There is no idea as powerful as the symbolic fiction of resurrection.
From eating that final meal with the disciples, that final love feast, to the horror and confusion of that night, to death, to hope, to new life.
In that love feast, that Passover meal eaten in the upper room, we have a symbol of the shared life; sharing in pains and rejections, sharing in hopes and expectations.
The mere fact that this particular meal is mentioned in all four Gospels attests to its significance, the pull everyone in Jesus’ life felt towards him, true community being lived out.
Who could not be drawn towards Jesus? He was the passionate lover, the jolly drunkard, hanging with the prostitutes, tax collectors, and sinners. He fought for equal rights for woman, visited prisoners, fed the hungry, clothed the naked, overthrew oppressive governments, treated children as equals, befriended society’s outcasts, and told others to think for themselves in matters of faith and practice. A party animal with principles.
But it was all ripped away. Something too beautiful to be true ended abruptly. Ended with nails in a cross. Ended in screams of agony.
And then the whole story starts getting confusing…
Out of grief, out of pain, in fear of the Jewish authorities, they hid away in that upper room. The doors were locked, voices hushed, and then Jesus appeared and said “Peace be with you”.
How can this be true? People don’t just magic up in rooms. Dead people only come back to life in zombie movies.
I like the reading we had from the Gospel of Matthew – it is one most churches would avoid at Easter: ‘when Jesus cried out in a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the tombs were opened and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and entered Jerusalem and were seen by many’.
Apparently, at this time, weird stuff was afoot. Dead people were rocking up on doorsteps right, left, and centre, angels were having chats with unsuspecting women, the earth shook, and Jesus was doing teleportation numbers.
So, at this point I find myself torn between two possibilities as I see it. Either those first century people were a bit ignorant, a bit foolish - it wasn’t their fault, it is just in a time before science, before the enlightenment, they just didn’t know any better – they perceived themselves as inhabiting a magical world. The culture, the stories they surrounded themselves with, ever perpetuated the possibility of the miraculous.
In a world like that, communing with the dead, or encountering angels, was almost to be expected. And in this way, the myth of resurrection kind of points to a truth that is greater than the ‘facts’. Is it any stranger than the wool we pull across our own eyes to live from day to day?
The other possibility: is it is not them who were foolish, but rather us? Us, for believing these stories, these symbolic stories, were ever meant to be taken literally. How strange today’s Christians would look to those first century writers.
I suspect the reality falls somewhere in-between – not in some monochrome fashion, but in truths held in different ways by different people, as is the case today amongst us.
But are we losing something in thinking like this? Are we losing something by reducing the resurrection to the metaphor of the "inner" spiritual growth of the individual soul?
In Christian Theology the earth was created ‘ex nihilo’ which means ‘out of nothing’. The "good message" of the New Testament is that the miracle of creation ex nihilo, the miracle of New Beginnings, starting a new life "from nothing" is possible. Possible with divine Grace – not possible by our own efforts.
This symbolic fiction is difficult to square in the absence of ‘the big Other’. It can only be evoked by investing greater weight in the narrative itself; not thinking of the ‘Good News’ as just metaphor, but the narrative of rebirth around which one orientates their life, the lens through which reality shows up.
Are we not just stories, just the narratives we tell ourselves, just the collection of memories we have decided to hold onto, the memories which give us a sense of self? In this way, are we not just as fictitious?
So why not die to one fiction, and rise anew to another? Die to old cynicisms, old ways, old narrow perspectives, and rise anew in Christ’s rebirth.
Erasing the fiction of self, and being reborn in the fiction of Christ, like Channing, who was able to pin point that most transformative spot upon which he became conscious of the power within, where happiness surpassed all worldly pleasure, all gifts of fortune – for there he communed with God.
He is Risen. He is Risen indeed, Hallelujah.