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Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 27 October 2004 0 Comments
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What was the essence of the Resurrection experience for early Christians?


That is a question that even the Bible has a hard time answering. Paul suggests that the essence of the Resurrection is best described by the suggestion that God raised Jesus from death into the being and eternity of God. Mark, the first Gospel, never has the raised Christ appear in his entire narrative. He rather confronts his readers with the empty tomb and suggests that Jesus will go before the disciples into Galilee and that is where they meet him. Matthew says they did meet him in Galilee on top of a mountain, but Jesus appeared out of the sky clothed with the authority of the Son of Man and gave the disciples the great commission. He did not appear to them as a resuscitated body that had walked out of a tomb.

Luke says that Jesus appeared to his disciples only in Jerusalem, never in Galilee, and that he was very physical. He ate, walked, taught and interpreted Scripture. He also seemed to have had the ability to appear and disappear at will. He the ascended into the sky of a three-tiered universe, Luke says, some 40 days later.

John says that the risen Jesus appeared only to Magdalen at the tomb and forbade her to touch him. Then on that same Easter Day, he ascended to God and it was from out of heaven that he appeared mysteriously that evening to the disciples in Jerusalem, where he demonstrated the power to walk through locked doors and closed windows and to invite Thomas to feel his very physical wounds. Much later, John says he appeared again in Galilee to a group of disciples who were fishing and there confronted and reclaimed Peter.
How can one talk about the essence of Easter if the authors of the New Testament are in great disagreement when they tried to explain what the Resurrection means?

All I can say was that the Easter experience was and is real. It was powerful and life changing. Whatever else Easter meant, the disciples believed that it conveyed the truth that death could not contain all that he was and is. This was the experience that transformed lives and continues to do so today. To put more flesh on these bare bones than this would require a whole book. I attempted to do that when I wrote "Resurrection: Myth or Reality? A Bishop Rethinks the Origins of Christianity." It took me about 350 pages. My conclusions were that the Easter experience was real and that the explanations in the Bible are at best mythology. It is a theological tightrope that I believe Christians must walk in the 21st century.

-- John Shelby Spong




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