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Life Arts    H3'ed 4/4/21

Easter Reflection: Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?

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Readings for Easter Sunday:ACTS 10:3A, 37-43; PS 118: 1-2, 16-17, 22-23; COL 3:1-4; JN 20: 1-9.

Did Jesus really rise from the dead? Or is belief in his physical resurrection childish and equivalent to belief in the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus?

I suppose the answer to those questions depends on what you mean by "really." Let's look at what our tradition tells us.

Following Jesus' death, his disciples gave up hope and went back to fishing and their other pre-Jesus pursuits. Then, according to the synoptic gospels (Mark, Matthew, and Luke), some women in the community reported an experience that came to be called Jesus' "resurrection" (Mt. 28:1-10; Mk. 16: 1-8; Lk. 24:1-11). That is, the rabbi from Nazareth was somehow experienced as alive and as more intensely present among them than he was before his crucifixion.

That women were the first witnesses to the resurrection seems certain. According to Jewish law, female testimony was without value. It therefore seems unlikely that Jesus' followers, anxious to convince others of the reality of Jesus' resurrection, would have concocted a story dependent on women as primary witnesses. Ironically then, the story's "incredible" origin itself lends credence to the authenticity of early belief in Jesus return to life in some way.

But what was the exact nature of the resurrection? Did it involve a resuscitated corpse? Or was it something more spiritual, psychic, metaphorical or visionary?

In Paul (the only 1st person report we have - written around 50 C.E.) the experience of resurrection is clearly visionary. Paul sees a light and hears a voice, but for him there is no embodiment of the risen Jesus. When Paul reports his experience (I Cor. 15: 3-8) he equates his vision with the resurrection manifestations to others claiming to have encountered the risen Christ. Paul writes "Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me."

In fact, even though Paul never met the historical Jesus, he claims that he too is an "apostle" specifically because his experience was equivalent to that of the companions of Jesus who were known by name. This implies that the other resurrection appearances might also be accurately described as visionary rather than physical.

The earliest gospel account of a "resurrection" is found in Mark, Ch. 16. There a "young man" (not an angel) announces Jesus' resurrection to a group of women (!) who had come to Jesus' tomb to anoint him (16: 5-8). But there is no encounter with the risen Jesus.

In fact, Mark's account actually ends without any narrations of resurrection appearances at all. (According to virtually all scholarly analysis, the "appearances" found in chapter 16 were added by a later editor.) In Mark's original ending, the women are told by the young man to go back to Jerusalem and tell Peter and the others. But they fail to do so, because of their great fear (16: 8). This means that in Mark there are not only no resurrection appearances, but the resurrection itself goes unproclaimed. This makes one wonder: was Mark unacquainted with the appearance stories? Or did he (incredibly) not think them important enough to include?

Resurrection appearances finally make their own appearance in Matthew (writing about 80) and in Luke (about 85) with increasing detail. Always however there is some initial difficulty in recognizing Jesus. For instance, Matthew 28:11-20 says, "Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshipped him; but some doubted." So the disciples saw Jesus, but not everyone was sure they did. In Luke 24:13-53, two disciples walk seven miles with the risen Jesus without recognizing him until the three break bread together.

Even in John's gospel (published about 100) Mary Magdalene (the woman with the most intimate relationship to Jesus) thinks she's talking to a gardener when the risen Jesus appears to her (20: 11-18). In the same gospel, the apostle Thomas does not recognize the risen Jesus until he touches the wounds on Jesus' body (Jn. 26-29). When Jesus appears to disciples at the Sea of Tiberius, they at first think he is a fishing kibitzer giving them instructions about where to find the most fish (Jn. 21: 4-8).

All of this raises questions about the nature of the "resurrection." It doesn't seem to have been resuscitation of a corpse. What then was it? Was it the community coming to realize the truth of Jesus' words, "Whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you do to me" (Mt. 25:45) or "Wherever two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there in their midst" (Mt. 18:20)? Do the resurrection stories reveal a Lord's Supper phenomenon where Jesus' early followers experienced his intense presence "in the breaking of the bread" (Lk. 24:30-32)?

Some would say that this "more spiritual" interpretation of the resurrection threatens to destroy faith.

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Mike Rivage-Seul is a liberation theologian and former Roman Catholic priest. Retired in 2014, he taught at Berea College in Kentucky for 40 years where he directed Berea's Peace and Social Justice Studies Program. His latest book is (more...)
 

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8 people are discussing this page, with 28 comments  Post Comment


Mike Rivage-Seul

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Even if one accepts the fundamentalist interpretation of resurrection as resuscitation of Jesus' corpse, we're still left with the question: "But what does it mean?"

