Friday, April 29, 2011

The "Rising" of Jesus (Easter, Day 6)

As I said yesterday, there seem to be three different ways of saying what happened on Easter morning: (1) Jesus was raised, (2) Jesus has/is risen, and (3) Jesus is alive.

Let's talk about the second one today, keeping in mind that Jesus was raised by God the Father, and that we will have more to say later about Jesus being alive.

(2) Jesus has/is risen.

Jesus not only was raised by God the Father but also arises. He himself rose from the grave, and so he is risen. Talk of Jesus' risenness is especially prominent the Gospels, where angels and apostles declare, "He is risen." Here's some quick thoughts:

First of all, I find it interesting that the rising of Jesus can be found both in the past and present tense. Jesus rose and Jesus is risen. It also appears in the perfect tense: he has risen. This combines both senses, i.e., he arose (past event) with the result that he is risen (present state).

I think this is important, because Easter is not just a past event but also a present reality. The Resurrection is both historical and personal; it happened and it is. Unlike Lazarus, who was raised only to die again, Jesus arose and is risen. Resurrection does not just something that happened to him resulting in a temporary condition. It is now his eternal identity: Jesus is the risen one. As Jesus himself puts it, "I am the resurrection and the life."

Now it must be said that Jesus's rising is not a different thing altogether from the raising of Jesus. To raise and to rise are two verbs whose content is nearly identical. The only difference is that the former is a transitive verb while the latter is intransitive. You can't just say "x raises" without a y who is being raised. But you can say "y rises" and have a complete sentence.

So, the raising and rising of Jesus are two different ways of speaking of one and the same event, i.e., the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

It think this helps us get at the question raised by the previous post. In what sense was Jesus the acting subject of his resurrection? When we think of resurrection as a singular moment, then we must think of God the Father acting upon the Son. Yet Easter is not just a singular moment, but a movement with a purpose and result, i.e., that Jesus is risen. So the Father initiates the resurrection, but he does not act without his Son (for they are one!). The Son also rises. As the Father raised him, he arose. And he is risen as the one who the Father raised.

Any thoughts?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The "Raising" of Jesus (Easter, Day 5)

From my reading of the New Testament, there seem to be three different terms used to speak of what happened on Easter morning: (1) Jesus was raised, (2) Jesus has/is risen, and (3) Jesus is alive.

Let's talk about the first one today. Stay tuned for the rest!

(1) Jesus was raised.

The raising of Jesus is especially dominant Acts, though it occurs quite a bit in Paul's letters too. The turning point of each of Peter's and Paul's sermons is that "God raised this Jesus from the dead." Here's two quick thoughts and question.

First, note that this way of speaking is consistently put in the past tense. This fits its context in Acts, where the apostles are recounting the events concerning Jesus. One could say, "Jesus is raised." Perhaps there are instances in the NT that I've missed. Please point them out to me. But it is certainly not the dominant pattern. And I think there's a reason, i.e., the raising of Jesus is an event in the past, something that happened at a specific time and place.

Furthermore, it something that happened to Jesus. Which brings us to my second point.

In the first instance, the resurrection is not an act performed by Jesus, but an act performed on Jesus. To raise is a transitive verb, i.e., one that requires an object. You can just say "x raised." You gotta say "x raised y." Hence the recurring phrase, "God raised Jesus." The passive construction also works: "Jesus was raised." But here the subject of the act is implied, i.e., Jesus was raised by God. Sometimes the subject is supplied, and often further specified as God the Father.

This way of speaking the Easter gospel raises a theological question: if God raised Jesus, but Jesus is God, then shouldn't we also say Jesus raised himself? There are hints of such reflexive constructions in the New Testament (esp. in John), though they are by no means dominant. This way of speaking, however, has became quite central in the Christian tradition, and for good reason (i.e., the deity of Jesus and the unity of God).

My question is whether this reflective construction obscures the theological payoff of the NT's talk of raising: that Jesus Christ died and then was raised by another, i.e., his Father. Jesus Christ in his divine-human unity was dead, and afterwards was raised by God the Father, and act which he received by did not directly perform. In other words, the initiative of the Easter event lies wholly with God the Father. When we speak of the initiating moment of Easter, i.e., when we speak in the past tense, we must speak of the Father acting upon the Son. How to make this point without denying the deity of Christ or the unity of God is not easy. But I think it's a point that needs to be made.

Any thoughts?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Recognizing Jesus (Easter, Day 4)

I find it striking that people in the NT often don't immediately recognize the risen Jesus. Does he look different or something? Is it because of unbelief (i.e., you can only recognize what you think is possible)? Is it something else? Is it just a peculiar feature of the narratives and we should leave it at that?

