RE-THINKING THE RESURRECTION
By Jim Taylor**
This is not one of my usual columns. The newspaper which gets “first publication” rights is not publishing today, Easter Sunday. That leaves me free to muse about Easter, in general.
Easter, as seen by the secular world, is about bunnies and eggs. And chocolate. And spring in the northern hemisphere. And did I mention chocolate? But in the Christian church, it’s about The Resurrection (with capital letters).
When I was much younger, the Rev. Jim Campbell invited his congregation to submit topics they wanted him to preach about. My note said, “Resurrection — I’d love to see how you handle it!”
I knew that Jim was too honest a minister to simply repeat conventional platitudes. He didn’t disappoint me. He admitted that he couldn’t understand it either, but clearly something had happened, “something” that changed lives, which started a domino effect that changed the world.
I can live with that ambiguity, even if part of my mind still wants a rational explanation for what happened. Or, perhaps, for what didn’t happen. But I would guess that 90 percent of the sermons preached this morning will declare, unequivocally,
a) that Jesus conquered death
b) that death is the direct consequence of sin
c) that Jesus had no sin, and that by accepting a death he didn’t deserve, Jesus paid off our sins in advance.
If our sins are already forgiven, why do we still pay the price of sin?
If Jesus defeated death, why do we still die?
In fact, why does everything die? Plants, mammals, fish, insects, bacteria — everything dies. They have different life spans — contrast a fruit fly and a sequoia, say — but they all die. Even our sun will eventually die, and take the inner planets with it. Death is the universal reality, simultaneously the immoveable object and the irresistible force.
The concept that death is the consequence of sin — “the wages of sin,” Paul called it — takes us into the Bermuda triangle of theology. If sin causes death, and all humans die, therefore all humans must have sinned. If we haven’t sinned ourselves — for example, a newborn baby — then we must have inherited sin from our parents. It’s a self-fulfilling equation, a vicious circle. Even if it’s nonsense. Sin may be learned, but it is not inheritable.
But it’s also nonsense to argue that death didn’t exist until Adam and Eve messed up. Would the plants and animals, the wild ones and the domesticated ones, the fruit trees and the fruitflies, all have lived forever if humans had not tasted that apple?
Now throw Jesus into that triangle. Traditionally, theology has insisted that Jesus was without sin. But he died. If sin and death have an unbreakable contract, Jesus broke it.
The only way to avoid admitting that the equation was faulty is for Jesus not to stay dead.
Besides, if sin leads to death, why didn’t Satan die? Satan is the personification of sin itself. But Satan has apparently achieved immortality. The Bible says that Satan was there in the Garden of Eden. Satan had tea with God in the story of Job. Satan tempted Jesus in the desert. According to Revelation, Satan will still be around until the final conflict. Even by Bishop Ussher’s timekeeping, that’s over 6,000 years.
By my reading, the Bible contradicts itself. Death happens whether or not someone sins. And sin — even the sin of rebelling against God — does not necessarily result in death.
I prefer to think of death as a gift from God. It is the matching bookend for the gift of life. Birth and death are our Alpha and Omega. Death was granted to all of creation, across the board. No exceptions, no favourites.
So Jesus didn’t have to undo the consequences of Adam’s disobedience. We didn’t have to be “redeemed” from inherited sin. That turns most rationales for The Resurrection into word games.
And yet, as Jim Campbell said long ago, something happened. Something that started 20 centuries of dominos toppling.
Copyright © 2016 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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** re-published with permission from Jim Taylor
Sunrise in Toronto: Easter, 2016
“True faith is the antithesis of a triumphant confidence. To be sure, there is a certitude of faith. The certitude of faith is not a matter of demonstration or success, but a matter of trust: trust in the promise of a God who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that are not (Romans, chapter 4), a God who creates ex nihilo, who according to the scriptures raised his Son from the dead.”
Douglas John Hall in “Lighten Our Darkness”, page 120
“The power that Caiaphas and Pontius Pilate thought they had over Jesus
Turned out to be illusory.
The Passion story unveils another kind of power at work in the world, and in the Word.
When Jesus said, “All power is given to me in heaven and on earth,”
He was not talking about domination and control
but about solidarity and liberation.
At enormous cost
Jesus confronted the life-denying forces of his day and entered death,
showing us that our lives too can confront and overcome the forces of death in our day. “
From the Mission Statement of the Ecumenical Good Friday Walk for Justice in Toronto, Canada.