Submitted on Sunday, Apr 4, 2021 at 10:00:01 AM

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A beautiful Easter message, Mikethank you and Happy Easter!

Submitted on Sunday, Apr 4, 2021 at 10:24:29 AM

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Reply to Marta Steele:   New Content

Same to you, Marta. This Passover-Easter season is such a beautiful time of year that brings the Jewish and Christian communities together. The wonderful liturgies of Holy Week made it my favorite time. When I was in the seminary, everything was done perfectly. So rich.

Submitted on Sunday, Apr 4, 2021 at 1:29:36 PM

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Short answer: No, he did not.

Long answer: Religion, all of them are used (1) to make money, (2) to scare people to donate, (3) look at Vatican the wealthiest country.

Christianity more than any other religion has borrowed from Persian religion (Zoroastrian)

Submitted on Sunday, Apr 4, 2021 at 11:26:17 AM

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Reply to Mohammad Ala:   New Content

Yes, it's wonderful, Mohammad how this time of year makes us all realize how closely woven together are all these Great Religions such as Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. This is a time for ignoring the obvious heretical interpretations you mention (and which vexed the prophet from Nazareth as well) and focus on the precious spiritual truths that help us understand that there's far more to life than meets the eye.

Submitted on Sunday, Apr 4, 2021 at 1:33:09 PM

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We disagree.

In the name of religion, helpless people's land has been stolen.

Some religious people have justified stealing as God given right(s).

This is a quote:

Our people and Ancestors were killed and mothers brutalized in the name of their white Jesus. According to Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya and Desmond Tutu of South Africa, when they said we should close our eyes to pray, after praying, we opened our eyes, we found bible in our hands and they seized and conquered our lands in the name of their white Jesus just as they rape our mothers in the name of their white Jesus and their science justified it

The first organized religion (Zoroastrian) with a Zoroaster (Prophet), holy book (Avesta), have been the base for all the religions. For example, the concept of Heaven and Hell were stated first in Zoroastrian religion, thereafter, all the religions have borrowed the concepts.

Western media has been biased towards other religions ignoring that their religions have copied many principles from Zoroastrian religion.

Submitted on Sunday, Apr 4, 2021 at 2:21:26 PM

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Actually, Mohammad, I don't disagree with a word of what you write here. Where's the problem?

Submitted on Sunday, Apr 4, 2021 at 2:45:30 PM

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The author overthinks the foundation of Christianity, the resurrection. "Unless you are like little children you can not enter the kingdom of God."

Submitted on Sunday, Apr 4, 2021 at 12:01:59 PM

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I sympathize with your feelings, Robert. However, my childhood understandings of religion no longer suffice. There's a difference between the "beginners' mind" that's necessary for entering the Other World that's possible on the one hand, and childishness that mature adults find off-putting on the other. Modern biblical scholarship (oversimplified in my posting) helps adults discern appropriate meanings that transcend what interests children (viz., magic and fairy tales). The resurrection stories too often get rejected because they're seen as childish. They are anything but.

Submitted on Sunday, Apr 4, 2021 at 1:40:31 PM

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As you've probably figured out by now Mike , I am not a fan of yours. You consistently make up your own doctrine. You basically come up with a gospel that is the gospel "according to Mike". You really don't know what you believe . You may be a theologian, but you are certainly not a man of faith.

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Robert,

Fowler has written material and a book on "Stages of Faith."

As we mature, our understanding of God and spirituality becomes increasingly more mature.

Obviously, there can be more and less mature understandings of faith,

One can't skip steps - but only continue working on the maturation process.

That means keeping an open mind and heart.

Submitted on Sunday, Apr 4, 2021 at 5:41:49 PM

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Seems like the more mature some people get, the less faith they have.

I don't need books to tell me about faith , I go straight to the source.

It's all about spirituality , not intellectuality. Didn't you read the part in the Bible that says

the wisdom of the world is foolishness to God? Judas Iscariot fancied himself a scholar, yet he betrayed Jesus with a kiss. The spirit of God is not found in books or intellectual discourse, but is given to those who seek God in faith.

Submitted on Sunday, Apr 4, 2021 at 7:05:30 PM

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Robert,

First of all, it seems to me you are exhibiting either/or thinking, which is the unconscious bane of the western world. "The spirit of God is found in books or intellectual discourse, but is given to those who seek God in faith." The reality is that you never know where people are going to find God, given our human variety.

.

Second, there is such a thing as "childish," rather than "child-like" faith. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with the former - given that we can't ask a 5-year-old to behave like a 20-year-old. However, we are living in a time when the world needs mature faith and devotion. The stakes are very high for our species and the Biosphere.

