Last Thursday I started a discussion on the power of resurrection. Several commenters pointed out that, in addition to the passages in Paul I cited, it is important to consider the words of Jesus in the Gospels. I certainly agree with this – with both death and resurrection foretold. Passages span all four Gospels (e.g. Matthew 16:21, 17:22-23, 20:18-19, Mark 8:31, 9:31, 10:34, Luke 9:21-23, 18:32-34, John 2:19-22). Rather than quote all of these, I will focus on the two in Luke:
But He warned them and instructed them not to tell this to anyone, saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed and be raised up on the third day.” And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” (Luke 9:21-23)
For He will be handed over to the Gentiles, and will be mocked and mistreated and spit upon, and after they have scourged Him, they will kill Him; and the third day He will rise again.” But the disciples understood none of these things, and the meaning of this statement was hidden from them, and they did not comprehend the things that were said. (Luke 18:32-34)
This is followed in Luke 24 by the two men in shining clothes reminding the women at the tomb that Jesus had taught “that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.” (v. 7) And Jesus himself speaking to his followers “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”” (v. 45-47)
Although the disciples didn’t get it until after the events, Jesus himself clearly expected his death to initiate resurrection beginning with himself on the third day or after three days. (The references differ slightly.)
The issue is not so much the event as the meaning that Jesus and later his followers and the Church attach to the event. The criticism in last week’s post (“Such a story reminds me more of something I’d see on Saturday morning cartoons … forces of evil battling against the forces of good … than from a wise creator“) reflects the way we seem to think about the death and resurrection of Jesus, exemplified by one of my favorite Easter hymns Christ Arose:
Up from the grave he arose;
with a mighty triumph o’er his foes;
he arose a victor from the dark domain,
and he lives forever, with his saints to reign.
He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!
Although not a bad hymn, it does reflect an image of a victorious superhero Jesus and doesn’t really do justice to the story, or to the importance of suffering as the means to triumph.
Another more recent song, In Christ Alone, reflects the transactional view.
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied –
Then bursting forth in glorious day
Up from the grave He rose again!
And as He stands in victory
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me,
For I am His and He is mine –
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.
I really like this song too – and am moved when it is sung. However the understanding of the events of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus leaves something to be desired. This song portrays a transaction satisfying the wrath of God. It seems to me that the death and resurrection is reduced to “playacting” rather than a profound and earth-shaking and earth-shaping event.
Christ the Lord is Risen Today! This Sunday our service started with another hymn, one which I believe better captures the victory of the Resurrection. This one by Charles Wesley.
Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia!
All creation join to say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heavens, and earth reply, Alleluia!
Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!
Death in vain forbids him rise, Alleluia!
Christ has opened paradise, Alleluia!
Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!
Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
Once he died our souls to save, Alleluia!
Where’s thy victory, O grave? Alleluia!
Soar we now where Christ has led, Alleluia!
Following our exalted Head, Alleluia!
Made like him, like him we rise, Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!
Still not perfect, perhaps a little too transactional (but we can’t expect sophisticated nuance in a hymn). This is a victory, not a forces of good-versus forces of evil victory or a straightforward transaction, but love’s redeeming work opening up the way to God’s ordained and intended future. The last two lines can be read in two different ways. First – we claim our exalted head through the cross and grave and are remade as the people of God. But they can also be read as a reference, perhaps, to Luke 9: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” As we soar where Christ has led we live in hope of the future, but face the need to follow through the trials and tribulations of this life, including persecution and the effects of evil in human society.
Easter and Resurrection are not about ‘Super Hero Jesus’, nor about ‘Transaction Jesus’. Rather we have, it seems to me, ‘Inauguration Jesus’ and the coming Kingdom of God. We would do well to think about what this means as we study the life and teachings of Jesus.
What hymn or song do you think best portrays the meaning of the Resurrection? Why?
If you wish to contact me directly, you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net