(posted on facebook last year; many people asked that I re-post to a wider audience)
Many of you know me as someone with a progressive theology with a rather “low Christology.” Those are not my words; but in classic systematic terms, it’s been said. I prefer to say that I have a radically incarnational understanding of how God and the world relate. I’ve written about this in Making a Way Out of No Way. Nevertheless, I’m often asked questions that are particularly pertinent during this time of year:
Do you believe in the bodily resurrection of Christ?
My flippant, every-day-spiritual-life answer is: Does it really matter? Really?!
My scholarly answer is: After reading the late religious scholar Nancy Eiesland’s Disabled God, how could I not? Eiseland argues that the physically disabled body of the resurrected Christ (you know, wounded hands and feet) can be a really important touchstone and ministry for individuals who live with physical disabilities. She removes the focus from the empty cross and the tomb, to the road to Emmaus. Amazing theological stuff there!
But yes, resurrection does matter – and this is why.
For those of us who live regularly or periodically with the threat of death, life matters. A lot. I am one, and I know others, who live many every day moments closer to death than most people around us might imagine. The possibility of death is not far away. This is no philosophical lament about the finitude implicit in human mortality. Rather, it is the sometimes-frightening and disturbingly-ordinary texture of our lives. That death looms near is sometimes a product of our social and economic and geographical and age-related realities. We see loved ones and strangers around us transitioning both peacefully or with great resistance to the space beyond life. Other times, the threat of death is an unfortunate-though-known consequence of the decisions that we make as we take stances for justice, love, inclusion, humanity and earth. And there are the instances when the threat of death comes from within. When death can seem a welcome respite from the weariness of trying to subsist in the midst of desperation. When the loss of community, family and sense of self comes faster and easier than the tenacity to hold onto and build community, family and soul. Yes, I’m talking about suicide here.
As a theologian, I can’t express how important it is to distinguish these different kinds of living-in-the-midst of death when referring to what happens to Jesus on the cross. Yet as a person who strives to live out my faith every day – hey, as a person who strives to live from day to day – I simply say, that for those of us who have known metaphorical and literal death, not once, not twice, but more times that we can count, resurrection matters.
To be able to find life when one cannot see even arm’s length in front of oneself, and to be able to feel or know love and breath after life has been vitiated – is nothing short of a miracle. To see value in the past after seasons of hopeless desperation and to stay in community when all reason says to walk away – is how I know mercy. To break bread with people who have intentionally hurt you and to retell stories that have lost meaning in the face of the apathy and hopelessness invoked by looking around – is how I think of grace. And the mystery is not that some people cannot do this; the mystery is that any of us manage to.
And resurrection reminds us what my friends of faith and I know so clearly – that finding life after death and even perseverance in the face of death – is divine activity. Our wills and fortitudes alone shrivel with the task before it. And even if our God is not personal or loving, or transcendent or speaking-to-us, it is something outside of us and greater than us and yet deeply within us that moves us individually and communally to cling to the life side of the cliff. This is, for me, the message and hope and value and reminder of the resurrection. That it is God that maintains hope amidst death. And while I do not find it salvific in any classical sense, it is the hope that fuels my daily journey and has, thus far, kept me on this side of the rock. I dare not call that salvation, but it is nothing small either.
Many years, my current state of mind and spirit is closer to Maundy Thursday and Good Friday than Resurrection Sunday. I know what it means to be closer to Saturday night than Sunday morning. These become words to remind and encourage myself. Even for a progressive postmodern Christian-on-most-days minister and scholar like myself, resurrection matters. A lot.