This may be what Mike was obliquely referring to in his answer to you. Of course, you are welcome to your opinion and what works for you.

Authentic spirituality includes the intellect and the ability to think critically. Cults show the truth of this.

If you had read the Bhagavad Gita, the Dhammapada, or the Tao Te Ching - or practiced what they teach, you might realize that the Bible is not the last word on anything: that much of the Old Testament was written by primitive people projecting their needs for a vengeful, authoritarian father-figure, and the New Testament was added to and subtracted from so many times, it takes great discernment to discover what is authentic in it.

Submitted on Sunday, Apr 4, 2021 at 7:55:49 PM

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Reply to Robert Gormley:   New Content

Even though you believe that you, "don't need books to tell me about faith , I go straight to the source"- you may for some strange reason choose to check out my 7/6 piece - The Four Stages of Spiritual Growth . It shows that an absence of faith can be a way-station to a deeper spirituality and faith.

Or, just go your own way, which may be the way of the ego.

Submitted on Sunday, Apr 4, 2021 at 8:02:21 PM

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Jesus said: " I am the way, the truth, and the life". I choose to believe that.

Even if the the Bible is altered so it is unrecognizable, the Holy Spirit testifies to the truth.

Submitted on Sunday, Apr 4, 2021 at 9:46:30 PM

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I'm with you there, Robert. That's my faith too.

Submitted on Sunday, Apr 4, 2021 at 9:55:43 PM

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Robert,

I have no doubt that your faith helps you.

Two relevant questions to ask :

Whether it was Jesus or the Cosmic Christ who said those words. If the Cosmic Christ - is that same "I" as Krishna, Rama, or The Buddha or Ramana Maharishi?

How to avoid childish faith (which can get one into a heap of trouble) and choose childlike faith - which can open the door to the Infinite?

Submitted on Sunday, Apr 4, 2021 at 10:28:52 PM

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Robert,

Many who "believed" and repeated those very words were responsible for the Inquisition and countless other horrors. Their "faith" - and absence of critical thinking - led to appalling acts.

"Believing" without adequate sophistication to know, absorb, deeply contemplate, and compare what other paths have taught may can easily lead one into darkness.

Submitted on Sunday, Apr 4, 2021 at 11:12:28 PM

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Robert,

I want to make clear that I can find much wisdom in the Bible. The issue is that there is also much wisdom (from different and illuminating angles) in other scriptures, as well as in The Jesus Seminars (which attempted to discern which of Jesus words in the Bible were authentically his) and in the Dead Sea Scrolls, which are widely believed to contain Jesus's actual words, but were not included in the Bible and not altered.

You have found a niche that is comfortable for you and I suspect that you will feel unable to leave your comfort zone at this time. Because I have challenged some of that, I will not be at all surprised if you choose not to explore these issues any further at this time.

I believe your approach to faith-matters helps you in many ways, and I'm happy for you.

Submitted on Monday, Apr 5, 2021 at 3:42:44 PM

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Mike,

My understanding is that it is not unusual for highly evolved beings to be able to re-vivify those who have "died," and return in the physical body after they themselves "have obstensibly left their body." (If interested see the book Miracle of Love by Ram Dass, containing stories of his guru, Neem Karoli Baba).

It appears that such beings have access to, and mastery of their astral and causal bodies, which can, if they wish, manifest as a physical body.

Of interest is are the books:

The Christ of India: The Story of Original Christianity by Abbot George Burke (Swami Nirmalananda Giri) and Christ in India by Bede Griffiths.

Equally of interest are the accounts that Jesus spent his "lost years" (ages 13-30) studying in India and Tibet, and that after his crucifixion he traveled to India, where he actually left his body at a ripe old age.

Submitted on Sunday, Apr 4, 2021 at 2:47:59 PM

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Once again, thanks for the valuable references, Blair. I've always been interested in the thesis that Jesus spent time in India.

Submitted on Sunday, Apr 4, 2021 at 4:59:47 PM

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Mike,

My understanding is that it is not unusual for highly evolved beings to be able to re-vivify those who have "died," and return in the physical body after they themselves "have obstensibly left their body." (If interested see the book Miracle of Love by Ram Dass, containing stories of his guru, Neem Karoli Baba).

It appears that such beings have access to, and mastery of their astral and causal bodies, which can, if they wish, manifest as a physical body.

Of interest is are the books:

The Christ of India: The Story of Original Christianity by Abbot George Burke (Swami Nirmalananda Giri) and Christ in India by Bede Griffiths.

