Of Time and Eternity: The Resurrection (Part I)
Nothing about Jesus is so misunderstood, misrepresented, trivialized and falsified as the Resurrection. Everything in the Gospels has to be understood in light of the Resurrection. Christian faith takes its meaning from the Resurrection—every claim about Jesus, every notion of what it means to live in trusting hope, every view of the world, every take on reality. What the Christian knows of God—with “knowledge” that is qualitatively different from knowledge about anything or anyone else—comes through the experience of Jesus risen, however the experience is articulated. Nothing makes sense without an understanding of the Resurrection, yet understanding seems to collapse against this apparently inordinate claim. Raised from the dead . . . . risen from the dead: even the language seems to pitch us into the realm of the impossible. It surpasses understanding.
What a strange and difficult term to use when we come to discuss something we cannot see directly with our eyes or touch with our hands. We take that hard, physical reality of sight and touch for ultimate reality, but in this we may delude ourselves, as we know when we experience love. We can see and touch signs of it, but love (like memory and will, inspiration and understanding itself) is a reality far greater than its signs.
Just as when we discuss love or creativity, art or the meaning of life, so it is with discussing the ultimately invisible and ultimately real reality of faith, the Resurrection. But to discuss it requires, as far as is possible, abandoning all preconceptions and negative stereotypes and attempting to see what the New Testament claims about the primal experience of faith and then how the texts address, confirm or even make possible one’s own experience of the Resurrection—not how one’s own experience arbitrates and mediates the text!
In other words, rather than subjecting the texts to our prior experience, we make ourselves available to the text, to the experience behind it. Reading and understanding the texts, in other words, enable us to read and understand ourselves. The act of interpretation, which does not mean falsifying or giving the texts a self- invented meaning, interprets the interpreter to himself. And the process of being grasped by the text begins by reading it as something of ‘the past but not limited by the past.
Christian faith is, in fact, fundamentally not a matter of the past but of the present. It is an experience of, and a relationship with, someone alive, someone whose existence in the economy of earthly life, the life in and of the flesh—in other words, bodily life as we know it—ceased almost two thousand years ago. Faith proclaims, in light of a mysterious but certain experience, that Jesus of Nazareth is completely transformed, forever altered.
No doubt about it: the Resurrection of Jesus is the central fact of Christian faith and life; it is not a poetic afterthought, a pleasant fancy or a proof of anything—and it is not something of the past, but of now. With a kind of powerful gentleness, Paul puts the matter succinctly: “If we have placed our hope in Christ for this life only, then we are of all people the most to be pitied.”
Adapted from Donald Spoto, The Hidden Jesus: A New Life