This recurring pattern seems to suggest that Jesus hides his identity until he wills to manifest himself. The language in Luke 24:16 implies this: "their eyes were kept from recognizing him." It is as though Jesus, who quite clearly wills to be known, does not always will to be known immediately.

As the risen Lord he has every right to do this. I am just wondering why he does it. Maybe there is no rhyme or reason to it. But if there is, it is certainly worth inquiring. If not, we will not have wasted our time as reflecting on his actions can bring us closer to him.

One way to get at the reason for this delayed recognition is to note the ways in which people do not recognize him. Consider the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus.

First, he speaks. He asks them a question.

But they do not recognize him by his voice.

Second, he speaks again. After listening to them share the rumor of his missing body, he rebukes them and begins to teach them, walking through the whole bible and its witness concerning the Messiah.

But they do not recognize him by his teaching.

Third, he speaks a third time. He offers a blessing for their bread, breaks it, and offers it to them. In other words, he prays for dinner and passes the serving plate.

But now they recognize him. They recognize him by his meal.

Now we can overplay this. But it seems to me that Luke is inviting us to see a recapitulation of the Lord's Supper, which was itself the fulfillment of Jesus' table fellowship with sinners, tax collectors, disciples, etc. In his ever-renewed fellowship with us around his table, the risen Jesus is recognized.

We recognize the risen Jesus by his meal.

This is good news! Why? Because the forty days came to a close. Upon his ascension, we for a time do not directly hear his voice and teachings. We continue to hear his voice through the mediation of his Spirit. We can hear and read his teachings through the Spirit-inspired mediation of the apostolic witnesses. And we can recognize his presence in his meal. But these are all indirect forms of communication. They are not direct and immediate, but indirect and mediated.

Perhaps this has troubled you. Perhaps you wished you could walk and talk with Jesus during his forty days. If only we had an immediate encounter with the risen Jesus, then we could believe, be bold, be transformed, etc.

But the good news is that we do not need a direct encounter to recognize Jesus. He can be really and truly known in his chosen intermediary forms. The road to Emmaus story shows that even a direct encounter with the risen Jesus is no guarantee that we will recognize him and so enter into genuine fellowship with him. Even they had to really on a indirect mode of communication: his breaking of bread and sharing it, and thereby reestablishing his table-fellowship with them.

The original forty days were unquestionably an amazing time. It is an utterly unique stretch of time: definitive, unrepeatable, glorious. But we should not think of the time we are now in as a time of absence. For during those forty days, Jesus shows his people that they do not need his direct and immediate presence to recognize him, know him, fellowship with him and declare him to the ends of the earth. His indirect fellowship with us through the Spirit, the church, and the sacraments is sufficient. We do not settle for this as a lesser form of presence, for even the disciples who walked and talked with him did not recognize him without his act of self-mediation at the table. The presence we have today is just as genuine, real, and powerful as what they experiences there and then. It is different in form. But it is the same Jesus.

May you recognize Jesus today in and through his appointed means.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

"Blessed are those who mourn..." (Easter, Day 3)

Easter is a time of joy. He is risen! Alleluia!

But we must admit that not all are joyful on Easter morn. The joy of Easter does not grasp them. And some who were joyful this Sunday are so no longer, as we returned to business as usual. The joy of Easter doesn't always stick.

This condition is not to be dismissed. The problem is not just joyless people. We must ask hard questions about the form of our Easter proclamation. We must ask whether our Easter talk is more than talk, but the gospel and its power to save.

Easter joy is too often experienced in a vacuum. For many of us, life is good. So Easter is just a little bit better. Perhaps the best. But still just on a continuum of the good life we define it.

For others, life is not so good. But we've learned to say that it is good despite our circumstances, for he is risen. That's faithful thing to say. But I it's not enough, for the Easter message is really for us and our lives. It is true. But it must come to us to be true for us.

For Easter joy to grasp us and stay with us, it must meet us in our mourning.

According to John's gospel, the first witness of the risen Jesus was in mourning (20:11). Some angels asked why she was weeping. Interestingly, she doesn't say she's weeping because Jesus died. She says she's sad because Jesus' dead body has gone missing: "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him" (20:13). Surely she was mourning his death too, but I find it striking that she weeps because she's lost her Lord.

I doubt she's the only who can find the Lord.

Then she turns around (note: with the tomb behind her!) and sees Jesus, though she does not recognize him. She asks if he took the body (note: the answer is yes! cf. John 10:18) and, if so, if she could have it (note: the answer is no, see below). But not until he speaks her name does she recognize him. Jesus knows his sheep by name, and Jesus' sheep know his voice.

