Sunday, April 12, 2009

Alleluia, Alleluia

I believe he rose from the dead. For many reasons. There have been times I wasn't sure, also for many reasons.

What I've never understood is the tendency among some Christians to try to uphold the teaching but give it a purely metaphorical, spiritualized interpretation. Well, maybe I can understand some reasons for their desire to do that. What I can't understand is how they stick with such ideas in light of history and the texts. Apparently I'm not the only one:

Seven Stanzas at Easter

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells' dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His Flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that — pierced — died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck's quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

--John Updike (1932-2009)

The Church must stop trivialising Easter
Christians must keep their nerve: the Resurrection isn’t a metaphor, it’s a physical fact

Tom Wright (aka N.T. Wright), Bishop of Durham, in yesterday's Times Online

Jesus of Nazareth was certainly dead by the Friday evening; Roman soldiers were professional killers and wouldn't have allowed a not-quite-dead rebel leader to stay that way for long. When the first Christians told the story of what happened next, they were not saying: “I think he's still with us in a spiritual sense” or “I think he's gone to heaven”. All these have been suggested by people who have lost their historical and theological nerve.

The historian must explain why Christianity got going in the first place, why it hailed Jesus as Messiah despite His execution (He hadn't defeated the pagans, or rebuilt the Temple, or brought justice and peace to the world, all of which a Messiah should have done), and why the early Christian movement took the shape that it did. The only explanation that will fit the evidence is the one the early Christians insisted upon - He really had been raised from the dead. His body was not just reanimated. It was transformed, so that it was no longer subject to sickness and death.

Let's be clear: the stories are not about someone coming back into the present mode of life. They are about someone going on into a new sort of existence, still emphatically bodily, if anything, more so. When St Paul speaks of a “spiritual” resurrection body, he doesn't mean “non-material”, like a ghost. “Spiritual” is the sort of Greek word that tells you,not what something is made of, but what is animating it. The risen Jesus had a physical body animated by God's life-giving Spirit. Yes, says St Paul, that same Spirit is at work in us, and will have the same effect - and in the whole world.

And, finally, to finish up my quite untentional theme of tears that emerged over the past few posts....

Sam believes that Gandalph has fallen a catastrophic distance and has died. But in the end of the story, with Sam having been asleep for a long while and then beginning to regain consciousness, Gandalf stands before Sam, robed in white, his face glistening in the sunlight, and says:

"Well, Master Samwise, how do you feel?"

But Sam lay back, and stared with open mouth, and for a moment, between bewilderment and great joy, he could not answer. At last he gasped: "Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? What's happened to the world?"

"A great shadow has departed," said Gandalf, and then he laughed, and the sound was like music, or like water in a parched land; and as he listened the thought came to Sam that he had not heard laughter, the pure sound of merriment, for days without count. It fell upon his ears like the echo of all the joys he had ever known. But he himself burst into tears. Then as a sweet rain will pass down a wind of spring and the sun will shine out the clearer, his tears ceased, and his laughter welled up, and laughing he sprang from bed... "How do I feel?" he cried." Well, I don't know how to say it. I feel, I feel" --he waved his arms in the air-- "I feel like spring after winter, and sun on the leaves; and like trumpets and harps and all the songs I have ever heard!"

-- J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973), The Return of the King

(Thanks to Kendall Harmon and his blog for pointing me to each of these readings on Easter Day.)

1 comment:

Lucy said...

Thanks - I loved both the Updike, especially the bit with the angel, and the Tolkien, which I must have read but had forgotten.