Tuesday, May 13, 2008


May 13, 2008

I recently had an egregious error pointed out to me from my Easter Sermon (http://www.allsaintsatlanta.org/home/default.asp?menu_category=Sermons) in which I said that the resurrection appearance stories were written down some eighty years after the fact, when what I meant to offer was an early date for Matthew and Mark, at least, of somewhere around 80 AD, making those stories eighty years after Jesus’ birth but fifty years or so after his death. I can’t do anything about the podcast, but will see about getting the manuscript altered for posterity.

This matters because a friend has pointed out that I am being taken to task on an unfortunate website for my assumed lack of Christian belief based on the opening paragraphs of that sermon. It is a rather strange experience to be pilloried, quite personally in some instances (ad hominem attacks being standard fare on this site apparently), for saying that the experience and assurance of resurrection and its meaning for our lives is not dependent on any particular set of pictures in our heads other than those of the scriptures. I have had many conversations with many of you over the years about my own belief that the ‘something’ that happened in Jesus’ resurrection included something like what we recognize as a body, but something not instantly recognizable as Jesus in many instances. I have recently found Tom Wright’s term ‘transphysicality’ useful in describing this body. I consistently challenge the heresy both ancient and modern that what will survive us after our death is limited to some fairly Greek philosophical notion of a ‘soul’, and that new creation has all sorts of implications for our lives now including notably our stewardship of creation, sexual ethics, the morality of war and the like.

There are clearly a wide range of beliefs about what happened in the resurrection that are held by Christians who say the Apostle’s and Nicene creeds in good conscience. In a short sermon my attempt to liberate us from the sense that we are somehow outside of the possibility of God’s love if we do not follow what we suspect is the ‘new law’ of those Christians who in ways quite unbiblical, insist that right relationship with God in Christ depends upon a shared affirmation about the pictures in their heads rather than the affirmations of the creeds. Setting aside those pictures and the claims which amount to ‘think like me or you can’t be in my club’ can and does allow many people to find their way to faith with some integrity that is not possible when those claims are present. I once heard ‘growing in faith’ described as ‘growing towards the creeds’ and would like all of us to have the chance to do that before we are turned away by the alleged evangelical claims that we must share certain pictures in our heads before we will be able to know and trust in God’s love. Those with a strong stomach for Christian thought and behavior at its worst can check out this site: http://www.standfirminfaith.com/index.php/site/article/12375/

If I did not think it unfaithful, I might find claims that there are really two completely different ways of being Christian and we should go our separate ways attractive. Obviously many of our brother and sister Episcopalians have decided to take that route and are now, inevitably and correctly, making the case that they are not leaving the Church. They do not seem to want to admit, however, that they are leaving the Episcopal Church, ‘this branch of Christ’s body’, as they no longer support decisions of the General Convention. This difficulty has power and property at its core and leads to the unedifying but necessary resort to secular courts. It is hard to hold a minority position within the Episcopal Church (as I have on many of our currently divisive issues for most of my ordained ministry) but not impossible, (nor will it be impossible for the Episcopal Church to hold a minority position within world Christianity even if it means some kind of 'impaired relationship') and there is always the reality of Peter’s vision in Acts in which he sees clean and unclean alike being redeemed by God, or Jesus’ parables of sheep and goats, the rain falling on the just and unjust alike and so on. This was manageable for me because of the reality and availability of the Eucharist in which we are all being forgiven and transformed by that forgiveness in the midst of the whole body of Christ.

This, of course, leads us to consider God’s judgment and the costliness of grace, but that consideration will have to wait for another day.


Bruce Garner said...

Well said! Let's hope the nay sayers bother to read it. For what it's worth, I actually understood what you meant with the reference to 80 years. But I suppose "literalists" can't fathom the concept unless spelled out for them in excrutiating detail. And I have to wonder, particularly in light of the accounts of Jesus' resurrection appearances, what these folks think the resurreced Christ looked like. Based on the accounts, it seems pretty clear that he didn't look exactly like he did before he was crucified. Again, there seems to be some need to "literalize" something to such a minute detail that it's almost impossible to retain any pictures in our heads about it!

Bruce Garner

Mark Siegel said...

It really pains me to think that anyone would take you to task, Geoffrey, for what you say about the Resurrection. I have heard you present your views on the topic a number of times and there is little doubt that they come from someone of the very deepest faith.

You mention Bishop Wright. I am nearly finished with his "Surprised by Hope," where he presents his views on life after life after death in a very acccessible though by no means easy way.

What I have found really liberating in the book is its argument that it's our very big job right here and right now to continue the work God began with Jesus' resurrection so we can prepare the world for the time when heaven and earth are one.

Bishop Wright's book is an interesting mixture of the truly orthodox and the refreshingly radical. And unlike his "The Resurrection of the Son of God," it can actually be read and understood by non-theologians.

Mark Siegel