Thinking Death, Suicide, Life

marcusaurelius1-2x

Imaging myself climbing into the casket and being buried with it was the last thing I had ever conceived. But there it was, the casket, my lifeless father, and suddenly an intimate closeness with death. After all, my father had just experienced death, how hard could it be? How bad could it be? Is it easier to die than to live? What did it feel like? What was his final thought? Did it hurt? Where was he now? Have you ever felt so much pain that you can’t scream loud enough, wail long enough, or shed enough tears to give purpose and sense to the rage of sudden loss? I never knew sudden loss before but I now know I hate it. I hate what it is, what it does, and its unshakable results!

The canopy of the sky caved in and the earth swallowed me whole. Surely anything must be better than feeling as if the entire world had just imploded; the once sturdy structure of certainty interrupted by the true fragility of human existence. Sitting in a room while people come and gaze at the corpse of your father, paying respects but confirming hell, makes one question their existence. Nothing has made me want to throw my strength to the wind quite like death and death has literally stolen most of my strength.

All my striving, all my love, all my work, all my energy, will one day find itself in the same situation: lifeless, cold, alone, and buried.

God that’s a depressing thought but its also the human condition.

Three days earlier I could not even pick out the casket, and today, I can imagine getting in it myself and having loved ones stand 4 feet above me on the earth that covers me. When I go to the cemetery to visit my father I no longer simply pay respects, but I also speak to the ground near him, the ground that will one day hold my lifeless body, and I wonder what sort of earth this is that will only be moved when I move my last, staring at the space in which I will lie much longer than I have lived.

Speaking of death, I had always wondered how a person could commit suicide, how depressed, lost, lonely or mentally jaded one must be to perform the ultimate act. I have often thought to myself that I could never kill myself no matter how bad life got, yet life is full of seasons and seasons bring forth change in people that what was once unimaginable becomes imagined.

Many suicides are done in the dark days of melancholy or in moments of utter despair. As a society we have accepted that depression leads to suicide and many secular thinkers even argue for the virtue of self-annihilation (I am not begrudging anyone who has been tempted with suicide for a myriad of reasons, from bullying, to sexuality, to mental disease). I begrudge no suicidal for doing the deed, but I can’t help but believe some people, for whatever reason, have become comfortable with death and have thought through what killing themselves would mean.

History is full of melancholic or depressive suicides, but it is also full of suicides that happen by fully cognizant folks. Comfort with death doesn’t happen in a moment, but it happens. There are moments of lucidity wherein someone decided this act, this final act, was friendlier to their being than being a person could be any longer. Surely not every single suicide that happens is the act of malady, madness or despair (though surely one that decides to finally kill themselves is steeped in despair). There must be someone out there for which suicide was a logical alternative to living. It may not make sense to many, but it made sense to that person, at that moment.

When my father died I think I slowly saw behind the curtain of suicide, what makes it possible.

Suicide becomes imaginable when staying is more difficult than dying, when the idea of death becomes more comforting than the idea of living, and death has the allure of a comfort life refuses us. What had once been a distant association was now close and personal, inviting and strangely warm. If one can imagine their own dying, their own nullification and non-existence, then one is 1 step closer to the reality. All that is left is the act. People who Stay alive do so because they can imagine no other, but those that peer into the darkness of life can sometimes find in death a friend that will never leave; it will hold them forever. If we can imagine it we are that much closer to doing it.

Not that my father’s death tempted me with suicide, BUT it did make suicide imaginable and imagination is the first step to actualization. I had never imagined it as a possibility, not even remotely, but there is nothing that makes death seem friendlier than having someone you love so deeply enter its corridor and not return. There is nothing that makes death seem closer than one’s invitation into its foyer, peering around its house without entering any of the rooms…all of which are only a few feet (or heartbeats) away.

I had never imagined dying or what it must be like to die. I never had to. I had never met death in any significant way. I had lost grandparents, cousins, people I loved, but I had never had death impolitely intrude into my life, not asking permission, just shoving its way in the door and turning me into an instantaneous nihilist. Sometimes imagination happens without our approval…

And this, THIS, is the problem with death: it is itself. It ends. It forces a new reality onto us.

This has been the biggest challenge in grief: finding meaning after coming face to face with that which crushes all meaning, and eventually crushes all of us and our attempts at meaning. Death is so stark, so deep, so dark. It is so intrusive when it isn’t welcome that it has the power to place meaning in its hand and crumble it like a Ritz cracker: what constituted the whole becomes bits and pieces of something now unrecognizable.

It is just pure shock: that one moment you can love someone so deeply and the next moment they can be gone without a goodbye, not only leaving you behind, but everything they loved and enjoyed remains, remnants of their life. I stared at me, at the stuff he left behind, at my dead father.

It reminded me of what Jesus says in Luke 12, “You fool! This very night your soul will be required of you and now who will own what you have prepared?”

Nothing matters if all that matters quits mattering. In an instant, your loves and your hobbies become pointless distractions of our ultimate end: death. Work becomes something to do till you die. Eating becomes something you do to stay alive, the opposite of death, but its meaning is found in its juxtaposition.

Death becomes animative and omnipresent, a day not going by without considering your own demise. How tiring to constantly be aware that you will die, to think this thought tens of times through the day, and to hate that this thought is not only a thought but a future reality.

To live, then, is to contemplate death. To face it, be aware of it, live with it. One is not truly living if their life is one not comprehending death. To live absent the comprehension of death is to be caught up in frivolities and to be angered by the waitress that brings you a Coke, when you wanted Sprite! What foolish things upset us and portend to be our ultimate concern.

Much of life melts away at the face of death and certainly most of what people bitch about pale in comparison to the unimagined tragedy of the death of their spouse, their parent, their child, themselves. These are things that cannot be imagined; they can only happen. I pity the fool whose last act on earth was getting pissed off at a cashier, acting a fool and throwing their cheeseburger over the counter, only to storm out of the restaurant and be killed in a car accident.

Who wants to be that guy? How foolish!

Surely this has happened to someone and their final act on earth was bitching about the first world problems of no mayo, add mustard.

Thinking death makes you rethink everything else because everything else is now done in the context of when you will die…and honestly, that kinda sucks.

Imagine being aware, constantly, that every breath your take, every heartbeat you experience, brings you closer to your last. Imagine how omnipresent those feelings are and imagine the life you would live if you really believed this was the case.

Before I lived through death I too had participated in stupid conversations and complaints about life. Facebook rants, complaints about others, complaints about the weather, complaints of homework, complaints of work, complaints ad infinitum. Now, when I hear someone complain or bitch about something, I often think “seriously, does this person not know life is fleeting? We are complaining, essentially, about being alive…” I can no longer take much human dialogue seriously because too many humans do not consider the fact that they are alive seriously.

Sure, lets complain how hot it is, in the summer, in July.

Would you prefer the alternative of being dead and not feeling the heat?

Sure, lets complain about our spouse or our kids or our job.

Would you prefer the alternative of being dead and having none of these worries? Can you not be thankful that you are alive and able to experience life?!? As Camus says, there is no replacement for 20 years of life!

Sure, lets complain about Donald Trump or Socialists.

Would you rather be dead and have no concern of either? Do you want your final act in life to be a Facebook post, politically ranting, only to find your car wrapped around a tree? Was it worth the rage?

Can we not be thankful we are alive and find meaning in living rather than locating meaning in what we are against or dislike??

A question that often animates my actions now is “if this were the last act of my life would I act in this way?” or “if this were the last post I made on social media would I post this?” or “If these are the last words I spoke, last time I saw this person, would I say/be this way”

It is living toward death because whether we like it or not we are.

Death is a nearby attendant, one that shuffles its feet behind us as we stroll about through life oblivious to its caring arms waiting to catch us when we fall out of life. Yet the irony is that unless we can hear the shuffling of its feet and feel the breeze of its cloak brush up against our beings, we are doomed to be stuck in the eternal now and living like it is an eternal present… a condition that is much worse than death or suicide because it is a condition that could not ponder either because it is not even aware of its own life.

This is the magic of death: it can make everything you think matters cease to matter instantaneously. I cannot describe it. I cannot help you see it. This can only be experienced…but it is real.

There is at least one thing the resurrection stories of Jesus teach us: one cannot find life if one has not found their death.

Leaning Into Death: An Alternative Reading of Acts 2.42-47

buddha death

Preaching from Acts 2 this Eastertide, it dawned on me this familiar passage was saying something much simpler, yet more profound, than providing fodder for theological arguments between Pentecostals and, well, every other Christian.

The early portion of this chapter (tongues of fire, upper room, etc.), gets most of the attention in the chapter, and rightly so.  It’s bizarre, unusual, and produces a proclamation that had never happened before.

In Chapter 1, Jesus ascends into heaven and the disciples go to Jerusalem (to the Upper Room) to wait, for something unaware.  Chapter 2 continues the action answering the proverbial, “so what now?  If Jesus isn’t here, what happens and where are we going?”  The tongues of fire episode is the first part of the answer.

But the tongues of fire is the easiest part of the answer.

I mean, who doesn’t like a religious experience?  Plenty of people thrive on experience, feelings, euphoric highs that charge our life.  We have all been witness to the power of religious experience, perhaps even experiencing something religious ourselves.  The two fastest growing segments of Christianity in the world are the two that offer an experience, a doing, with God: Pentecostalism and Catholicism.

Ok, so you’re not religious and don’t like that analogy?  Do you like sex, the experience of sex?  Or is it better to think and talk about sex as opposed to having sex?

Do you enjoy the experience of cheering for your favorite sports team, cheering for your child, experiencing joy?  If you’d rather go to Disney World than talk about it, you prefer experience because participating in something powerful makes you feel.

