Happily Easter After

Happily Easter After April 19, 2014

It is Easter, and I celebrate and proclaim resurrection.

I am not referring to a peculiar event which some claim happened in history roughly 2,000 years ago, in which a human (or, according to some, a just barely human divine entity) was raised to life in a body he didn’t need, before being exalted to heaven where such a body is out of place, to be seated at the right hand of a God who most would say is everywhere and has no literal left or right.

Too many focus on this story, typically ignoring just how truly puzzling (not to mention seemingly unbelievable) its details are, and insist on its literal truthfulness. Indeed, faith is defined by many as lowering one’s standards sufficiently to allow assent to be given despite the difficulties, or as ignoring those difficulties altogether. Those are very dubious and dangerous definitions of “faith.”

Yet I understand why some want to do that. Easter Sunday is the “happily ever after” of the Jesus story.

Nonetheless, as a liberal follower of Jesus, I have to acknowledge that many of those who have followed on the path of Jesus have been killed for their stance. I think in particular of the Martin Luther King.

He was not rescued from death through a bodily resurrection. But his spirit lives on in the impact that he had and continues to have.

If Jesus is worth following, it is because of the life he lived – a life that classic creeds have happily ignored, jumping from a miraculous birth to his death, as though miracles were the only things that really matter.

A liberal Christian perspective considers that it matters how Jesus lived, and that it matters how we live – and that our lives can have an impact not because we are miraculously saved from death, but because we have lived in such a way that those famous words become true: “if you strike me down, I will become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.”

Transcending death not merely by living forever, but by really dying, and yet still living on through the power of how we lived in the intensity of our limited years – that can be resurrection, immortality, eternal life, in an even more powerful sense than the more popular meaning of simply “not dying.”

A faith that allows for hope that even death can be transcended, and not merely survived, has the power to transform lives. Far from being a disappointment compared with the hope that one’s ego will never be extinguished, I believe it offers an even more powerful message, one that is worth proclaiming. It is not the self-centered “believe/do this to acquire immortality” but rather the call to self-sacrifice, “take up your cross and follow me” – being willing not merely to die believing that death doesn’t matter, but precisely because death does matter, but need not be the end in any sort of absolute sense, making one’s self-sacrificial life matter all the more.

Elsewhere around the blogosphere, on matters of Jesus, Easter, resurrection, Christology and the like, the following posts are worth noting:

Roger Wolsey reflected on the insurrection of the resurrection.

Kate Cooper blogged about Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Glastonbury.

Anthony Le Donne shared a link to an interview with him in Macleans, on whether Jesus was married.

Otagosh has a post with the title “Bad Boy Bart vs. the Barbarians.” Nijay Gupta has begun reviewing Ehrman’s book, while Daniel Kirk has finished his review series.

And finally, please, please don’t think that adding the word “quantum” to the Easter story is helpful.


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  • You are too cavalier with the creeds – ‘a life that classic creeds have happily ignored’. What about the implications of ‘one substance’ with the one who made ‘heaven and earth’. There is nothing insubstantial here. The creeds can also be read as a statement of creation, the heaven and the earth and the stuff of humanity, a pageant worth caring for.

  • Allan Bevere

    James, I agree with Bob. It is very difficult to dismiss how important the life of Jesus is to the earliest Christians that somehow and for some reason you do not explain, that they would want to avoid the life and teaching of Jesus. Indeed, all four Gospels, as you know spend more time on Jesus’ life than on his death and resurrection

    It is the entire testimony of that Gospels that ultimately leads to the various Councils and their Creeds. They are not attempting to dismiss anything, but are rather doing their best to take the entire witness into account.

    • My point was that the creeds are happy to mention how Jesus was conceived and how he died, and nothing in between. Assuming that creeds emphasize what is considered important, that is a significant omission.

      • The explicit mention of Jesus’ earthly life is not in the creeds – true enough – but How do we read the implications of these short statements of praise (composed out of polemics also, of course)?

        The incarnation is clearly in the creeds and it is the incarnation, the present _making of heaven and earth_, (five times in that very incarnational book of Psalms, and note the allusion ‘sea and dry land’ in Jonah), the visible and the invisible, trees _and_ photosynthesis, by one who is both human (homo factus est) and God of God, light of light, deum verum de deo vero, that is the substance of my critique of your implied reading of the creeds.

  • contantlysearching

    You have put into words everything I have been thinking for the past few days! THANK YOU!

  • Anna

    Of all the “resurrection” posts around the blogosphere this easter, this one is the one i can finally relate to, thank you James.

    I can no longer accept the resurrection as is commonly believed by christians – that Jesus died and is now really, actually alive again. The NT writings are all over the place, and i don’t think ANYONE would believe in a resurrection if these disparate stories weren’t specifically collected into the christian holy book. If they were only told in the Koran, christians just would not accept such fanciful tales.

    Perhaps people are still, deep down, afraid that if they cease to believe in the statement “He is risen” (actually raised from the dead) they are no longer christian and have forfeited their ticket to a (resurrected?!) heavenly afterlife?

    I think Jesus’ life and teachings are what is important, and in this he lives on, through those who follow his way, and this is what changes our lives (asks us to die to self and arise anew). I don’t think we can get inside his first followers’ heads, but isn’t the resurrection, for them, some sort of a metaphor for this idea? Because dead people stay dead.

    • Anna

      James, have you read Kris Komarnitsky’s book “Doubting Jesus’ Resurrection”? I might have to get that.


      • MattB

        I wouldn’t get it

        • Anna

          I would. Always good to read a new perspective, especially a well researched non-apologetic one!

