I’ve heard some fine preaching this Easter season.
Not once has someone taken on the obvious question, however. The one about Jesus actually being raised, I mean. I hear a lot of preaching. Sundays plus every day at chapel. Saturday is a merciful break from the barrage of ‘good news.’ Phew. If I have to find ways to see metaphorical ‘resurrection’ in my life or in the world around me one more time, I think I’ll keel over in need of some actual raising.
I sort of expect it from the more or less liberal Protestant leaning of the Christian tribe in which I have grown up and live now as a pastor and teacher (Lutheran, if you don’t know). Yesterday, however, it really hit me. This thing has to be dealt with head on because Jesus won’t let us get a way with turning his resurrection into a metaphor. In the Gospel from Luke:
“Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”
After that, just to pound the message into their famously thick skulls, he asked for something to eat and they gave him a piece of fish, which he ate. Then they had bible study.
I think sometimes our preaching has within it a kind of closet atheism. Or at least a kind of sly self-despising. ‘We don’t actually believe that (embarrassed smirk). But it is a powerful metaphor, though, kinda like spring.’ So then our Easter preaching can become more or less about our blooming, and that can look a lot like Joel Olsteen cheering us on as we live ‘our best life now.’ Or about moments of ‘life’ shining through, and they are touching moments, believe me. It is just not very well connected to the totally unexpected and quite unsettling fact of Jesus raised, flesh and bones.
We just don’t seem to know what to do with that kind of crazy story. It seemed crazy to the biblical writers, so I don’t know why we can’t approach it with wonder and questions, instead of feeling like we need to ‘bury’ it in metaphors. I continue to think a key aspect of preaching for mission, that is, to those who don’t believe or who have rejected the church, deeply connects with those present in church who’ve half-left but continue to come, fragile faith, barely believing, wanting help in making sense of the confusion of their life. The sweet stories, the metaphors, are like candy. They taste good but don’t last. The sugar high wears off in the face of the real pain of our lives and the horrors and brokenness of the world. For all its drama, I do think Paul has a point in in his letter to the church in Corinth.
“Now, let me ask you something profound yet troubling. If you became believers because you trusted the proclamation that Christ is alive, risen from the dead, how can you let people say that there is no such thing as a resurrection? If there’s no resurrection, there’s no living Christ. And face it–if there’s no resurrection for Christ, everything we’ve told you is smoke and mirrors, and everything you’ve staked your life on is smoke and mirrors.”
I used to take a line from the creed I had trouble believing and find a book about it to read for Lent. One year, the line was “I believe in the resurrection of the body”. I read a little book by Ruben Alves. a Brazilian poet and theologian, titled I Believe in the Resurrection of the Body (Fortress, 1986). I mostly don’t remember his arguments, although I remember being very moved by the book as a whole. However, one thing has stuck with me. He made the connection between the suffering of the poor in Latin America and the promise of the resurrection in such a way that I felt like doubting it was a luxury of the well-off. Those whose bodies were torn apart by repressive regimes in the 1970s and 1980s (Chile, for example, or Alves’ own Brazil) don’t want a metaphorical resurrection, a spiritual ‘Spring’ in which to bloom. No, Alves wrote so hauntingly and powerfully, the promise is actually a resurrection of the body.