Thus, we understand how powerful, and preferable, great experiences are.  You don’t have to be religious to appreciate that we humans LOVE to experience FEELINGS.

It is little wonder Acts 2 and an experience of the Holy Spirit gains the traction it does.  Its powerful, it’s refreshing, it’s renewing.

Yet, the early portion of Acts 2 is not the end game.  The end game begins when the experience of the first part of this chapter takes a form of life, a form of life in Acts 2.42-47 that is a daunting reminder/request.

Acts 2.42-47 is a troublesome text that offers a vignette of life in the early church while simultaneously making the rest of us nervous at the consequences.  It reads:

42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”

There’s just something about the implication that we should fellowship, commit ourselves to the teaching of the apostles, pray, break bread and praise God that seems like too much work.  And lest we get too comfortable, let’s not forget this idea of “holding all things in common and selling our possessions” in order to provide for those who have need that makes us spiritually wriggle and physically convulse.

While this list seems odd to us, it is not uncommon for Luke to give us these summary statements about life in the early church, brief portraitures of how they organized their communal living.  He does so in several places throughout Acts, such as chapters 4, 6 and 9.

In so doing, Luke is not only telling us how the early church lived, but he is gently nudging us to go and do likewise.

The trouble with these summaries, however, is that they are often lifted out of the chapters in which they occur.  These summaries, like Paul’s lists of “dos and don’ts” that keep people out of heaven, are summarily read and rehearsed with little regard to the stories preceding and following them.

While debates about religious experience and the political ideology of Acts 2 are intriguing, I have a different question: Why does this summary occur here, in this part of the Acts 2?  What larger narrative is at work behind this summary?  And why does the Lectionary ask us to read this text at this point in the Easter Season?

The problem with reading Acts chapter 2 is that it is read as two separate texts.  We have a 2.0 and a 2.1 version: a Pentecostal experience and a purview into life in the early church.  We preach an experience OR we preach a political obligation.  Rarely do we seek the coherence of this chapter.

Simply put, Acts 2.42-47 is impossible apart from Pentecost.  This is a way of life that cannot be lived apart from the Spirit.  The episodes of this chapter are episodes but they must remain a singular chapter, parts of a larger whole.  But let’s not stop there.

Acts 2.42-47 cannot happen apart from the Resurrection in Luke!  The Resurrection of Jesus in Luke, the Ascension of Jesus in Acts 1, and the Giving of the Spirit in Acts 2 are three stages of a singular event in which Jesus is glorified and given back to creation.

If Christ be not raised, then living in the kind of community discussed in Acts 2 is laughable.  If Christ be not ascended, then there is no giving of his presence to the Church.  If there is no giving of the Spirit, there are no tongues of fire, no empowered proclamation, and no Church.

Therefore Acts 2 is part of our Easter readings.  At first blush, one would surmise we should read Acts 2 during the season of Pentecost, but if we understand this larger movement we see that Acts 2 is not describing a Pentecostal community; it is describing an Easter community empowered through Pentecost.

It is because Jesus is raised, and the end of time marked by the outpouring of the Spirit, that those who believe on Jesus are compelled to live a life in which they sell their things, hold all things in common, break bread together, worship, and commit themselves to the apostles teaching.

Easter has empowered this early group of believers to not hold so tightly to life and empowered them to grasp more tightly to one another.

In a world without Easter, we cling to our life.  In a world with Easter, we grasp our death, and through death find life.

The early church knew how to grasp their death.  They understood it to such a degree that they lived their life toward death, leaning into it.  They leaned into to such a degree that they held loosely to all that was theirs and committed themselves to one another, anticipating that the end that had started in the Resurrection of Jesus, and been confirmed in the giving of the Holy Spirit, would overtake them all soon.

The early church took Joel 2.28 seriously,

“After this I will pour out My Spirit on all humanity; then your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your old men will have dreams, and your young men will see visions.”

Here is the kicker: only people who are convinced that in Jesus’ Resurrection the end has begun can live according to Acts 2.42-47.  Only people who have received tongues of fire to proclaim the ridiculous message that Jesus is raised and that we can share in his resurrection can live as Acts suggests.

Moving one step further, people who believe this, and have experienced the outpouring of the Spirit, can do no other than live as Acts 2 suggests because they understand they are living toward death, living toward the end that is God.  People who know the end is near have no time to be consumed with grasping to a life they will lose so they lose the life they have.  The Apostle Paul insinuated something similar when he proclaims, “I am crucified with Christ.”

In the debate between paradox or dialectic, in this instance, we side with paradox.

One may believe this end will come in the clouds with Christ, or believe it comes at the time of our own death, either way, we must lean in toward the end.  This is what the early church does and why Acts 2.42-47 is odd; it’s a way of life that doesn’t grasp life.

I call this a hermeneutic of loss, a hermeneutic grounded in the death of Jesus and the loss of the world.

As such, Acts 2.42-47 really functions as more of a reminder of what matters than a dictum to be followed.  The texts job isn’t to exacerbate our failings, but to remind us that this is how people live who live toward the end: People who believe the end is now in the Resurrection, Ascension and Coming Holy Spirit of Christ.  When we forget life is found in death, we live life for life-sake and when death comes we wish we’d lived toward death, because we will regret living as if the end wouldn’t happen.

But this reading shouldn’t come a surprise.

I have never known a hermeneutic of loss, or read scripture as texts toward death, until I lost my own father nearly 12 weeks ago.  After suddenly losing him, scripture has just as suddenly become a new land.  I see in it things hidden before; I feel in it things I never knew to feel.  Eerily, parts scripture make more sense now because it too was born out of a series of traumas that led to life in/through loss.

After my father’s death, all I wanted to do was do these things in Acts 2 with him.  I wanted to sit in his Sunday School class one more time, hearing the apostles teaching.  I wanted to eat with him again, break bread.  I wanted to fellowship more, visit his house after work.  I wanted to pray for him, with him, share in the simple pleasure of hearing him pray one more time before dinner.  I wanted to be thankful more, enjoy life more, not let the trivial things of life irritate me when I was around him.

When he died, he left behind all the things he loved and enjoyed.  His family, his hobbies, his business: it is all still here.  Yet, my father lived as one who never held too tightly to these things.  He left them behind, he knew he would, so he spent his days doing as much of Acts 2 as he could.  If you knew him, you lived Acts 2 with him as well.

Acts 2 reminds us that at the end of our days, either at the appearance of Christ in the Clouds, or in the face of death when it comes for us, we will not regret anything except that we had lived more like the picture given to us in Acts 2.42-47.

My suggestion?

Discover the resurrection of Jesus.  Discover death.  Lean into it.  Find life.  Find Freedom.

Too Scared to Love: an Essay on Fear, Love & the Gaze

Emerson Fear

FEAR & GOSPEL

“Perfect Love Casts out all Fear,” so the writer of the Epistle of 1 John tells us.

In a world of so much fear, and so little love, one is left to wonder if there is indeed a perfect love that can handle the level of fear that seems to be inundating our worlds, our communities and our lives.

Fear of being nothing motivates us. Fear of losing everything makes us work harder. Fear of being ignorant makes us study. Fear of never being loved makes us pursue those filled with fear and unable to love in return with even more abandon.

Fear negotiates the world. It even negotiates our relationship to one whom we call The Christ. Were it not for fear, the fear of God, one wonders if fear could have become such a common currency.

It is used by so many, understood by so few. Fear is the Lord of the world.

Perfect love casts out fear? Really? Into what context does this even make sense…?

The Gospel’s knew something about fear.

They knew whoever controlled the mechanism of fear controlled the masses and their behavior. Yet, the Gospel attempts at multiple levels to dispel fear in some uniquely concrete ways that are lost on us when we read it as a story of details, rather than a narrative of provocation.

At multiples places in the Gospel the very thing that causes fear (principally the unknown) is resolved through a state of overcoming that which is feared.

In other words, fear is defeated by fear that is directed toward the redemption of fear.

The remainder of this redemption is no longer a love gone awry…a love that is misdirected because it is directed by fear, and therefore unloving, but a love that is so perfect that it can cast our fear.

Fear has been redeemed to become otherwise than itself through a dreadful event.

There is nothing more fearful than a dead person emerging from a borrowed tomb…yet there is nothing more redemptive than the ultimate fear of death lying lifelessly dead beside one whom the earth could not contain…The Christ simply giving it a passing glance as he slowly walks by.

This is paranormalChrist at his finest. An Example of the perfect love of God casting out the fear that threatens all of us constantly.

But the resurrection is not the only fearfully fearless redemptive act that redirects a love gone awry.

Others places in the Gospel remind us that Jesus came into the fearful situation of calming storms. These situations are unique because it speaks volumes about the Gospels mission to step directly into situations wherein fear is the arbiter of reality and denounce it as a misdirected affection. It is no coincidence that the stories do not primarily serve a purely Christological function, as much as they serve to renarrate the world we receive.

No doubt, the incarnation of God in one whom we call The Christ is a renarration par excellence, but such renarration does not occur because we have been able to precisely determine the ontological significance of the Historical Jesus. The stories don’t serve as perichoretic marking points.

The stories serve as confrontations with rulers, with archetypes, with paradigms of seeing the world that are now made new because the Christ has been his paranormal self and defied the natural order of things via God’s perfect love for the world…a love that castes out fear in every situation because what we fear most, our deaths, is now no longer something that should be feared.

Remember, Death is still lying outside the tomb lifelessly dead, its vibrancy and sting negated via the Christ and his stubborn refusal to remain subject to Hades.