          • I’ve blogged about Komarnitsky’s book here before: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/2014/04/komarnitsky-doubting-jesus-resurrection-second-edition.html

            You might also be interested in my own ebook on the burial of Jesus and its relevance to the rise of belief in his resurrection: https://www.amazon.com/The-Burial-Jesus-History-Faith-ebook/dp/B0077SP5SU/ref=as_li_ss_til?tag=jamefmcgrshom-20&linkCode=w01&creativeASIN=B0077SP5SU

          • Anna

            Thanks James, i will get me that too! Just noticed you have done an editorial review on Amazon.

          • Anna

            Just checked my Kindle and i already have it, so i should read it!

          • MattB

            Good point, It’s always good to read what the opposition has to say, so you’ll know which side has more “weight” to their argument.

            I understand that the Resurrection of Jesus can be troubling to historians; Not so much on historical grounds, but on philosophical grounds.

            I think that is because some historians would say that history has its limits, and historical methods can only go up to a certain limit.

            As Dr.McGrath says in his video here “Historical studies can investigate a tomb being discovered empty, and a body discovered missing. It can investigate the rise of early Christian beliefs, but the resurrection, per se, is off limits because it’s a claim about something that really goes beyond history; a claim that Jesus entered the age to come.”


            I would respectfully disagree with Dr.McGrath, but his main point is that historians try to seek a natural explanation, and that a supernatural explanation is kind-of beyond history.

          • Anna

            I think the idea is, that historians try to piece together the most likely happening, and even an improbably naturalistic event is STILL almost infinitely more probable than a supernatural event. I am convinced that a “bodily” (whatever that means) resurrection is absolutely a faith position and generally held because of fear (whether admitted or not). That is, it is held because that is what christians are meant to believe and if they don’t adhere to it, they don’t get to heaven.

          • MattB

            “I think the idea is, that historians try to piece together the most likely happening, and even an improbably naturalistic event is STILL almost infinitely more probable than a supernatural event. ”

            In a case like the Resurrection, I would have to kindly disagree with you, but I see your point.

            “I am convinced that a “bodily” (whatever that means) resurrection is absolutely a faith position and generally held because of fear (whether admitted or not). That is, it is held because that is what christians are meant to believe and if they don’t adhere to it, they don’t get to heaven.”

            By “bodily”, we’re saying that after Christ was dead for 3 days, God raised him to life, giving him a new body. I can understand the confusion because some scholars (Marcus Borg and John Spong) think that Jesus had some sort of spirtual resurrection….However, I don’t think that makes very much sense at all; Considering the fact the disciples that encountered Christ during the resurrection event, had physically touched his body and saw him on many ocassions.

          • There’s a case for fear, but there is also a case for love. ‘Getting to heaven’ is an odd phrase. The elect are already there (Ephesians somewhere). But what is time that we should take it as absolute? Before and after are human constructs. ‘Meant to believe’ is also an odd phrase. It seems to lead to a passive faith as if intellectual assent is the point (It isn’t).

  • This conversation has gone somewhere, so I hope the ones commenting will accept a little input from an outlier. I seem to be reading in the comments that resurrection is not a desirable thing to believe in. Or not important. Let me see if I can swerve the car a bit.

    James wrote: “raised to life in a body he didn’t need, before being exalted to heaven where such a body is out of place, to be seated at the right hand of a God who most would say is everywhere and has no literal left or right.”

    True enough – but what about us raised to life in the body we currently inhabit and which we do need, and being exalted to heaven where it is difficult to say where we are and being under the governance (seated) of Jesus who rules from the right rather than the left.

    Some go to paradise and go mad, some tear up all the trees, some die and some go in and out and find pasture. (I don’t know where the simplest study of PRDS via Rabbi Akiva is – but its a lovely tale – grows on you.)

    With respect to Jesus and resurrection, I will cite Paul and his comment in Romans 8 – we do not go mad, we do not ‘die’ having ‘seen’ God but we must die to live – we do not need to uproot all the trees (the inerrantists do that) but we are instead given a new life in our mortal bodies that allows Akiva’s and Jesus’ in-out privileges (John 10) – and implies certain responsibilities. (I was not praying for a parking space!)

    It is hard to speak of this without using what some will think of as superstitious language, but the language is used to point to a reality that goes beyond the time line of before and after death and speaks to a life in the process of being transformed and to be lived now as Borg notes within the rule of God through Jesus the Anointed.

    One fights for language to express this governance of love. I have just finished decoding the music for the 8 chapters of the Song of Solomon – not to be read simply as an erotic love song though it is that, but also to be read in a mytho-poeic fashion – pointing to realities – Zion, Church, male/female ambivalence, passion, love, the mystery of God hidden in the names of the animals – and so on.

    The psalms celebrate similarly the history of the elect Israel as a pattern of learning – a difficult but feasible path from sin (Psalm 6) to praise (…150). Not a short journey but a maturing one.

    I hope people have not read my original comment – not on this post! but on an earlier one on this blog, ‘Easter Approaches’, as if I believed only in a metaphoric resurrection. I said there “I incline to the reality of transformation for those who believe. Same as Psalm 34 v 9 in the Hebrew – taste and see. Same life known in the OT as in the New.”

    Maybe there is an empty tomb, maybe itself is a pointer to the reality to the Presence of the Holy for and even in anyone who takes the elect Jesus and his teaching (Torah) seriously. How can one find out? Now that’s a troublesome question. No book will answer it – for it is not to be gotten by thinking (Job 28).

    • MattB

      So you do believe in the resurrection?