Bishop Mariann Budde is the diocesan bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington. In her blog on March 28th she said someone once asked her if she thought the resurrection was necessary. She noted that the questioner wondered “if we needed to be bound by so unreasonable a proposition that Jesus’ tomb was, in fact, empty on that first Easter morning.” She answered yes. But then she qualified this by saying the “resurrection is the foundation of Christian faith, but probably not in the way he meant it.” Here’s how she finished her post: (Parts in bold are mine for emphasis.)
To say that resurrection is essential doesn’t mean that if someone were to discover a tomb with Jesus’ remains in it that the entire enterprise would come crashing down. The truth is that we don’t know what happened to Jesus after his death, anymore than we can know what will happen to us. What we do know from the stories handed down is how Jesus’ followers experienced his resurrection. What we know is how we experience resurrection ourselves.
That experience is the beginning of faith, not in the sense of intellectual acceptance of an outlandish proposition, but of being touched by something so powerful that it changes you, or so gentle that it gives you courage to persevere when life is crushingly hard. It is experiencing a presence so forgiving that you can at last forgive yourself for your greatest failings, and forgive those whose failings have wounded you, and so loving that your own capacity to love expands beyond your wildest imagining.
Resurrection is an experience that touches us where we live, not on the level of opinion or argument, but at the heart of everything we hold dear. As we face the anxiety and fear of death, Jesus assures us of God’s infinite mercy waiting on the other side. As we carry the burdens of our own failings, Jesus comes with forgiveness—not abstractly, but personally and with great specificity. And as we feel the weight of our own self-consciousness, Jesus comes with the lightest touch. It isn’t all about you, he gently chides. It isn’t all up to you. “Your great mistake,” writes the poet David Whyte, “is to act the drama as if you were alone.”
This Easter, receive the gifts of love, forgiveness, and confidence that Jesus offers for the first or the thousandth time. And strive to live so that through your love, others might experience the power of resurrection for themselves.
I’ve noted in a previous post how it is becoming more and more common for some to talk about the “resurrection of Jesus” and mean something completely different from the common understanding of what this refers to: the bodily resurrection of Jesus after his death. Here the Bishop describes the traditional view as “outlandish.” She proclaims that if we discovered the body of Jesus our faith would not “come crashing down.” But I have to ask if Jesus is still in the grave how can he “assure us of God’s infinite mercy waiting on the other side”? Didn’t she just say in the previous paragraph that we don’t know what will happen to us? What kind of assurances is this Jesus giving us if we really don’t know what will happen to us after we die? Is Jesus alive or is he dead?
When I attended a debate between William Lane Craig and John Shelby Spong on the topic of the resurrection I asked Spong after the debate if he wasnt’ being slightly deceptive in saying he believed in the “resurrection” but filling it with a completely different meaning from what the average person would understand him to be saying. He gave me a curt “no” on went on to the next person.
It seems to me that for Spong and others like him the resurrection is an inspirational thought more than a historical reality. I simply don’t know what it means to “experience the resurrection for” myself if Jesus’ body has wasted away in a tomb. The Bishop says it is “being touched by something so powerful that it changes you.” Some of the finest poetry and music have done this for people. Is reading a good poem the equivalent to “experiencing the resurrection?” I mean no disrespect in my line of questioning. I’m simply trying to understand what they are saying because to me what they are preaching comes head to head with Paul when he wrote “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” (1 Cor. 15:4)