This doesn’t only mean that now fear has been dealt a death blow via the death of death, though it certainly may mean at least as much. It also means that the supernatural perception of the Christ, the powers that allow him to calm fear, to suspend deaths final grasping, is not bound to his X-Men capabilities as much as it is bound to the simple things we miss about The Christ.

Fear cannot be defeated with greater fear.

Christ does not defeat fear in the world via the death of death with a greater coercive strength to make death die.

It is not with force that Christ resurrects himself nor is it with force and great chaos that Christ speaks stillness into the brooding clouds and churning seas of life that would love nothing more but to overtake our beings, who we are, and sink our dreams and potentials into the watery abyss below.

Fear is not defeated with a greater fear…that simply makes it stronger and more resistant.

What fear and death cannot resist, and what can thereby redeem love gone awry, is perfect love.

Perfect love that is characterized via The Christ as: perfect words, perfect presence, perfect patience, prefect space…a space that receives perfect love in simplicity and is filled with so much love that fear itself no longer has habitable room.

There is very literally no room at the inn where perfect love resides.

Moment of fear: The Crucifixion

Moment of love: Today you shall be with me in paradise…words spoken into immeasurable violence and death wishes thrown all around us.

Moment of fear: The perfect Storm

Moment of love: Peace be still…words of peace spoken into hearts filled with dread.

Moment of fear: My life is moving toward death

Moment of love: Death is not the final word…God actively raising Jesus and giving Jesus the gift of resurrection.

*And for a contemporary application…

Moment of fear: People all around us so filled with fear that their fear has produced a love gone awry

Moment of love: embracing the paranormalChrist and being a presence of spoken love that gives fear no safe harbor.

The Gospel is filled with saying no to fear, yet it is by fears we have been living and through fear our love has gone awry…and we have mistaken our fears for the things that we love even as the things that we love seek to be destroyed because fear does not allow us to fully love what we have been given to love.

We do not know how to love and surrender power through love.

We do not know how to receive love that is not seeking to gain something from us.

We do not know of a love that seeks the benefit and wholeness of the Other because we love through our fear of self satisfaction.

We do not know that love is not about control; it’s not about infinite demand.

We do not know that perfect love is self-kenotic…a self-kenosis that incarnates a love that is more than ourselves and creates a world so utterly foreign that it lends its audience to ask, “Can this be the Christ?”

Surely salvation/healing doesn’t look like this!

We are so fearful of losing everything or not being fulfilled or getting our way that our fears have characterized our affections and disguised themselves as pure motives when all they really do is keep us from loving and precipitate the destruction of our worlds…one nation, one community, one home, one person at a time.

Fear does not give life…it steals it…which is precisely why The Christ had to steal the greatest fear of them all.

Fear does not have the final word; It doesn’t get to write the end of the story.

Love and the Gaze

Our world is one with fear and trembling before the very numinous presence of a multitude selves unaware and it has become the catalyst for our narcissism and the infinite demands such places on those around us.

We know that fear is persistent and structurating because our world is in disrepair. A world guided by perfect love does not fall apart; its seams remain tight and colorful, keeping reality sewn neatly together…but fear unravels the seams and slowly pulls reality apart…because fear cannot understand what it cannot see…that it doesn’t really exist.

There is nothing to fear because fear is no-thing.

The nothing of fear has held love hostage…and love has gone awry…its very presence being questioned and its idea being lost.

And this takes multiple forms.

The chiefest form that is encountered by the many of us is the fear that holds us hostage to the gaze of the other…or perhaps we are the other that holds the world hostage in our own gaze.

The gaze is the view into reality wherein the subject, the person, is the all knowing, seeing, desiring eye, by which all of life is held to account.

There is nothing outside the gaze…no greater perspective than the gaze. It is penetratingly stubborn and inhospitable because it desires to see all things without adjusting its view…without discovering that it’s a gaze that is founded upon the fear of really not seeing what is there to be seen.

So long as the gaze can hold the world in its view, it sees what it wants as such desires are generated out of the fear to really see the world for more than it is. To see the world for more is to see its own self negation, to be on the road to seeing a world marked by beautiful subjectivity rather than fearful controlling of the subjects/objects that comprise the world.

So long as the all seeing eye of the gaze is lost in its specter of fear…love will remain distant because love is the impossibility of real relationality that the gaze has lost in its own sight.

The gaze becomes its own worst enemy because the very thing it is attempting to achieve, i.e., peace and happiness, is alluded its sight because it has failed to grasp that peace is not the product of seeing and demanding…holding the world in debt to its vision.

As Gerard Wajcman notes in describing a central thesis on the gaze:

“the central thesis that rules the hypermodern world- that all of the Real is visible- is itself animated by an implicit correlative thesis: If all of the real is visible, then all that is not visible is not Real.” (Lacanian Ink 38, “The Universal Eye and the Limitless World”).

It is little wonder that a world lost in the gaze of a love gone awry, one fueled by fear and disenchanted by what could be real by what is “real,” is incapable of seeing past its own fear and into a world of new creation that doesn’t just expand the gaze but negates it in its totality.

Real love, real relationality, is absent, not because fear has the final word, and thereby also death its closest partner, but because death and fear are what is visible and real…while the real moments of love that could be spoken into existence are seen as not real because they are not…they are not in the gaze.

And thus the vicious cycle recurs.

Those who want love the most…are also those whose love has gone awry because it is founded on fear and not in the simplicity of a spoken presence that reshapes the world one syllable, one touch, at a time.

Such perfect love simply does not exist in the gaze.

Peace is the result of loving past the fear, past the sense of happiness founded upon the fear of not controlling or having, past the sense that everyone around us is held hostage to the debt of the perception of the gaze.

“Perfect love Casts our fear…” the writer of the Johannine Epistle tells us.

As long as we continue to love from fear we are never really loving; we are only fearing to love.

…and as long as we fear to love because we have confused love with the needs of the gaze, we as a culture and society will continue to become dismembered, continue to spiral into despair and continue to be our own worst enemies in our quest for what all human beings want…

Love, peace and happiness as can only come from one who emerges from the tomb, stops, directs his gaze at us and confidently says, “Fear Not.”

 

Exchanging the Resurrection for the Soul

The-Resurrection-of-the-Dead_620

“I am concerned with Christ as He appears in the Gospels, taking the Gospel narrative as it stands, and there one does find some things that do not seem to be very wise. For one thing, he certainly thought that His second coming would occur in clouds of glory before the death of all the people who were living at that time. There are a great many texts that prove that. He says, for instance, “Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel till the Son of Man be come.” Then he says, “There are some standing here which shall not taste death till the Son of Man comes into His kingdom”; and there are a lot of places where it is quite clear that He believed that His second coming would happen during the lifetime of many then living. That was the belief of His earlier followers, and it was the basis of a good deal of His moral teaching. When He said, “Take no thought for the morrow,” and things of that sort, it was very largely because He thought that the second coming was going to be very soon, and that all ordinary mundane affairs did not count. I have, as a matter of fact, known some Christians who did believe that the second coming was imminent. I knew a parson who frightened his congregation terribly by telling them that the second coming was very imminent indeed, but they were much consoled when they found that he was planting trees in his garden. The early Christians did really believe it, and they did abstain from such things as planting trees in their gardens, because they did accept from Christ the belief that the second coming was imminent. In that respect, clearly He was not so wise as some other people have been, and He was certainly not superlatively wise.” Bertrand Russel, from essay Why I Am Not A Christian

 

We don’t need Betrand Russel to tell us Jesus was wrong about Eschatology.  Most Christians think the same.  Rather than become atheist like Russel, Christians just embrace the idea of everlasting soul and we never mention that early Christian kerygma contained the grizzly image of resurrection.

The Delay of the Parousia of Jesus has created an unspoken level of cognitive dissonance within the community of disciples that follow the wonder worker from Nazareth.   Jesus was never bashful about proclaiming the imminence of the coming Kingdom of God.  The Synoptics are full of Jesus’ more immediate eschatological leanings.

Examples abound but here are a few from the Synoptics.  I do not include the Gospel of John because Johannine theology is far more reflective and a different theological animal than we find in the more rudimentary synoptic tradition.

Luke 12.35 & 40 “Be dressed in readiness and keep your lamps lit…you, too, be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour that you do not expect.”

The verb “to be” here in v35 is a present, active imperative.  In v40, the verb “coming” is also a present imperative; it may be translated middle or passive.  It is clear that Jesus is speaking of a present expectation, one he strongly believes (or at least was strongly believed in by the author of Luke) by the usage of an imperative.

Matthew 24.32-34 “Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that the summer is near; so, you too, when you see all these things recognize that He is near, right at the door.  Truly I say to you this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.

Notice the imminent tone of Jesus’ speech.  Jesus is speaking future here, but doing so in an exact temporal sense that locates this future within the present of THIS generation.  The word for “pass away” is in the subjunctive mood, giving it a sense of future openness, but that is negated by the “not” that precedes it.  It is not a sense of indefinite passing away being referred to here.  It’s a very specific location of place into which this passing will NOT go: the future.  It’s presently pending.  Also note the nominative “this” referring to generation.   Keep in mind this verse starts where Jesus isolates his listeners as “you” in v4.  This “you see” refers to a present active stance Jesus is asking of his readers/hearers.

Jesus is not lost when he thinks these events are going to transpire.  He believes they will happen to the very ones with whom he is speaking.

Mark 14.61-62 “The high priest was questioning him and saying to him, “are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed one?” And Jesus said, “I Am; and you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the power and coming with the clouds in heaven.”

