Paul stood in front of the Areopagus in Athens and said … “Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because God has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some scoffed; but others said, “We will hear you again about this.” (from Acts 17)
“When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some scoffed…”
I’m not a bit surprised. We’re talking Plato’s Greece here where his ideas had deeply influenced Paul’s hearers. Plato’s ideas have influenced western civilization throughout these centuries. As a matter of fact, Plato’s philosophies have even influenced and shaped Christian theology.
“Resurrection” wasn’t really a category in Platonic thought. There were, of course, plenty of stories about the gods who would sometimes interfere with death and bring someone back from Hades. But these were only stories; children’s tales.
This was nothing to found a faith on. This was nothing to build a life on.
Israel, too, had been contemplating the after life and coming to some bold new understandings during these last few centuries before Christ. In the philosophies and theologies of Israel, there was a category of resurrection, but for them, resurrection was part of the final act of God that would bring all creation to completion; would bring all things to their appropriate end. Resurrection, in the Jewish way of thinking, was eschatological, apocalyptic; it was about the end of time.
And so it fascinates me to see how John’s Gospel pictures resurrection because John is steeped in resurrection hope. John understands who the Christ is through his resurrection faith. He sees the Christ as the one who has come to usher in resurrection life.
John’s gospel is filled with “signs” – word pictures, symbolic acts, images and pointers that give us a glimpse of something beyond our imagination. John’s gospel points us to life.
“Life” is a huge issue for John.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us … and in him was life, and the life was the light of all people… 1:4
For God so loved the world (God loved the world in this way): God gave the only Son, so that everyone who believes in him … may have eternal life. 3:16
You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life. 5:39-40
I came that you may have life, and have it abundantly. 10:10
I am the bread of life. 6:48
I am way and truth and life. 14:6
I am resurrection and life. 11:25
Over and over and over again, as your read the Gospel of John during this Living in The Story cycle of weeks, you will see John’s passion for life: real life, true life, resurrection life.
And as you read John’s gospel you can recognize John’s mono-vision.
My eyes see with mono-vision. When I had my cataracts removed, they implanted new lenses in my eyes and made it so that one lens focuses on distance and the other lens focuses up close. It may sound odd but it’s not at all a “double-vision;” rather my brain adjusts so that it sees my world in a unity of both near and far. My brain translates the perspectives from the two different lenses into one single, whole way of seeing. It’s called “mono-vision.”
John’s gospel is a little like that. As we read these stories, we realize that John is showing us both the earthly Jesus and the resurrected Christ – all at the same time. Everything the earthly Jesus of Nazareth did and said is to be seen and understood through the lens of the risen Christ. In John’s theology, they are inseparable.
I think that’s a very helpful approach. When we are tempted to dissect and separate body and spirit, mortal and immortal, sacred and profane – it is good to let Spirit’s mono-vision show us the world in a whole new way. Because resurrection is a whole new thing.
John’s gospel, the stories of Luke-Acts, the writings and sermons of Paul – all articulate the core Christian confession: resurrection is a whole new thing that God has done in the cosmos.
I’ve really struggled to know how to talk about resurrection. Even though resurrection is foundational to the Christian confession, it’s not easy to know what it is. Maybe it will help to talk a bit about what resurrection is not.
A few years ago, I was doing the children’s sermon and (once again) struggling to know how to talk about Jesus’ resurrection. I think I said something like: “Jesus came back from the dead” and whoa! you should have seen the look on one little boy’s face. “Jesus was a zombie!?”
No, Jesus is not a zombie and resurrection is not weird, spooky sci-fy. But resurrection IS unspeakable mystery and a whole new thing.
And resurrection doesn’t have anything to do with our normal cycles of nature.
Year after year, my Easter lilies come back. They look like they are dead; there is no sign of life. And then, lo and behold, a green sprout pushes its way up from the dirt. And then, sure enough, bright white lilies burst from their buds. But then, inevitably, the plant dies and the bulb in the soil returns to its long sleep.
Resurrection is not about cycles of dormancy and activity, sleeping and waking, winter and spring. No, resurrection happens out of nature’s normal cycles and is a whole new thing.
Again, resurrection doesn’t have anything to do with our human nature.
Plato’s philosophies had shaped the thinking of Paul’s hearers on the Areopagus of Athens. For them, an immortal soul inhabited the body and slipped away to another dimension at the moment of death. But that’s not what Paul is talking about. Here Paul is talking about resurrection. “God raised him from the dead,” Paul insisted. And they scoffed.
Whether or not one believes we humans are inhabited by an immortal soul doesn’t have anything to do with resurrection.
Because resurrection is not about our human nature. Rather, resurrection is about the nature of God.
Because God interrupted the normal cycles of living and dying, the Christian confession is that – Jesus did not “come back” from the dead but rather Jesus the Christ was raised to another whole plane of existence.
In resurrection, Jesus entered a whole new category of being. There has never been anything like this before.
Even though death has always been part of our human experience of life, the Christian hope is that our God is larger than life and stronger than death.
Walter Brueggemann has said: “The resurrection is the ultimate resolution of the question of who’s in charge. The surprise of the resurrection is that the people who seemed to be in charge on Friday turned out not to be in charge.”
Resurrection demonstrates that in this Christ – the one who has come to bring life, abundant life, life unending – God has defeated and is destroying death.
Death is not the last word.
One more thing – resurrection is not just about what happens when we die.
You remember what Paul said about this in Romans 6:4: Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
Not sci-fy. Not children’s tales. Not our normal cycles of living. It’s a whole new thing.
We are buried into Christ’s death and raised to walk/to live/to exist in a whole new life, a whole new plain of existence – right here, right now.
Each of us, all of us who die to ourselves, who let go of life as we have defined it; all of us who allow God’s resurrection power to change us and move us and motivate us and shape us – we too are brought into a whole new category of existence.
And so we are able to see with new eyes: a kind of divine mono-vision where we understand we are both “already” and “not yet;” we are both humans made in the image of God and new creations transformed into the image of Christ; we are both dead to ourselves and alive to God.
Now that is something to ground a faith in.
That is something to build a life on.
That is a whole new thing.
Thanks be to God!