet world-shaping, probability.

This Easter, open to possibility, awaken to wonder, and look for hints of Jesus’ resurrection in your own cells, your spirit, and the world around. Look for miracles and, as Wendell Berry counsels, practice resurrection by opening the doors of perception to experience the amazing infinity hidden in each moment. You will come alive and discover that Christ is Risen in your life – today!

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