In this passage, Jesus makes a narratival confession of his status as Christ and links that status with the imminent coming of the end.  Jesus tells the High Priest that “you” will see this.  The “you” is part of the second person plural future of “see” and positions Jesus’ response to the plural scene in which he finds himself.  His “you” is a reference to the characters with the narrative, not outside of it. Jesus, here, seems convinced that this gross injustice that is about to be carried out upon him will be vindicated in a very physical manifestation very shortly.

These few verses, along with the scope and content of Jesus eschatological ministry, seems to also fall in line with the major consensus’ amongst the latest NT scholarship.  At bottom, Jesus was an eschatological prophet who saw his ministry as the pending coming of the Kingdom of God.  He fully expected, and anticipated, its fulfillment in and through his ministry.  This sense of urgency did not wane with the death of Jesus.  It was alive and well within the early Christian tradition.

The Apostle Paul was also convinced of the imminence of the return of The Christ, the fulfillment of what the angels told the disciples as they saw Jesus ascend into heaven in Acts 1, “why do you stand here staring up into the sky?  Don’t you know that the same Jesus that you have seen depart will return in a similar fashion?”

The Church of Acts is acting in the shadow of an imminent return and we are reminded of this at the very front of the Acts narrative.  The early church took these teachings and narratives seriously.

Paul’s imminent eschatological predilections are on full display in 1 Thessalonians where he calms the fear of fellow believers who are now facing the death of those very ones to whom Jesus might have said, “this generation will not pass away.”  Problem was…this generation was starting to pass away.  Paul writes to assuage their fears and in the process reinforces the imminent eschatological teachings that began in Jesus’ sayings.  Thessalonians is a great letter to isolate early Christian sentiment regarding the imminent return of God/the Christ because it is our earliest Christian letter (possibly as early as 38-39CE) and the church has not had the reflection of decades to fine tune its thinking.

In Paul, we do begin to see some eschatological development.

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul merges the concept of resurrection to the final idea of Kingdom of God.  Here he conflates the notion of resurrection into final parousia, a commencement that will involve the physical resurrection of the dead, and living, into an imperishable existence that can live in this coming Kingdom of God.  In Paul we see the merging of the gospel traditions of Jesus teaching, with more Pharisaical leanings that taught resurrection.  If one subscribes to the theory that Paul also wrote 2 Thessalonians this clearly shows a move in Paul away from imminence and toward delay…as there are some “conditions” that must be met that are wholly other than the conditions Jesus mentions in the Gospels.

The further we move from the very historical event of the Christ the more developed we get in regard to eschatology, or the coming of the God in Christ.  The latter pastoral epistles then become concerned with how to “do” church and “be” church and very little attention is given to the coming of Jesus.  The quicker the church can move past this unseemly historical absence, the better.

So the church stands in the wake of a grave that has been opened and a return that has not taken place.  The imminence of Jesus and Paul has not been fructified, and in the process, one major element of their eschatology has been left out of the equation in regard to “last things”: resurrection.  Jesus and Paul both taught that a resurrection would occur, a physical resurrection, restoration of creation as a part of God’s final victory over evil.  It appears Jesus had taught Mary this on at least one occasion (John 11).

We, as the present day church, have forgotten this…and we give strange looks to people like me who want to once again move this hope front and center.  You don’t believe resurrection produces weird looks and confusion?  Next time you’re at church, tell someone you believe your dead corpse will once again see life and see what they say.  Tell them that bodies matter to God and that the New Testament hope is fleshly resurrection, not a soulish flight to Jesus, and I promise they will look at you like you’re a Communist.

And because we forgotten resurrection we have fallen in love with an idea of Last Things that are absent the New Testaments core eschatological tenet: resurrection.

Why?  How do I make this connection?

Because the church had to figure out a way of getting everyone to heaven without the event that Paul and Jesus firmly believed was necessary for any idea of God’s coming Kingdom: resurrection.

They both taught it would be imminent and was pending.  Such imminence, as history continues to illustrate, was misplaced.  Yet, hope in Jesus the Christ could not be misplaced due to his resurrection and despite our own.  Thus, the church internalized the hope of Christians to be one of internal release, soulish ascent to heaven, that really doesn’t need a resurrection to be manifest.

Take a poll: Many Christians are content with knowing that when they die they will go to heaven.  Ask if they care about being resurrected, they might not even know why you ask the question.  Little wonder.  Many preachers today are peddlers of soul language and confessions.  Their entire object of ministry is the proverbial “never dying soul.”  They are not interested in the restoration of creation as the vehicle whereby the world is restored into right relationship with God via the resurrection of Ezekiel’s dry bones.

The result has become an infatuation with spirits and souls.  But how could we do otherwise?  Jesus hasn’t returned and the resurrection has not happened.  We have to believe in something.

No one, at least people of faith, like to think that their relatives have died and have remained rotting in their graves.  We do not want to believe that our hope is somehow connected to the material body that the creator gave us before we entered the world.  We want to be released from the pain and tribulation we face within our bodies.  We want to believe we can escape them…not wait to be resurrected with them.

This need to escape and find a fulfillment to the “sinner’s prayer” has produced an entire generation of people that are no longer interested in being resurrected because their soul “will fly away oh glory.” If Jesus is not going to return to take our bodies, as he promised in John 14, then we need another device whereby God can fulfill his promises of salvation and get to our “mansions”.  Thus, we negate all of Paul’s talk about resurrection and embrace his only verse that says “to be absent in the body is to be present with the Lord.”

The cognitive dissonance of an absent Jesus, and the absent event of resurrection, has created a vacuum of meaning that has been filled with the concepts of spirits and souls.  The Greeks would be mightily proud.  We no longer need resurrection to get to “heaven.”  It’s not a viable element of our eschatological categories.  We just need to believe on Jesus to ensure our soul flies to the right place.

Countless Maccabees died in vain.  They should have known better than to think God would resurrect their corpses atop Masada.

Since Christians have traded in the currency of resurrection for the currency of the soul we are more prone to embrace ideas that are anti-Christian eschatology and pro-secular spirituality.  Souls, spirits and apparitions have such a strong appeal because we have come to conclude that this vision of human eschatology (what happens after we die) is credible and it is credible because the imminent vision of Jesus and Paul has tarried too long.

One could even argue that the evacuation of resurrection space, of holy mystical space, has been left behind for that form of metaphysics we can grasp and make happen, apply.

Indeed, the absence of the coming of Jesus and the misguided imminence of Paul has created quite a problem for the church.  We have turned to many idols to forget this unseemly absence.  We have embraced ideas that allow us to get around resurrection and still have our Christian cake.

Not only have we embraced reason as the means by which we may know all things, but we have also opted for choices that require ourselves (our volition) to make it to heaven…rather than depend on a divine act whereby whatever is the “coming Kingdom of God” can only be given to us as a gift, a gift of resurrection that is absent our ability to believe ourselves to it.

And this is where we must make our eschatological stand.  Our end, the future of the world that is God, is never something we inherently carry in our bodies or that we secure via our belief.  God, the world’s future, is only given to us as a gift we could never give ourselves.

Resurrection is the ultimate gift because it is the ultimate end we can never give ourselves.

Christ Goes to the Movies: The Conjuring and Resurrection

CONJURING_ONESHEET_MAIN_FINAL_INTL

Our culture is a walking contradiction.  Drives me crazy.  We are on board with Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins, or any “professional” atheist writing today…then these same people buying the books of these methodologically inept charlatans of logic, flock to theaters to see a movie about nothing more, or less, than our fascination with the paranormal and the hunch we all have that grandma is floating around us, just over our left shoulder to be exact.

If you want to throw off mythos, just embrace Reformation theology…you don’t need to be an agnostic kool-aid drinker.  There are plenty of rationalists to choose from.

As a culture we lap up, in giant proportions, anything that can effectively deconstruct the mysterious and ambivalent, the numinous and the holy, only to find ourselves making small budget films such as The Conjuring and Paranormal Activity weekend box office smashes.

We can’t believe in the hope of a valley of dry bones, but those orbs in our pictures, you know, the ones floating around our kids in all those family photos, those are the real deal…certainly more real than any sort of kerygmatic utterance that has given birth to a faith that refuses occupation from the culture around it…even if the evangelical right has failed to grasp the memo.

We hurriedly rush to be “intellectual” and “scientific” and deny the dogmatic claims of faith…fools rush in where even angels fear to trod.  It has become in-vogue to trash faith, downplay theology, point out the idiocy of structures of belief (and I admit, much of what claims Christianity today is downright stupid).  Even complete idiots think they are smart just because they can utter the senseless words, “I don’t believe in God,”  quote Bart Ehrman, or even follow Betrand Russell down his path of Christic critique when he notes that Jesus miserably failed to have his pulse on eschatology.

Anything and everything that might tear down the metaphysical/that alongside the physical/paranormal…is embraced as if it’s the new intellectualism…yet these same people that want to evacuate faith for nothing more than a misplaced sense of coolness (or a idolatrous sense of empiricism) embrace the very platonic worlds of embodiment they wish to bankrupt when they deny the most paranormal event of them all: the resurrection of the Christ.

In other words…for a culture that is obsessed with being “historical” and “scientific” we sure are quick ditch Jesus and embrace Casper.  The resurrection is nonsense, but living forever in a soulish existence is perfectly logical.  Jesus is garbage, resurrection is nonsense and ahistorical dreaming, but I know my grandpa gave me this vision from beyond the grave!

But this is problematic because the answers of science and history (besides the fact they are both biased and limited) are not able to give us an answer to the ultimate question of thinking our own non-thinking dead self.  We are beings toward Death…Heidegger was correct.  We cannot avoid this…and being a Humean (a follower of David Hume’s thought) doesn’t change the fact that we all reckon with death even if we think it to be nothing more than an uncertain void.  Our lives are marked in relation to our deaths because only in relation to our deaths can our lives have meant anything.  The beginning is such only in relation to its ending.  Our lives are not the infinity of totality until the total has been subsumed into the infinite.