Equally of interest are the accounts that Jesus spent his "lost years" (ages 13-30) studying in India and Tibet, and that after his crucifixion he traveled to India, where he actually left his body at a ripe old age.

Submitted on Sunday, Apr 4, 2021 at 2:55:35 PM

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I'd add that it is time - for all of our sakes - to begin to gain an understanding of the astral, causal, and non-dual bodies. These are aspects of who we are, are progressively more subtle, and can gift us with powers to relieve suffering re- the planet, our fellow-humans, and ourselves.

Submitted on Sunday, Apr 4, 2021 at 3:05:57 PM

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John Hawkins

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"All, all except Phineas, constructed at infinite cost to themselves this Maginot Line against this enemy they thought they saw across the frontier, this enemy that never attacked that way--if he ever attacked at all. If indeed he was the enemy."
       -- John Knowles

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Here's the thing. He was all set to "rise from the dead." That was the agreement. But then one of the Roman soldiers got all out of sorts because he lost bets on Jesus' clothing. He got up from the table, picked up his spear, and proceeded to stick it in Christ's ribs (about where Eve would have come from, so maybe the soldier was angry with his wife, too), and Zowie killed our Lord outright. He implored, "Yowl-weh, why have you forsaken me?" Ruining the plans for the uprising. Law suits were filed. There was dickering for years, before a settlement was reached on the West Bank. Eventually a credible editor was found to pastiche the whole thing together to get what we have today, minus certain rock-throwing incidents in the Apocrypha.

I saw all this more or less depicted in the film, The Passover Plot, back in the 70s, during a break as an extra as a commando in the movie called Raid on Entebbe. I was a Jew and damned proud of it. But anyway, The Passover Plot answers the question did He rise like the miraculists said He did? Well, no says the movie. (It was a twin-bill: the second film was Executive Action, Burt Lancaster's the baddy (if you can believe it) about the plot to pass over Democracy by way JFK's noggin. What a bummer of a day!)

Personally, I believe Jesus still lives. It's called The Golden Rule. Who needs the Frankencense and the Judas Flower and the rites and rituals and indulgences and basket being passed around and kids being molested and nuns getting into bad habits....

Submitted on Sunday, Apr 4, 2021 at 11:31:11 PM

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Lou Pintada

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Ive said it before, and I will say it again. Christianity like all the "Great" superstitions that plague the world (even if you subscribe to the lite version espoused here) is just an entry to belief in silly things. Im a Christian, so maybe the earth is flat. I know Jeasu F*&king Christ was reportedly born in 3 different places and so, yeah, maybe Trump is still the president. If you believe one silly useless thing, you open yourself to them all.

Submitted on Monday, Apr 5, 2021 at 9:28:20 AM

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Blair Gelbond

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Reply to Lou Pintada:   New Content

Lou,

You might want to explore the subject of "enlightened beings," such as the Buddha, Lao Tzu, Krishna, or any other beings regarded as "liberated." It's complex stuff and you'd need to open your mind a bit to obtain more perspective, although I can hear your considerations.

Submitted on Monday, Apr 5, 2021 at 3:54:58 PM

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Philip Pease

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I was attending a weekend retreat called "marriage encounter". It was intended to strengthen ones marriage by a process of writing love letters to each other expressing ones deepest feelings about a chosen subject. It facilitated examining ones own feelings, learning about ones spouse's feelings, and communication/sharing with each other about those feelings. This retreat was put on by a catholic group; but neither my wife or I were catholic. These sharing sessions were strictly personal, between husband and wife. The writing of love letters was spent reflecting on ones love for the other and the feeling of opening up and sharing with her ones deepest feelings; so it is a process that opens oneself to oneself and to love. In one of these sessions of sharing I saw Jesus standing in the doorway of our room looking at us and smiling and the words "In you I am well pleased, be love and love one another". I turned to my wife and said did you see what I just saw and heard? She nodded yes and reached out to hold my hand. I have never felt so much love before, I was overcome with the love I was experiencing in the moment and knew a reality that was more than any earthly reality.

When I reflect my experience I can imagine what those who experienced Jesus resurrection probably experienced as similar to what I had experienced.

Submitted on Tuesday, Apr 6, 2021 at 8:27:27 AM

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Mike Rivage-Seul

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Beautifully put, Philip. Wonderful personal insight about the experience of the Risen Lord. Years ago, my wife and I also did a marriage encounter. (I think we actually did two of them.) However, we did not have any experience comparable to the one you describe. You were truly blessed. The insight into the nature of resurrection is profound.

Submitted on Tuesday, Apr 6, 2021 at 9:02:57 AM

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