Jesus comes to those who mourn.

Peter ran. He got to see inside an empty tomb.

John ran too. He saw some folded linens and was to the first to believe.

Mary wept. And she got to see Jesus.

Jesus comes to those who mourn.

"Blessed are those who mourn..."

You know how the rest goes: "for they shall be comforted." I find it striking, however, that Jesus does not comfort Mary. He's actually quite curt with her: "Don't hold on to me." He did take his body, but she can't have it. She seeks the comfort that comes from holding on to Jesus. She came to the tomb to hold on to him in his death. And now she wants to hold on to him in his resurrection. But Jesus says, "Don't hold on to me." He is not willing to be an object she can control, i.e., an idol. For he is a subject, a person, a living being who acts and who calls us to act. Jesus is alive.

But Jesus doesn't ignore her. He doesn't disregard her mourning. He calls her out of mourning and into his service: "Go and tell my brothers!"

Blessed are the who morn, for they shall be ... sent!

The joyful message of Easter may not comfort you in the way you seek to be comforted. But it does call you. You are called--in the midst of your mourning, then out of your mourning and to other who mourn.

And the message with which you are entrusted is a message of comfort: "Go and tell my brothers, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" The joy of Easter is that in the risen Christ we have God as our Father. The one who is by nature the Son of God makes us God's children by grace. We are adopted in him. The one who sits at the Father's right hand is our brother. He is the firstborn from the dead, and so we may be bold before the Father. We can seek the comfort we need in the name of Jesus Christ. That's the joy of Easter.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Easter, Day 2 (The Forty Days Series)

Why is it that low-church protestants can commemorate 40 days of Lent with a straight face, but not the 40 days of Easter?

I don't know the answer to this question. My hunch is that it is because we understand the crucifixion but not the resurrection. We believe Christ was raised from the dead. If you deny it, you are in trouble. Many of us even think you could prove it like any other historical event.

But we don't spend much time seeking to understand it.

Thankfully, we are not alone in believing but not understanding. The disciples were in the same boat:
Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to where they were staying. (John 20:8-10)
Even those who saw the empty tomb didn't really grasp what was going on. They bought it, but they didn't get it. They believed but did not yet understand.

The empty tomb is an indispensable sign that evokes our faith in the truth of Christ's resurrection. But in itself it does not manifest the meaning of Christ's resurrection.

What does?

The manifestation of the risen Christ himself. When he appears, the disciples not only believe but begin to understand. In fact, he manifests himself again and again over a period of forty days, during which the disciples' eyes were opened: "Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures" (Luke 24:45). Luke indicates that the 40 days were a time not only of "convincing proofs that he was alive" (Acts 1:3) but also of "spoke about the kingdom of God" (Luke ).

The 40 days of Easter are time for faith that seeks understanding.

Join me every day for the next 40 days. I'll post some thoughts on the meaning of our Easter faith.

Monday, April 11, 2011

I've been thinking about … Resurrection!

I've got a new post up at the Seminary's blog. Here's an excerpt to wet your appetite:

I've been thinking about …


I know, I know. It's not Easter yet. But I think about what I think about. Those of you who know me know I think about the resurrection a lot: I preach about it regularly it's a recurring theme in my writing, and it's the topic of my dissertation (personal indulgence alert: which I defend this Tuesday). But I've just been bombarded by resurrection talk lately. Allow me to relay three such instances. They sparked some truthful and useful reflections for me, especially concerning the delicate interplay between past, present and future in resurrection faith. Perhaps these will spark something in you as well.

(1) A student in the Seminary's Worship course selected the following topic for her Integration Paper: "What acts of worship/sacraments ought to be performed for the dying/dead?" What a great topic! Together we built a bibliography that engages the relevant biblical texts, the history of last rites and other acts associated, and theological debates over immortality of the soul and resurrection of the body. Especially intriguing were the biblical text she selected: Ezekiel 37:13, John 5:28, Romans 8:38-39 and 2 Corinthians 5:8. All of the NT texts, but especially John 5:28, speak of resurrection as both a future hope and a present reality. Yes, Jesus Christ was raised at Easter. And yes, we will be raised at the End. But in the meantime resurrection life is at work among us. Our future is already present, for Christ himself is present. So resurrection hope is not just hope deferred, but a new way of perceiving and living in the present!

(2) Last Thursday I went to a concert with Nate Lamb, my friend, fellow music-lover and seminary recruiter extraordinaire. The artist's music and lyrics were just resurrection-saturated...

For more, click here to visit the seminary's blog.