In The Conjuring, the scary movie that has recently taken the country by storm, it became apparent that the very thing that we fear as a culture is the very thing we cannot let go of: death.

We are not interested in conjuring any ideas of the Christ, faith, or resurrection, those are all nonsense but we are very interested in conjuring the paranormal outside the parameters by which the paranormal has been thought for millennia: faith, hope, God and a holy respect for mystery.   We fill our own sense of existential wrath (that our bodies will eventually die) with answers that we can live with, rather than answers that wish to unsettle that with which we live.  The resurrection, or hope in that which we cannot control, we evacuate for the more believable and apprehendable view of a soul that will outlive our bodies and exist in some sense of temporality wherein we can communicate with our loved ones or even make ourselves into family photos as perfectly round cylinders…or better yet, perhaps we’ll be able to speak to our loved ones via the Long Island Medium one day.

We spend our entire lives trying to run from death, thinking our living apart from our dying, yet the dying fascinates us more than the living…we are infatuated with what happens after we die and with the latent presence of death that surrounds us in the very idea of the disembodied spirits of others…even to the point that Christians have conjured a view that dying is in fact better than living!

What?

Tell that to the person that died.

We look at death as if it’s a celebration rather than what it really is…the cold hard fact that the Rider on the Ashen Horse…the rider named Hades and Death (and for anyone that has experienced his swiftness experiencing a death is hell…See Revelation 6.7-8) is still very much at work and has not yet been fully defeated by the One on the White Horse.  The First Fruits of a Resurrected Christ have not yet produced subsequent harvests as Jesus, Paul and the Apostles all presumed were imminently pending.

Death Sucks…

and romanticizing it in some weird form of Christian Gnosticism or discounting Christian ideas such as the paranormal reality of resurrection only to embrace ghosts and goblins (as does The Conjuring) instead is utterly ridiculous.   Makes no sense.

Christians are so scared of dying they make up heaven and their favorite biblical chapter is the aliteral Revelation 21…and the anti-Christians are so scared of dying they embrace “spirituality” or spiritual things such as The Conjuring and in the process continue to live forever thanks to the Greeks…oh the stories we will tell ourselves about ourselves to make our aimless lives less pathetic.

In The Conjuring, death is everywhere and it becomes incarnated via some very stark images. r-THE-CONJURING-large570

Death resides as a dark presence behind the family that occupies the haunted house.  The family is oblivious to its presence but the seer can see it.  Death is hanging by the neck right above the head of an unbeknownst character…its feet dangling overheard as we feel the breeze of its toes brush past our neck.  Death lives behind the door in that dark place we cannot see…climbing its ways onto our beds…tugging at us, pulling us, pressing upon us…and its stench reminds us that this idea we have of death is not as surreal as we first imagined.  Death is guiding our families up stair wells and stair cases…causing us to beat our proverbial heads into those spaces where we think can save ourselves from its evil nothingness.

Death is present.  It is absent.  It is unruly.  It is random.  It is filthy.  It is unkept.  It is chaotic.  And for now, it is final.

Death is the residue of creation that demands some reckoning with its absent presence.  This is why scary movies work.  It’s not the scenes on the screen that bother us…it’s that the scenes on the screen will not stay on the screen and will make their creepy way into our lives, jeopardizing our living.  That’s why we jump when things go bump in the night after watching great possession movies like The Conjuring.  The Conjuring doesn’t bother us…it’s that we too might be conjured and thereby be dead.

Yet, reckoning with death’s residue is exactly what binds Christians and those who think Christ is ridiculous…

And that followers of Jesus have evacuated resurrection and embraced The Conjuring of our Souls via The Conjuring Christ…the ultimate seer…is equally ridiculous and maybe even borderline heretical.

Let me explain.

Most people in America believe in the concept of a soul.  Most people believe that this soul leaves the body and goes somewhere after death.  Christians somehow embrace the Pauline idea that “to be absent in the body is to be present with the Lord”…and also is to be present with me in my house when I feel that sudden waft of cold air that is obviously my dead god-fearing grandmother.

Many people believe there are spirits, evil and good, warring against us, and each other, on a daily basis.  Christians and anti-Christ’s both use the language that the deceased person is in a better place.  Many Christians believe in a literal devil that literally got himself and a 1/3 of all the angels kicked out of heaven (for you KJV readers who think this, you’ll need an Apocrypha to find this story)…and that on their way to hell they have been given free pass to exit and enter hell as they enter and exit weak people whom they might possess.  These evil spirits are what possess us and the historically innocent victims of the movie.  When Christians see The Conjuring…they absolutely think this entire episode could be likely, at least on a minor scale.  And many more conservative Christians would never even watch this movie for fear that they might have exposure to those said evil spirits and bring them to their homes.

Many non-Christians, like the ones on those TLC shows that hunt ghosts, for some weird reason invoke Christian rites when dealing with evil spirits.  People who claim no faith, even the protoganist demonologists in the movie, The Conjuring, don’t show a particular commitment to Christianity, though they use Christian symbols and rites in their anti-conjuring efforts.   The very faith that many people think improbable is at least probably effective on the more probable reality of spirits in our midst…yet those rites are given their efficacy on the very event they deny as improbable: the resurrection of Jesus whom we call the Christ.  Can someone explain this to me?

In other words, there are some very generally accepted ideas about death, what it is, what it means, who survives it, where they go, what they do, and how all this relates to infinitely evil and good spirits that many believe are part of the primordial beginnings of creation.  All this typically surrounds conversation of our “spirit” or “soul” and very little can be delineated by way of difference on these ideas whether one is speaking to a Christian layperson or an anti-Christian post-modern American.

So the non-faithful are embracing the rites of faith, efficacious only on the ridiculous ideas of Jesus and his resurrection, which they don’t believe in…AND the idea of death shared by pro and anti-Christ people is virtually synonymous at a cultural level.

We are seriously confused.

If Christian ideas of beginning and middle are so very different from the narrative of secularity and culture…then why do we as Christians share so closely the view of endings we find to be common currency by those who could care less about Christ?  If beginnings and endings matter…and the beginning of Hawking, et al, is so very dissimilar to the beginnings we found on the Holy, then why are our ideas of ending virtually similar in how we construct them?

If our theology and faith matter, and it matters because of the answers and practices it imposes upon us that choose to follow The Way, then our theology should lead us to a different pronouncement than that shared by The Conjuring…and a culture that seems to have little trouble embracing the pagan idea of a soul but can easily laugh at the idea of resurrection.

There’s a reason that the paranormal is romanticized and fantasized in the form of spirits/souls…and why Zombies are killed.

Dead people don’t come back in the flesh…this is unacceptable and would constitute an Apocalypse (I think biblical authors could agree here).  There is nothing Christian about believing with everyone else that manifestations of The Conjuring and its subsequent manifestations of soulish flights to heaven (or hell) are “what happens” or “could happen” after we die.  Even the Greeks believe this.  What is Christian is not providing ontic purchase to those things that call themselves real while denying reality to the event by which all reality must stand in measure: the resurrection of one they call the Christ.

jesus-resurrection

Thinking our death is one of the most difficult things to honestly do…thinking our non-existence.

Death is not just a residue, or remainder, of all those who have been born and died so that we too might also be born and die, but from a Christian theological perspective death is a theological residue of the resurrection.  Jesus, as the resurrected one, leaves behind a millennia of tombs that are still coated with the presence of death.  The tombs have not given up their dead…the residue simply thickens as history progresses.

Existentially, this bothers us…death bothers us.  It is such a bother that even those that want to completely throw off the paranormality of metaphysics are left embracing some bizarre form of metaphysics in order to feel good about what happens when they are done living their hedonistic lives…and Christians do the same, only in obverse.  Christians embrace a bizarre metaphysics of existence as a reward for physical deprecation.  In the end, they both hope in the same thing…the same status and form of existence…and the Christian just makes themselves feel better because at least their soul makes its way beside Lazarus.  As my former professor of Church history would never tire of telling us, form and content people, form and content…two sides of the same coin.

But maybe there is a third way.

We do not need a Conjuring Christ to call forth our platonic souls from their evil material cages when we die.  We do not need a Christ to Conjure us with his magic and all of a sudden make known what is only now perceived via our ability to reason and the fountain of our vision.

No!  To believe that Christ is a conjurer of dead people is to believe he is nothing more than some sort of spiritual witch, an extension of God’s self that does things that he tells others in the biblical narrative to flee…like pursuing seers and diviners.  Jesus is not a conjurer and God is not the collective holder of Plotinus’ basket of souls that are at home in the being of God waiting to be dropped into this miserable thing we call “flesh” (shout out to my Southern Baptists if you will).

What we need is to divest ourselves from these fallacies and have a theology and faith that is consistent from beginning to end.  We need to affirm an ending that is marked by its beginning and vice versa.  We need to be unique in our idea of hope, not only in regard to things such as soteriology, Christology, etc., but also extend that uniquely Christian flavor to our ideas of eschatology, the consummation of history…extend our uniqueness to our idea of death.

D. Stephen Long, in his book The Goodness of God, notes that a good life is marked by an equally good death and that we as a culture, specifically as a church, have forgotten how to die good deaths.

I have pondered this idea for many years now and what it might mean.  Perhaps, part of dying a good death is not placing our hope in something we have always been taught and presume it to be biblical…but maybe a good death begins when we are aware that our beginning and ending all end up in the same place: in the empty tomb of Christ that marks our birth and resurrection into the infinity of divine mystery.

