Faith, Fellowship and Fun

What happened in Jesus’ resurrection?
(Notes from c14 of JESUS: AN HISTORICAL APPROXIMATION by José A Pagola)

Jesus resurrection is not a return to his earlier life on earth. Jesus does not return to biological life as we know it. The sources never suggest that.

The resurrection is not a kind of mysterious survival of his immortal soul as Greek culture would think of it. His followers are Hebrews, and in their way of thinking the ‘body’ is not simply the material or physical side of a person, something that can be separated from a different spiritual side. The ‘body’ is the whole person, who experiences his or her own rootedness in the world and in life with others. When they speak of the ‘body’ they are thinking of a person in his or her whole world of relationships and shared experiences, a whole history of conflicts and hurts, joys and suffering.

For the first Christians, Jesus resurrection is an act of God, whose creative power rescues him from death and brings him fully into God’s own life. At the very moment when Jesus feels that his whole being is lost forever, as is the sad fate of all human beings, God is beginning something radically new. When everything seems irremediably lost in the absurdity of death, God is beginning a new creation.

What happened to make Jesus’ disciples believe something so amazing had happened? What caused the radical turnaround in these disciples, who had given him up as a lost cause just a few days earlier?

The stories that have come down to us do not provide a clear basis for understanding just what happened after Jesus’ death. We cannot penetrate the meaning of their experience by using historical methods. It is clear however, that the faith of his followers did not come out of nowhere. Something happened to them. Indeed the apostolic preaching, with all its enthusiasm and audacity, would be unthinkable unless the witnesses were in real contact with the totally new and unexpected event that had happened to them, that is the manifestation of the risen Christ and the fact that he had spoken with them. All the sources tell us that what they went through not only revived their faith in Jesus, but opened them to a new and surprising experience of his presence in their midst.

It is a rich and complex process including questions, reflections, unexpected events, and amazing experiences of faith. But their growing sense of his presence with them after his death does not come only from reflection on the past. The disciples are convinced of this: God is making the risen Jesus present in their hearts. What the accounts suggest is not so much that the risen one has appeared as a visible figure, but rather that is acting within the disciples, creating conditions in which they can perceive his presence.

When Paul is speaking of his experience he never described or explains it in psychological terms. What has happened to him is a ‘grace’. It is a gift, which he attributes to God’s initiative or to the intervention of the risen one. He can only say that he has been ‘reached’ by Christ Jesus and the impact is so powerful the it causes a total reorientation of his life.

The core of the appearance stories is a personal encounter with Jesus full of life. That is the key:
This encounter with Jesus is a gift. The disciples don’t take the initiative; Jesus does. It is a grace from God. This encounter transforms them to their very roots. Once more Jesus offers them his trust; their disloyalty has been cured by forgiveness and they can begin a new life. The encounter with the risen one has to be communicated and shared with others. They feel ‘sent’ by Jesus. All those who met the risen Christ feel the call to share their own experience with others.

Was the tomb empty?
Paul never mentions the empty tomb. By all the evidence it did not play a significant role in the birth of faith in the risen Jesus. Researchers ask: do the empty tomb narratives reflect the memory of what happened, or are they literary compositions that try to describe graphically what everyone believes: That if Jesus has risen, then we should not look for him in the world of the dead?

A close reading of the narrative enables us to see it from more than a purely historical perspective. Indeed, the key to the narrative is not the empty tomb but the ‘revelation’ by the messenger of God to the women. The scene apparently is not intended to present the empty tomb as a proof of the resurrection. In fact, it does not inspire the women to faith, but to fear and trembling. What we need to hear is the voice of the angel, which naturally calls for faith.

Even today in the texts that have come down to us, we can see the joy of the first disciples on discovering that God has not abandoned Jesus. “You crucified him; but God raised him up”.
God has not only vindicated Jesus, he has also done him justice. God was not passively, silently watching what they were doing to Jesus; he has returned in all its fullness the life that was so unjustly taken from him.

The early Christians believed that on his death, Jesus entered into God’s glory. He died trusting in his Father, and the Father has accepted him into his unfathomable life. It was a death-resurrection. He did not die into emptiness and nothingness. He entered into full communion with God. The Father did not save him
from death, but in his death.

The Father does not want Jesus to suffer. That was never his will. His will was that Jesus remain faithful to the end to his mission. The Father does not wish an ignominious death for Jesus, and Jesus does not offer is blood expecting it to please the Father. The early Christians never thought anything like that. Father and Son are united in the crucifixion, not for the sake of blood and destruction, but in confronting the ultimate consequences of evil. Jesus will go to his death if need be, to be faithful to God’s reign; everyone will see the depth of his trust in the Father and his love for humanity

The crucifixion-resurrection is the supreme revelation of God’s love. In the crucified-risen Jesus God is
with us, thinking only about us, suffering like us, dying for us.

The resurrection shows that God was with Jesus in a real way, not intervening against his torturers, but assuring his final triumph. That is the most amazing thing about God’s love: it has the power to annihilate evil without destroying the evil people. He does justice for Jesus without destroying the men who crucified him.

God does not appear as one who required Jesus’ suffering and destruction in order to satisfy his honour and justice, or to
forgive human beings. God does not appear as one taking out his anger on Jesus. The Father never holds him responsible for sins he has not committed. How could a just God impute sins to Jesus that he has not committed? Jesus is innocent: sin has not entered into his heart. He is not suffering any punishment from God on the cross. He is suffering the rejection of those who oppose God’s reign. He is not the victim of the Father but of Caiaphas and Pilate.

Suffering in itself is evil; it has no redemptive power. It does not please God to see Jesus suffer. The only salvific thing about Calvary is the unfathomable love of God, incarnate in the suffering and death of his Son.
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