The Meaning of Resurrection – II

The Owl’s last post, June 30, was an attempt to answer our friend Ken’s question about what Jesus’ resurrection means; what does it reveal that we did not already know from Old Testament times? The question came up because we had cited one of our favorite sayings of Jaroslav Pelikan: “If Christ is risen, nothing else matters, and if Christ is not risen—then nothing else matters.”

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The Meaning of Resurrectiion – I

On Easter Day this year the Owl posted an item entitled “Resurrection,” with reference to a saying of Jaroslav Pelikan, “If Christ is risen, nothing else matters, and if Christ is not risen-then nothing else matters.” Our friend Ken asked about this idea that Resurrection is all there is, or all that matters to the New Testament writers; and what is meant by “Resurrection” after all?

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Everything in the New Testament was written from the standpoint of Resurrection faith. Every description of Jesus, including the ministry of teaching and healing before his death, and every exhortation to the churches in the letters of Paul or others; all are set forth by people already steeped in the faith. Hence, they are “Resurrection appearances.”

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Exemplary Prayers – II

In our last  post we said any address to Jesus in the Gospels can be read as a prayer to God. Sometimes that will seem outrageous. For consider the question of Pilate: “Are you the king of the Jews?” (Matthew 27:11) By this time, Jesus has had a night of abuse. He has been deserted by his disciples, condemned by false witnesses in a kangaroo court, slapped around, and bound over to the governor for judgment.

Pilate is traditionally treated as one of the greatest villains of history. Therefore, it may be offensive to speak of anything he says as a prayer. Still, which of us has not asked this question in one form or another? How can this man from a no-count backwater, with no following but a rabble of limping crazies, be a king? Even if he is a king in that desert, so what? Even if he is a very great king: say, king of England, or of wherever, so what? There have been kings all through history who have been able to refrain from theological claims about themselves. Those who could not,like  the late emperors of Rome, we simply call megalomaniacs, and let it go.

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Distinctively Christian Faith

What makes Christian faith distinctly Christian? From the most ancient times, Jews knew that God’s reign is eternal, God’s steadfast love endures forever. Jhwh keeps his covenant with Israel through all vicissitudes. God is with us: Immanu-el. Christian faith might seem little different from this, but for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

During his journey from Anglican to the Roman Church, Cardinal Newman first thought he would find a clear basis for faith in the teachings and practices of the ancient church. But the more one studies the ancient church, the more one might question whether it had a coherent understanding; how much Jewish and Gentile Christians had in common during the time of Paul. The more Newman studied it, the more diversity he found. Knowing these things, he was driven to conclude that the authoritative thing is the Church in and of itself.

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What does Jesus’ Resurrection Add?

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.

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Getting the Faith

The Owl longs to speak with theologically literate others. Literacy and numeracy are considered the most basic elements of education. It would be more accurate to say they are basic preparations. For an education that supports life, we need a third thing more basic: faith, italicized here as foreign words are, because it is wholly outlandish, not a thing not taught by flesh and blood.

Faith is neither a concept of mind nor a force of nature. It is more like a gift, or even an assault, from outside the world’s horizon, disproportionate in its impact. We can’t construct faith for ourselves, nor find it by some epic theodyssey. Unlike Odysseus’ assailants, the names of ours are Love, Mercy, and Freedom—all fierce enough in their ways.

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Things that matter

On Easter day, April 12, the Owl offered the post entitled Resurrection, speaking of that as the most important of all articles of faith, the sine qua non, and the one that should be taught before asking believers to endorse any others. In fact, Resurrection is not just a traditional teaching of the church; it is the event on which the whole history of the world turns, when God demonstrates that his covenant with his people is stronger than death. The post ends with a saying of Jaroslav Pelikan that appears on the sidebar of our homepage:

“If there is Resurrection, nothing else matters.
If there is not Resurrection, nothing else matters.”

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Resurrection subjective?

A friend of the Owl wrote to ask, What does the resurrection of Jesus really look like? The Gospels give various answers. Jesus joins two of the disciples on the road to Emmaus; it looks like they are going back dejected to their old jobs. They don’t recognize him until he breaks bread at table with them (Luke 24: 13–35). Jesus comes into a room whose door is locked (John 20:19). Jesus eats fish on a beach with his men (John 21:1–14). Thomas, at first incredulous, can actually touch Jesus’ wounds (John 20:24–28). Not one of the Gospels describes Jesus actual rising from the tomb. All the resurrection appearances in the scripture take place away from there.

The wording of our friend’s question is revealing: What does Jesus’ resurrection look like. The actuality of the event is important. There are paintings like that of Piero della Francesca in Borgo Sansepolcro that depicts Jesus stepping out of the sepulchre, to the amazement of the soldiers on guard. He is heavy, tired, and still bleeding. It is meant to show that he was really dead.

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I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life.

Deuteronomy 30:19

If you can’t find the book you want to read, you must write it yourself. This blog consists of notes for the book I want to read, and I would want others to read, especially my sons and friends of understanding and good will. It demands concentration, and I hope it leaves a durable trace.

This could become self-indulgent, but the intent is to set forth an account of faith in God, and of faithfulness toward those who may eventually find and read it. The working title, An Owl Among Ruins, suggests judgment upon two things: our civilization as it now is, ruinous, and upon the writer. The owl is a sagacious animal, and predaceous. He sees with great acuity, he takes his prey alive, and he spits the bones onto the desert floor.

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