The Conjuring Christ is not the one that sits by our death beds and gives us the options to haunt our relatives, or take flight to heavenly bliss…a good death is not marked by the certainty of the soul conjurer we call Jesus.

A good death is relegating our very existence into the grace that we cannot understand and into that mystery we call God…and our hope is that in that space is one/One who is/was Resurrected.

 

Sermon Pentecost 2013: Fire From the Tomb

Pentecost

This is a sermon I preached this past Sunday in my local Church of the Nazarene setting.  My tradition has a precarious and intimate relationship to this text, especially as it concerns ideas of the holy spirit, holiness and Christian experience.  As I began to look more carefully exegetically at this passage, particularly within its Luke-Acts literary corpus, I began to see and pick up on some motifs that I believe my tradition and many evangelical traditions are sadly overlooking…and that is: the Pentecostal descending of the Holy Spirit on the early Church is not a prescriptive event that serves to edify the walk of an individual believer.  Pentecost occurs, rather, in order that those witnesses that heretofore were unable to witness to the Resurrection of Jesus might now be able to do so.  Pentecost is not a “movement” or a “stage” that Christians traverse as they become more “holy,”…Instead it seems that Luke-Acts insists this happens so that those already sanctified in their following of Christ might now be able to proclaim the nonsense of a dead carpenter…who is now not so dead…is the Messiah of God.  Further, not only does Luke-Acts make this argument, it further goes on to nuance how this events is interpreted as a “last days” event within the prophetic text of Joel and therein reinterprets how we today MUST also rethink our idea of “last days,’…but you’re gonna have to read the sermon if you want to see how this works out.

As an aside, the first several paragraphs are a rehearsal of the Christian calendar as we have only recently started being very intentional about the Christian seasons in my ministry context.  I felt that since Pentecost is the climax of Easter celebration and beginning of ordinary time, or what I like to call life as usual, that this rehearsal was in order to help the congregation re-member where we have been.  Should you not need the reminder of the seasons please move to the paragraph that begins discussing Pentecost.

So…with this said, I hope this sermon on Pentecost is helpful as you continue in your pursuits to narrate your life around this resurrected one we call Jesus the Christ.

Title: “Fire from the Tomb”

Text: Acts 2.1-21

Theme: Pentecost as Fulfillment of Easter

Topic: Easter Resurrects the Christ, Pentecost ushers the Church into the Power of Resurrection Proclamation

                We have been busy following the journey of Christ this year, following the calendar that marks events in the life of Jesus and dares us to participate in those events.  It has been a journey that is now about to both end, and begin.  This day is marked by colors of red, faint sounds of whirlwinds and descriptions of fiery tongues that descend upon those who are witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus.   The journey of Jesus the Christ has brought us to this peculiarly strange place this Sunday known as Pentecost.  It has taken us a while to get here.

We started in that season of Great expectation, a season of awaiting the coming Messiah and his birth.  It was a season in which we anticipated not only the birth of Christ, but also the return of the living Christ again with great heavenly choruses’ to announce his entrance on the white horse, just as they announced his birth in Bethlehem.  It was the season of Advent.

From advent, we moved to Christmas…a 12 day period that began with Christmas day.  This is a 2 week long season in which we concentrate on the arrival of the Christ.  This season is then closely followed by what we call Epiphany.  The Season of Epiphany is that time when we cease simply knowing that Christ has been born amongst us, and we actually realize who he is and we trek to see him, offering gifts of adoration and praise just as the Wise-men demonstrate to us what it looks like to be those who have had the ultimate “aha” moment.

After these seasons of expectation, rejoicing and realization…we enter into a place that begins on Ash Wednesday…we journeyed with Christ into the desert during a time we call Lent.  During lent we wandered the desert with Christ, we faced our own mortality, we became aware of the ministry of Jesus that at times perhaps made him long for those lonely desert moments in Luke 4 over the trials and obstinacy of people who did not believe his message.  When Jesus left the desert he went and preached his first sermon in his hometown…and if you will remember, it was not warmly received.  We have followed Christ through those Lenten places that led him to that most precarious of all weeks in his life…the Week we now call Holy week.

We followed Jesus down the Hill of Mt Olives from the Garden of Gethsemane and ushered him into the city of Jerusalem in order to celebrate the Passover feast.  We went with him to the temple, we heard him exchange with beggars, we were there when he broke bread and gave us wine…and our hearts were broken and confused when Jesus was arrested, tried and crucified during this week.  The events that we now call Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday were events we wished hadn’t occurred, yet we find ourselves on this journey with Christ so we walk where he walks, even if we learn things about ourselves along the journey that we don’t particularly like.

But then, the journey takes us unexpectedly to a place known as Easter…Easter morning we arise still grieving the death of Jesus only to be awakened by women screaming at the top of their lungs that Jesus’ tomb is empty, that Christ is not there, that something strange has happened.  We stand shocked, worried, strangely happy…as we then entered Eastertide.  Eastertide was a 49 day period in which we focused on the reality of the Risen Christ, what that risenness is, what it looks likes, what it means…and we were there with Jesus when he appeared to us in the Gospel of John, when he made us breakfast on the seashore, when he appeared to the 500 and when he came and walked amongst us as we were leaving Jerusalem talking amongst ourselves about the strange things that have overtaken the city…the event of Easter has changed everything…but the journey is not over just yet.

We then remembered Jesus as he had a final farewell moment with his disciples.  We were there when we walked with us after his resurrection, longing for the continual presence of the resurrected Jesus…yet he was giving us his final last words.  He spoke to us, then he Ascended from our midst…he left us…standing there as we gazed intently into the sky.  But what might Christ have meant in Acts chapter 1 when he said, “you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem…and to the remotest part of the earth.”  This journey is not over…

The story of Jesus has not yet finished and we have not yet fully received what Jesus told us we will receive.  As we were walking along the road with him conversing on way to a place called Emmaus, Jesus who we now call the Christ because of his resurrection, gave us a hint of this day we would soon experience.  He was leading us to the place known as Pentecost with these words,

“Thus it is written  that he Messiah should suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  You are witnesses to these things.  And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24.45-49)

But this is something we should have been expecting along this journey, for much earlier than these words of the resurrected Jesus, Luke tells us of the words of John the Baptist in Luke chapter 3, “As for me, I baptize you with water, but One is coming who is mightier than I and I am not even fit to untie his sandals; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”  Back in Luke chapter 3 the prophetic words of John the Baptist didnt’t make much sense…but now, as we are further along on this journey with Christ Luke is bringing his Gospel message full circle.  What Luke began in his Gospel he is bringing to completion in his telling of this story in Acts chapter 2…this story we call Pentecost…the place that the journey of Jesus has now brought us to.

But what is Pentecost?  Why has the journey brought us here and where do we go from here?  If we follow the life of Jesus this event marks its end.  After today, we enter to a place that we call Ordinary time.  It is a time where nothing special happens in the life of Christ: no hark the herald angels sings, no wisemen, no miracles, no resurrection, and no more Pentecost’s…what does this mean for us that our journey has ended here, today, in this way, with this story…yet this ending is also a new beginning of sorts.

If we follow the text closely and if we pay attention to what Luke is doing in his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, 2 works that are separated in our bibles but were composed wholes by Luke originally, we find that despite the fact that we celebrate the big three events in the life of Jesus separately.  Despite the fact that we celebrate Easter, then Ascension, then Pentecost…and we do so with a 50 day period in between them…despite all this Pentecost and the falling of the Holy Spirit on the disciples is not a singular event.  These are not a series of events that are to be understood separately…rather they are all three events that function together in order proclaim one singular message and that is the Resurrection of Jesus.  The Resurrection is the catalyst that gives birth to the Ascension and Events of Pentecost.  It is a singular event marked by three distinct moments in the life of Jesus.  What this means is that to try to understand Pentecost apart from Easter is misleading and to understand Easter without an empowering Spirit would be an empty proclamation.  But this needs to be understood because often we separate these events to such a degree that days like Pentecost become removed from their Easter context and Pentecost becomes a time about my experience with God rather than my experience for God.  In other words, Pentecost is not an event that happens so that the disciples can have a great personal spiritual experience.  Are you listening?  If we pay attention to Luke and his Gospel and his Book of Acts, the event of the Pentecostal empowering of the disciples is not about their own personal spirituality, conscience or assurance that they are right with God.   It is, however,  part of the journey that makes Easter proclamation possible.

I know this is how this event is taught and preached…we are encouraged to have a Pentecostal experience, to speak in tongues, to be ecstatic and that this is what defines the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.  Some of us may even remember with fondness that Nazarenes were often referred to as “noise-a-renes” since our tradition has been so influenced by Pentecostal fervor and forms of worship.  This chapter is used by all manner of folks to describe the type of experience we ought to have with God…all the while this event only happens here and nowhere else…it doesn’t even happen exactly like this again in the Book of Acts or in Paul…or any other book that might be in the Bible.

Our tradition has unfortunately linked this event to something we like to call sanctification.  We have taken Acts 2 as a paradigm or a model for what it means to be sanctified by God, set apart for his purpose and granted the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit…only us evangelical Baptist and Nazarene types like to leave out the speaking in tongues part that is strangely described as tongues of fire floating upon the disciples and filling up their very beings.  All the while, this passage says nothing of sanctification…the language that we find in other places of the NT to talk about sanctification is not in this passage even though we like to imagine that it is.   Not only does this passage not say anything about sanctification but it also says nothing about our personal spirituality as the goal of this event…the event that is described for many of us through the great hymn, “How the Fire Fell.”

