That is the headline in the April 19 Washington Post, above the following, written by Kimberley Winston of Religious News Service:
“Did Jesus literally come back from the dead in a bodily resurrection, as many traditionalist and conservative Christians believe? Or was his rising a symbolic one – a restoration of his spirit of love and compassion to the world, as members of some more liberal brands of Christianity hold?”
That alternative compels me to ask:
“Would any such ‘restoration of spirit’ (third cousin to a hypnotic trance) send millions of missionaries all over the world, where so many thousands were martyred?”
Religious News Service’s Winston goes on to write:
“How literally must one take the Gospel story of Jesus’ triumph to be called a Christian? Can one understand the Resurrection as a metaphor – perhaps not even believe it happened at all – and still claim to be a follower of Christ?”
Surely, considering the fact that there have been philosophers and even pseudo-theologians who believed in what they called “The Christ Myth” – that no real Jesus ever existed.
Not as radical as that – but surely a radical departure from “the faith once delivered unto the saints” – is retired Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong.
Writer Winston identifies Spong as follows:
“His 1995 book, ‘Resurrection: Myth or Reality?’ caused a dust-up when it asked, ‘Does Christianity fall unless a supernatural miracle can be established?’ For Spong, 82, the answer is an emphatic no. ‘I don’t think the Resurrection has anything to do with physical resuscitation,’ he said. ‘I think it means the life of Jesus was raised back into the life of God, not into the life of this world, and that it was out of this that his presence’ – not his body – ‘was manifested to certain witnesses.’”
The witnesses included another massive doubter, one of the 12 apostles named Thomas. Then, according to the gospel, the resurrected Jesus appeared and commanded Thomas:
“Reach hither thy hand and thrust it into my side and be not faithless, but believe!”
After doing so, Thomas declared: “My Lord and my God!”
This experience motivated Thomas to travel all the way to India and possibly to Sumatra – as it moved other apostles. They, like Thomas, also suffered martyrdom – because the gospel of Jesus Christ was surely neither a Spong Smokescreen nor a one-act tragedy.
In striking contrast to Spong is the Rev. James Martin, S.J., a Jesuit priest and author of the new book, “Jesus: A pilgrimage.”
Father Martin notes the following:
- “More people have problems with Easter because it requires believing that Jesus rose from the dead … but believing in the Resurrection is essential. It shows that nothing is impossible with God. In fact, Easter without the Resurrection is utterly meaningless. And the Christian faith without Easter is no faith at all.”
- “Today a different kind of myth is circulating sometimes set forth by well-meaning Christians: Jesus didn’t literally rise from the dead, and it doesn’t matter that He didn’t. In this formulation, the ‘Resurrection’ was nothing more than the disciples remembering what Jesus had said and done during His life, and letting those memories embolden them to carry on His mission.”
- “But when one examines the gospels, that hypothesis falls apart. For example, in one gospel, the disciples are described as being so terrified after the crucifixion that they cowered behind closed doors. Why wouldn’t they? Their leader had just been executed in the most shameful way imaginable. But then, suddenly, the disciples are filled with resolve, ready to give their lives for Jesus Christ. Is it plausible that simply sitting around and remembering Jesus could account for such an astounding change? No, only something real, something dramatic and physical, something the disciples saw and experienced, could so decisively move them from abject terror to unbounded courage. And what they saw and experienced was Jesus Christ risen from the dead.”
- “Easter is the key event in Christian history. … It reminds us that nothing is impossible with God. Choose not to believe in the Resurrection and Jesus is just another prophet. Believe in the Resurrection and your whole life changes.”
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