Easter is the season to ponder Jesus’ resurrection, as the Owl has been doing in recent posts. There will always be more to ask and say about it.
Some time ago my late friend Ken remarked: The more I read the Old Testament, the more I’m surprised to find things there that I had previously associated with the New Testament. Many Old Testament characters have quite personal relationships with God, including extended arguments. The Old Testament God saves his people at the Exodus, and later uses Cyrus, his anointed one, (lit.: Messiah, Christ) to liberate Israel from Babylon. The Old Testament God calls on his people to fight and die in his faith. He is certainly a God of grace. He might even be called Immanu-el, being present with his people through thick and thin.
So let us ask: When we say Resurrection is all important to the New Testament writers, what do we mean? What are the possibilities? Are there not several truths that Jesus’ resurrection is not the first to reveal?
• It’s not that God’s power over death is finally revealed. In 1 Kings 17:17–24 we have the widow of Zarephath, whose son Elijah revives, proving to her that he is a man of God.
• It’s not that Jesus himself has power over death; The New Testament writers are careful to use passive voice: Jesus was raised.
(The angel at the tomb) said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him.
After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.
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.
• It’s not that any given people, or only God’s people, will be raised from the dead.
• It’s not that one can dare to expend one’s life in the assurance that everything will be fine in the end.
• It’s not that we needn’t offer sacrifices to God any more.
• It’s not that God at last reveals his love to his people. He loved them all along, even when the prophets proclaimed divorce.
• It’s not an appendix to the narrative of Jesus’ life, death, a concrete demonstration of the truth about God. Like Jesus, the Old Testament prophets performed spectacular acts (eating a scroll, lying on one side in the dirt) as enactments of God’s word. Matthew 23 implies that Jesus belongs to a long line of prophets who were killed for their efforts.
• It’s not that only now can other peoples get what Jews had all along. Recall the Syrophoenician woman in Mark 7:25–27.
• • •
After Jesus died, the Way was just another sect of Judaism, like Sadducees, Pharisees, Essenes, and others in the diaspora who get little mention. But two events took place: Jews in Judea were massacred and their temple destroyed, and Paul extended the Christian message to Asia and westeward.
The Temple-cult Jews disappear. The Pharisees meet in Jamnia and transform Jewish faith into rabbinic Judaism, studious and reflective. The Essenes carry on for a couple of centuries before disappearing. The Spirit of Christ fills the vacuum at traditional Judaism’s center with a new Center, Jesus Christ, with His body the Church.
It so happens that Christ as Son of God can become an antitype of the Emperor as Son of God; so even the Romans have something they can embrace or persecute in this new thing. Again, we see God acting in history to initiate the movement we still have with us, including the tradition of celebrating Eucharist, participating in the Resurrection every Sunday.
It may be that ancient events, Old or New, do not reveal any discursive truth as important as what we do. We celebrate and participate concretely in God’s Word, as opposed to contemplating or thinking about Him. What we do is a product of history—or more accurately, because we’re Judeo-Christians, it is a product of God’s action in history.
• • •
The New Testament is the product of the Church, not vice versa. Therefore, the more anyone insists they put their trust in the Bible, the more they’re really saying they put their trust in the Church. The hallowed Anglican trinity of scripture, tradition and reason collapses into tradition, tradition and reason. So you go to church and you take your chances. For some reason, God suffers it to continue.