Traditionally, all of these events: Resurrection, Ascension, and Pentecost, were are all closely celebrated together because they are all movements of one unified narrative, one unified story that is not complete one without the other.  By separating them on the calendar, which is understandable since we can’t celebrate everything the same day or the same week, we have unfortunately lost what Luke is doing with the this text and what Acts is doing by positioning this story in Chapter 2.  Pentecost is not about giving us a new sort of experience with God and it’s not even about just empowering us in our own personal spiritual lives.  Pentecost is about Easter because Pentecostal power happens in order for Easter proclamation to take place.  Pentecost does not offer us a model of Christian experience that should be prayed for and replicated by others…if offers us the story of why the Spirit came, how it came and what it came for!  Pentecost came to fulfill the words of Jesus, “It is written that Christ should suffer and rise again from the dead the third day and that repentance for forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all the nations…YOU ARE MY WITNESSES.”  We are witnesses of what??  We are resurrection witnesses!  Pentecost happens and the spirit falls upon those that are still left under the shadow of the clouds of the Ascension so that those that saw these things, those that have been witnesses will be able to proclaim the resurrection!

Pentecost is exists so that Resurrection proclamation can occur!  In the Gospels, we do not see mass spreading of the stories of Jesus after his resurrection.  The community of faith keeps this reality to itself.  It sounds crazy, it can’t be, its impossible, the Jewish and Roman authorities are already suspect of those that used to follow this dead carpenter from Nazareth.  The resurrection gospel of Jesus Christ that now he has been raised and so too will your dead body be raised from its dead state and the wages of sin that Kill us all have now been broken is not being shared after the resurrection of Jesus in the Gospels!  Why?  Because they do not have the power, the unction, or the witnessing ability to do so.  They are stuck in fear, amazement, thankfulness, but lost about what to do now that the proof that Jesus is not dead has just ascended into the clouds.  Now who’s going to believe them?

Pentecost is the event that sets this faith in motion and empowers the disciples to take the Gospel to places it would have otherwise not reached.  Pentecost is an extension of Easter in that it is the event that enables the Easter proclamation to go forth into creation.  Its not about a new experience for me or you or the disciples, its about empowering our ability to proclaim what we have already experiencing by rushing into the tomb and finding it hollow and empty…the body of Jesus the Christ no longer there.  That’s why tongues of fire fall on us…so that we can proclaim nonsense with boldness!

If Pentecost is the power of God to proclaim the events of Easter to creation, then Pentecost is also marks the end of the world, the end times, the last days.  I know this is not a popular conception of what the last days is all about but if Pentecost is about proclaiming the resurrection of Christ…then it is about proclaiming this resurrection because the ends times is upon us..and there is nothing more ends times and eerie than the resurrection of Jesus.   That’s not normal and we need to quit making it normal.

Jesus came proclaiming that the KOG was about to break upon creation.  He came, along with John the Baptist, forgiving sins and telling people that his work was an extension of Gods signs that the end of the time and the renewal of creation were imminent.  Then, in a shocking turn of events Jesus is crucified and killed…yet something apocalyptic happens…Jesus is raised!  This was a common Jewish conception of the time that the last days would be marked by the resurrection of the dead and the church dared to proclaim that the last days had finally begun to occur in the very resurrection of Jesus, or what the Apostle Paul liked to proclaim as the “first fruits of the dead…” Jesus’ body being the first harvest of the pending collection of bodies that will be renewed…along with creation by God.  SO by virtue of Pentecostal tongues of fire falling on the disciples so that they might be witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus, Pentecost must then be interpreted by us as something that occurred in the last days…and so long as we continue to have faith in Jesus Christ we must believe and proclaim that we are living as an extension of those last days that began with the events of Resurrection, Ascension and Pentecost.

But our text goes further to argue that the message of Jesus is a message for the last days…the last days being those that exist from the Ascension of Jesus until his pending return…After the tongues of fire fall on the disciples and a scene that is reminiscent of a theophany in the Old Testament: A scene characterized by wind, noise and fire…the kinds of elements that God likes to use when his Spirit shows up on the scence…we see that Peter even changes the text of the Prophet Joel to interpret this event as an end times event.   That’s right, Peter in his sermon doesn’t just quote Joel, he changes the text to interpret this event as the event that Joel was talking about…so let’s see interesting twist.

The crowd hears the commotion of the men who have been baptized by fire as John the Baptist warned and as Jesus instructed them to wait for.  The disciples have obviously come out of the room or the place in which they were waiting and they are proclaiming this resurrection reality of Jesus to Jews from all the known nations.  Typical of folks who don’t understand those filled with the Holy Spirit, and also typical of the way many Christians act, the crowd thinks that these men are drunk…even though it is only 9am.  In a shocking turn of events, Peter gets up and proclaims the Prophet Joel to explain to the crowd what is occurring.  Peter declares in Pentecostal power,

“This is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: And it shall be in the last days, that I will pour out my spirit upon all mankind.  And your sons and your daughters shall prophesy and your young men shall see visions and you old men shall dream dreams.  Even upon my slaves, both men and women I will in those days pour out my spirit and they shall prophesy.  And I will grant wonders in the sky above and signs on the earth beneath, blood and fire and vapor of smoke.  The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon into blood before the great and glorious day of the Lord and everyone that calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Interestingly, Luke tells us that Peter has changed Joel in order to interpret these events as applicable to Jesus…this outpouring of God’s Spirit for Easter Proclamation is a mark of these last days…which means that the new creation has in some way begun in the fact that Jesus Body was made new and resurrected…the order of nature has been reversed and creation has begun to see newness and revival from the clutches of death!  In Joel, the passage does not start out “In the last days, it starts out… “And it will come about after this…”

What is the “after this” in Joel?  Well, if you go and read Joel 2 it’s a lot of destruction and judgment…only after all that will the last days enter…yet in Acts we see Luke interpreting Joel differently and the events of the Resurrection and Pentecostal proclamation are not something that are preceded or followed by destruction.  In fact, if you read Luke-Acts the opposite is the case…what lies ahead is not dreadful news of destruction but the good-news of forgiveness and repentance because Jesus has brought the end of time into our present through his resurrection and thereby extended forgiveness in which we too may also participate in this new creation!  (repeat) Now this is good news!  This is Gospel!  As one writer aptly stated it,

“In the context of Joel, this passage meant the salvation of Israel and the destruction of those nations that had oppressed it.  The surprise of Pentecost is that the eschatological last days do not bring destruction , but rather bring mission and redemption for the world!”

In Pentecost Jesus is coming good on his promise to empower them with speech that will allow them to be his witnesses and that when this event occurs it will simply be an extension of the last days that was already begun when God decided to resurrect Jesus from the place from which no one has ever returned before or since.  It is only the paranormal strange event of resurrection and the powerful falling of the Holy Spirit on silent disciples that can galvanize such bold and ridiculous proclamation to the world.  It is only by this power that Peter could get up and proclaim as he does to the crowd in Acts 2 this powerful prophetic utterance of Joel…because the last time we heard Peter speak in Luke-Acts he was busy denying Jesus to a servant girl!  Yes, I know Peter is the one that took the initiative to choose another disciple in Acts 1, but let’s not think for a minute that his urging of this is not to distract from his own failings of denying Jesus.  Only in comparison to Judas does Peter look good, and it is only the power of the Pentecostal spirit that can empower such a man to even think of proclaiming something he so easily dismissed just a few chapters back.

If Peter can experience Pentecost and tongues of fire that force him to speak that which he otherwise couldn’t  then I have goodnews for all of us!  Easter is not over…Easter is living!  Christ is risen and on this day we celebrate when the Spirit came to give us the ability to witness to the Christ event that has initiated those things we call the last days…that the last days actually take place in what most of us call ordinary time, ordinary life, life as usual!

So go and be witnesses!…leave this place with the same power of those tongues of fire…If Peter’s prophetic imagination can be reawakened…so can all of our denying of Jesus on this day be turned into a powerful witness of resurrection.  At Easter Jesus was resurrected from his tomb.  On Pentecost, we are , the Church is, resurrected from our/its tomb(s) with the power of Christ!

Go and witness to this power!   May the Spirit of Pentecostal Resurrection be with you all.  And all God’s people said, “Amen.”

 

 

 

 

Easter Hope is Paranormal Hope that our Bodies Matter

drybones

ParanormalChrist’s genesis is the very ambiguous event that we call the Resurrection of Jesus.  It is this singular event that has shaped the contours of faith, belief, hope and dared to challenge the norms of creation by declaring that the impossible has happened and it has happened definitively in Jesus.  And this impossible event, this aporia, this enigma, this non-analogous happening is the very event that generates hope in people of faith.  Yet, this event has been too domesticated and beaten down to mean much of anything anymore. It is a routine point of dogma, something people believe in without any substance to that belief.  It has become nothing more than the evidence to support our faith that Jesus is God’s Christ, while the concept itself has shifted to the wayside and been relieved of its heavy theological weight.  Yet, we should not let Resurrection off the hook so Gnostically…I mean easily.

During this Eastertide, however, we should note that resurrection in the New Testament and in early Christian faith is not simply a “proof” of Jesus’ identity.  It’s not simply the means whereby death is defeated, and therefore, our souls may one day take flight to Christ.  The Resurrection of Jesus is not something that confirms our Trinitarian belief, somehow affirming the metaphysical connections between Father and Son as eternally related beings.  In other words, there is so much more to the paranormal theology of Christianity and resurrection than is common amongst popular preaching and it all begins in this part of the Christian year in which we now find ourselves: Eastertide.

