from Easter Horror Stories- Rescuing Jesus’ Good News–
The web version of a book draft exploring the dark side of the salvation stories in the lectionary. Print book slated for 2024 based on comments from readers.
The world’s first cliff-hanger.
Acts 10:34-43 or Jeremiah 31:1-6
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
Colossians 3:1-4 or Acts 10:34-43
John 20:1-18 or Matthew 28:1-10
Easter Sunday, and what a confusing Sunday it is!
In Mark, Jesus gives no wonderful pep talk like he does in Matthew. There are no snacks and no promises of the Spirit as in Luke, or BBQ fish on the beach and breathing of the Spirit into the disciples like in John.
Instead, a young man, not even an angel, tells the women that Jesus isn’t in the tomb- he has gone ahead of them to Galilee. Terrified and amazed, they flee the tomb, saying nothing to anybody because they were so scared.
Mark didn’t want to know how the Resurrection worked, what it looked like, or even what was said afterwards. But what reader could be satisfied with that ending? Obviously, the women must have said something to someone, or Mark would never have been written!
What did they say?
Mark’s abrupt ending pushes us back to his beginning, to the first words he records for Jesus, spoken – funnily enough – in Galilee,
“The time is fulfilled, the Kingdom of heaven has come near. Repent! (you disciples that fled the scene and deserted him, or you disciples reading this, who are tempted to desert him in the face of Roman persecution) and believe this good news!” (Mark 1:15)
The other gospel writers needed “better” endings. Proper endings where all the loose ends are tied up. Through various contradictory stories, and drawing on a cosmology which only made sense at the time, they all tried to get across the point that through the Resurrection, the mission of Jesus was continuing in his followers, because the Spirit of God was still with them and active amongst them.
The Resurrection is still occurring in us: John’s living streams of the Spirit of compassion, peace, and forgiveness are burbling up within us: showing that the same Spirit which was in Jesus flows through us, allowing us collectively to do “greater things” than Jesus did. The Kingdom is still at hand. Jesus’ murderers failed.
Thinking of the Resurrection as an ongoing reality, empowered by the streams of living water- the Spirit – isn’t perfect. But it makes some sense at least, unlike tales of a physical body being reanimated and then flying up through the clouds (Luke 24:51, Acts 1:9).
The problem with Luke’s account of Jesus’ Resurrection is his reliance on outdated cosmology, more than the possibility or otherwise of physical Resurrection. We now know just how big those heavens which Jesus levitated into are. And we’ve been up there and didn’t see him.
Even if Jesus travelled at the speed of light, he would still have between 1000 and 100,000 years to go before he got out of the Milky Way galaxy.
If heaven is a place “up there” then it is presumably at least as far away as the edge of our galaxy.
Of course, few literalists literally believe that Jesus is sitting somewhere out there in heaven. Yet many insist that we must believe that he did walk around in a new kind of body, which ate fish and had nail marks, and which did fly up into the clouds.
Far fewer of us literally believe the associated expectation of the first Christians, that our bodies will also literally reanimate at some point. We have gone off the bodily Resurrection idea in favour of the quite unbiblical “spiritual heaven” of the Greeks. And fair enough, with 100 billion people having been born so far, there’s no room for all the bodies anymore. Who wants to live on an Earth that crowded, even a re-Edenised Earth? Let’s guess that only 5% of humans make the grade and get into heaven. Who could enjoy paradise in the new Jerusalem with the noise of 95 billion people below them, screaming in everlasting torment? That would be 256 times louder than 1 person screaming.
What of literal historicity of the rest of the Resurrection stories? Did the disciples go to Galilee to find Jesus (as Mark and Matthew claim) or stay in Jerusalem (as Luke says)? Did Jesus breathe the Spirit into his followers (John 20:22) or did it fall upon them 50 days later (Acts 2)?
Let’s not judge each other on how we make sense of these contradictory Resurrection stories. Everyone who does not literally believe that Jesus is a projectile zooming through space has dipped their toe into the possibility that the bodily Resurrection stories are not literal.
And that’s before we get to the story, only in Matthew, of the zombie saints rising from the grave at the Resurrection and travelling into town (27:52ff). I’ve never heard that story mentioned at Easter time.
People like Michael Dowd have little interest in working out what actually happened to Jesus’ body. He is more interested in working out what Resurrection means, since he thinks that was the point of the stories anyway: to convey meaning, not history. He finds the Resurrection not just on Easter Sunday, but archetypically throughout our lives, and indeed the universe,
“I don’t merely believe in the Resurrection. I know that for billions of years, chaos, death, and destruction have catalysed new life, new opportunities, and new possibilities. I know, both from my own life and from Earth’s history, that Good Fridays are consistently followed by Easter Sundays. The story of Christ’s death and Resurrection reminds me of this. (Thank God for Evolution p. 188)”
I get his point, and the book is great.
But Friday isn’t just a death, it’s a murder. A deliberate decision by the Powers that Be to destroy the message of God’s love for all, and of the last and least being first and greatest in God’s Kingdom.
And Resurrection Sunday isn’t only the common experience that things need to die to make way for new things, as we must die to make way for our grandchildren.
It is the claim that the bloke who was declared beloved at his baptism; driven into the outback by the Spirit, and who was properly understood only by the powers of evil; prevailed. His brutal murder failed, because the Resurrection is the fact that the same Spirit who empowered Jesus, empowers all of us to live out the truth as forgiven forgivers.
“The time is fulfilled.
The Kingdom is within reach.
do something about it!”
So, what are we “doing about it?” Let everyone know in the comments below, or on FB
This book uses the ‘New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.’ In all cases where there are italics, they have been added by myself
I reckon Mark had an ending and it has been lost. Ancient authors just didn’t end this way.
Thank you for your frank and honest dealing with the biblical ‘accounts’ and stories. Before we can get the meanings from the Bible, I think we have to do what you do and that is look frankly at them and debunk what is unhelpful. I agree with your assessments of the difficulties of 1st Century cosmology. Clergy seem to be too frightened to speak out about this, at least in church services I attend. The thing I like about the ‘resurrection’ stories is that the ‘risen ‘Jesus holds no grudges for the disciples, all of whom ran away and left him without support. He never mentioned their desertions. Wow.