Having blogged on Friday about my book The Burial of Jesus, which talks not just about the crucifixion and the burial but also the rise of resurrection faith, let me share another quote from the book, one more relevant for today, Easter.
Certainly an empty tomb is not crucial to the Christian faith, since it has nothing to do with what Christians have traditionally meant by resurrection. Imagine ancient Romans burning the bodies of Christian martyrs and scattering their ashes into a river in an attempt to prevent them from being resurrected. I presume no Christian would suggest that the Romans could so easily thwart God’s plans, and few today believe that, if there is to be a final resurrection of the dead, it will require God reassembling all the original molecules that made up one’s body. This would be resuscitation rather than resurrection, a return to a bodily existence akin to our present one, rather than entry into the completely new manner of being that characterizes the age to come. And so the Christian belief that Jesus was not just brought back to life to die again, but was raised to eternal life, means that the fate of Jesus’ body is ultimately irrelevant. The post-Easter Jesus is usually regarded by Christians as present to all believers everywhere, and is not felt to be limited spatially, unlike bodily existence as we now know it. When the New Testament Gospels depict Jesus appearing, locked doors do not present a hindrance for him suddenly being present in a given room. The focus of so much attention on the empty tomb is really something of a distraction, a side issue, as far as the resurrection of Jesus is concerned. The focus of the resurrection faith of Christians down the ages has not been a past event, but their experience of Jesus as a real, living presence in their lives.
Resurrection faith…was not born from historical deductions regarding the whereabouts of a body, but from life-transforming religious experiences. For those of us who have had such experiences, faith is not primarily (if at all) a matter of doctrines but of what we can only speak of in symbolic terms as a life-transforming relationship to the ultimate. When the focus of Christian faith is placed there, then it becomes a realistic possibility to keep faith as about humble trust rather than arrogant claims to certainty.
You can read more in The Burial of Jesus: What Does History Have to Do with Faith?, and since it is an ebook which costs a mere $2.99, I hope that it is within a price range that makes it accessible to most if not indeed all readers of this blog.