The notation of this season as Eastertide is fitting.  Eastertide, or the period that exists between the Resurrection of Jesus and Pentecost, is appropriately called such because it carries with it the connotation that what has happened ambiguously in the tomb (and it must be ambiguous since no one was inside the tomb to witness the mechanizations of resurrection or how it happens) has created a tide of new creation that sweeps across the hills of the world with the tomb of Christ as its epicenter.  As the Christ event emerges from the tomb, creation is peeled back.  Its earth is moved.  In a moment similar to the movie Inception, when the city is folded in over itself and a new reality is created amongst images that intercept our conceptions of what can be, and what is normal, the resurrection of Jesus inverts the walls of the tomb and creates a space that has never been seen by anyone but those who dare to rush into the tomb and participate in the Inception of the Christ.  The Christ delves into the consciousness of creation, into its deepest darkest spaces.  He takes up habitation in the recesses of the being of creation, the mind of the earth, and emerges to start a new tidal wave of paranormality that sweeps across the landscape leaving nothing untouched as it moves across the lie that is our perception of reality.

This Eastertide cannot be stopped.

It cannot be repelled or stuffed back into the recesses of the tomb; it is a theological tsunami that covers creation…the after affects of which forces everyone to participate in this new creation.  Even those that deny the Eastertide has arrived are still helpless amongst the waves of resurrection that surround their being and often extend newness to them in ways they could never acknowledge.  Eastertides efficaciousness is not predicated on our reception of it.  The Christ has emerged, the new creation has been pushed up from out of the ground in tectonic fashion, and all of creation benefits from this sovereign Eastertide that wraps us into its swells.  Eastertide is not a choice we make; it is the new creation begun in the paranormal event of Resurrection that is the new condition of the world.  Eastertide is grace, not a choice…the grace of a new impossible existence that is now a permanent part of creation…compliments the Inception of Christ.

Thus, Eastertide is the remainder of the Resurrection of Christ, the indelible imprint on creation of an ambiguous event that begun and continues via the imprint of the body of Christ that was rustled from its lifeless state against the cold stones of the familiarity of our lives and our boring dogmatized world.

But we fail to see this over-arching quality of resurrection because we have drained it of its significance and its theological depth.  We have turned it into a “historical” event but have given up on its “historic” meaning.  Preachers climb into their pulpits across this nation and testify that the Resurrection is the most “historical” event in history…having more “proof” than any other event in history, etc., etc.

These proclamations miss the point.

When resurrection is reduced to such, rather than seen in its grand theological and cosmological perspective…it is worthless.  It is just a thing in the past that verifies our present faith…not something that conditions are present faith and uniquely qualifies Christian hope as it did for so many Christians who first believed in its reality.  When resurrection is just FAMILIAR dogma it becomes empty because it is just an event that makes my present faith possible, it affirms what I think, feel and believe…it is not something that ambiguously sets the parameters of faith as such.  Even worse, we lose the very thing that makes the flavor of our faith Christian.  And there is nothing more uniquely Christian than Resurrection.

Resurrection is the intrusion of the paranormal into creation creating a New Jerusalem whereby hope is redefined and Christian eschatology more uniquely defined.

Resurrection is a game changer.  It is THE event that shapes Christian thought and praxis, and not because it confirms the identity of Jesus or confirms the ability of your soul to go live with Christ.  It is a game changer because it is God’s statement that our bodies matter because the Body of Jesus mattered!  That God was so passionate about creation and our bodies that God raised up the Christ in bodily form (not to mention the idea of incarnation is also a very body heavy concept) is the declaration that God is just as much interested in our material world and our material redemption as God is our spiritual redemption.  Eastertide is the renewal of material creation…not a flow of water beneath the surface that makes unseen spiritual changes!   And if we take the idea of resurrection seriously, it may even be the case that God is more interested in the material than the spiritual…as even the Christ makes subsequent appearances post-Resurrection in material form.  That God raises Christ means that whatever it means to have life in Christ and hope in the God…is to mean that in some way our physicality is redeemed and not hostage to the typical cycles of death.  God could have given Christ a soulish resurrection, but such would not have created the alterity necessary to change the structure of creation to such a degree that redemption could be redefined and the ultimate telos of creation redirected!

You will hear some commentators call the risen Christ’s body a “spiritual” body or a body that was “special” but this is NOWHERE IN THE TEXT!  Even one of my favorite theologians Paul Tillich makes this mistake on philosophical grounds.  We may not like the idea of a physical resurrection or think it is a rudimentary belief of ancient peoples, but that does not change the hard core positioning of this belief in the early Christian community and the power it wielded in shaping eschatology.

The very clear connotation of the Gospels is not that Jesus was a new spiritual substance, but that Jesus’ physical body was resurrected and seen and touched by people who knew what his physical body looked like!  To interpret these post-Resurrection scenes as mystical Christs’…or Casper Jesus such as we see in John 20…is absurd and not part of the plain meaning of the text.  It is our way to reduce the reality of the resurrection…to not face the fact that the Resurrection is paranormal.  It cannot be assimilated into our ideas of what is acceptable.  If God was interested in being normal and doing things the normal way…he would not have chosen to raise dead people nor produced a bunch of idiot believers that would believe in this absurdity.  This is not normal; this is paranormal.

The story of Easter is paranormal.  It cannot be domesticated.  It cannot be reduced to spiritual meanings because it is a very physical intrusion.  It is paranormal hope in the Rising Dead!

But what is this paranormal hope?  What hope does Eastertide bring that begins in the tomb and puts an exclamation point on the importance of our physical bodies to God in Christ? (this should not be new either folks, in Genesis Jacob’s body matters as the people of God take what’s left of his body to Canaan from out of Egypt where he died.  See Genesis 50…and also Ezekiel seems to think our bodies matter.  See chapter 37)  God has been interested in resurrecting and preserving bodies as a part of new creation throughout the entire story of scripture…and the hope of Resurrection that is found in the Resurrection of Jesus is our Resurrection.  That’s it.  That’s the revolutionary hope.  Don’t seem so disappointed…let me explain.

Our hope is NOT eternal life.  Our hope is NOT an afterlife.  Our hope is NOT that our SOUL goes to heaven when we die.  This is NOT our hope…and I would argue that this is not even scriptural.  This is pagan; this is Gnostic; this is Greek; this is NOT a Christian perspective and it is not grounded on solid NT Theology or biblical studies.  Our HOPE IS, however, Resurrection.

The early followers of Jesus did not follow Jesus because he was the first guy to come along preaching an afterlife in God.  Afterlife was not a new concept and Christians did not own the block on this idea.  It is at least as old as Egyptian civilization and we have evidence it is probably older than that.  Jesus did not just come along and give his version of how to live life because his version of after life was better.

The thing that is unique about Christ is that at the END OF HIS LIFE, his life was taken back up by God in the form of Resurrection.  Resurrection is the NEW IDEA.  It is the hope that has captivated the people of God from the time of the Maccabees to the time of Christ.  Part of God renewing creation is the literal renewing of creation!  Go figure!  And part of that renewal is as the Apostle Paul stated…Christ is the FIRST FRUITS of the new creation, the new harvest…of the resurrection of the dead.  And because Christ is the first-fruits, we can anticipate their being a second fruits harvest.  That harvest IS the HOPE of all Christians.

Early followers of Jesus did not follow him because they thought they would live forever with God.  Plenty of philosophies and religions already taught that stuff.  What gave the Christ event its unique quality and impetus was that the follower of Jesus had hope that they too would be part of the new creation that was started in God raising Christ and would continue in their own resurrection…their own BODILY resurrection.   Why else would Paul be so adamant about the supreme importance of Resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15?!?  He writes (NASB version)

“Now if Christ is preached that he has been raised from the dead, how do some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?  But if there is no resurrection of the dead, NOT EVEN CHRIST HAS BEEN RAISED!, and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is also in VAIN.  Moreover, we are even found to be false witnesses of God because we testified against God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised.  For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ is raised and if Christ is not raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.  THEN THOSE WHO HAVE FALLEN ASLEEP IN CHRIST HAVE PERISHED!…but now Christ has been raised from the dead, the FIRST FRUITS of those are asleep

Paul is directly relating the resurrection of Jesus to a resurrection of the dead and arguing that they are co-dependent!  One implies the other.  The Christian hope is not that we live with God after we die in the form of some weird thing we call a soul that is non-identifiable or non-localizable.  If we are counting on our souls to be with Christ we are of most folks to be pitied because our hope is not in the perpetual life of our soul.  Nice try Plotinus, but I don’t think so.  This is Greek pagan Gnostic religions and this is NOT Christian and I loathe that is has become a part of Christian belief in the present…and not only that but to the detriment of a robust Easter resurrection faith.

Our hope is, rather, that if we have life after death after death (and I mean the double negation there)…it is because God CHOOSES to raise us up as God also raised up the Christ!  Our lives and our existence in God after this life is not the result of a paranormal nature we all possess that ensure we exist either here or there after we take our last breath.  Rather, as Christians, our only HOPE and the very unique hope that made Christianity a different kind of faith was that people had the audacity to believe that God raised up the physical Body of Jesus as a sign of his victory over creation and set the parameters of Gods restorative goals…and so too God will raise up those who trust in Christ even though we perish within the confines of History.

This is the scandal of Christianity folks…that people actually believe they will be bodily raised as a part of God’s redemptive plan for the world.   If we are to live after we breathe our last…Easter faith teaches us, the Gospels teach us…that it will be because God resurrects our physical bodies and NOT because our soul goes to live with God.  Easter does not simply confirm the identity of Jesus as God’s great Houdini moment; it is the content of what matters to God and a foreshadowing of the direction of the world.

This sort of faith is not normal…it is paranormal…it is the belief that our dead corpses will be restored by God (a very grisly scene of faith if there ever was one) and it is only in the audacious confines of Easter faith that we can believe such nonsense.