A Jew on the Resurrection  

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Pinchas Lapide (1922-1997) was, among other things, an Orthodox rabbi, the Israeli consul in Milan, and a lecturer at Bar Ilan University. He also believed in the bodily resurrection of Jesus. To be sure, he did not think Jesus was divine or that he was the Messiah anticipated by the Jewish people. But he was convinced that God raised Jesus from the dead so that his followers would be galvanized into preaching Jesus' message throughout the world. In this way Jewish ethical monotheism would transcend the ethnic boundaries of the Jewish community.

Lapide expresses his ideas in The Resurrection of Jesus: a Jewish Perspective (Augsburg 1983). The excerpts below are on pp 85-93.

Did the cause of Jesus really end in failure?

Did the cross definitively refute any hope for the kingdom of God?

That must not be the case! That dare not happen! Many a heart must have cried out like this. For here more was at stake than the death of a proclaimer of salvation whose radiant confidence had infected a group of believers. They were not just concerned about consolation or the end of their own distress, but about God himself and the meaning of their life...

Jesus must rise in order that the God of Israel could continue to live as their heavenly Father in their hearts; in order that their lives would not become God-less and without meaning.

This categorical must was not the illusory wishful thinking of a deceptive flight from the world which conjures up for itself a mirage, but it was based on the Jewish insight that the God who is willing to love and to suffer with human beings cannot be a cruel despotic God like the idols of the Greeks and Romans. The Jewish God does not dwell high in the heavens in order to impose his will imperially on his subjects, but is a loving Father God who permits retort...

The categorical must of the resurrection which can be considered a part of the saving plan of God, therefore, was applicable only and alone to the small group of disciples of Jesus whose life it was able to change so that they became the founders of the church...

A few hours..before sunrise of the "third day" after Good Friday, that undefinable Easter experience took place which we cannot explain further, which as such is never described in the New Testament, but which has carried its effect into the whole world, phrased either as Jesus' "being raised" or "rising" from the dead.

Rowan Williams on the Resurrection  

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Rowan Williams, the present Archbishop of Canterbury, is a former Oxford theology professor. He has a well-deserved reputation for academic obscurantism, but when he puts his mind to it he can write quite convincingly on topics relevant to contemplative spirituality. His knowledge of the Eastern Orthodox tradition is very deep, which is exemplified in The Dwelling of the Light: Praying with Icons of Christ (Eerdmans 2003). He delivers meditations on four different icons, one of which is of the Resurrection.

Christ stands on a precarious-looking bridge, as if he is the one who by the great risks and pains of his incarnation connects what we have pulled apart. And in those icons where we see him reaching out simultaneously to Adam and Eve, it is as if he is reintroducing them to each other after the ages of alienation and bitterness that began with the recriminations of Genesis. The resurrection is a moment in which human beings are reintroduced to each other across the gulf of mutual resentment and blame; a new human community becomes possible. And similarly, remembering the other figures from the first covenant in the background of the picture, we realize that this community is unaffected by any division between the living and the dead: David and Solomon, Abraham, Moses, Elijah and Isaiah are our contemporaries because of Jesus' resurrection (31-32).

The resurrection, then, is to do with the creation of the new humanity, where resentment and hostility are 'unfrozen'; and with the establishment of scriptural revelation as a living relationship within this new humanity. It is the foundation for understanding both Church and Bible. But if we also bear in mind the context in which Maximus the Confessor sets the work of Christ, we can see here in outline the foundation for understanding the relation of Church and creation. The resurrection in principle does away with those factors that frustrate and distort our relation as human beings with our environment--our human and historical environment, all those who have gone before us (Abraham and Moses), but also our natural environment. If the Risen Christ takes hold of and speaks through the great figures of biblical history, can we say that by the same token he speaks through the world around us? That he introduces us to that world and requires us to listen to it and receive from it what he wants to communicate?(35-36)

And in this, of course, we are gradually nudged towards the central realization of all. We are brought into this friendship with the biblical revelation, with each other and with the world because the resurrection of Jesus brings us into friendship with the divine life itself. It is because the uttermost of death and humiliation cannot break the bond between Jesus and the Father that what Jesus touches is touched by the Father too. As he grasps Adam and Eve, so does the Father; as he draws together the immeasurable past with all its failures injuries, it is the Father to whom he draws it. Because of his relation with the Father, a new relation is made possible between ourselves and this final wellspring of divine life. The Christ of this icon, standing on the bridge over darkness and emptiness, moving into the heart of human longing and incompletion, brings into that place the mystery out of which his life streams, represented in the mandora against which his figure is set. The locked gates of death, the frozen lives cut short, these are overcome in the act of new creation which we are witnessing.

Marilyn Adams on the Resurrection  

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Marilyn McCord Adams is Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford as well as a Canon of Christ Church Cathedral. Before that she was a professor at Yale. Before that she was a professor at UCLA and a fellow parishioner at St Mary-Palms. Her research specialty is medieval theology and philosophy. A self-described Anglo-Catholic, she has written a most provocative book called Christ and Horrors (Cambridge University Press 2006). In this she tries to tie together the Incarnation, the Resurrection of Jesus, our own resurrection at the end of the age, the physical restoration of the non-human cosmos, and the divine resolution of the aftermath of suffering, especially horrors. Horrors, as defined by Adams, are "evils the participation in (the doing or suffering of) which constitutes prima facie reason to doubt whether the particpant's life could (given their inclusion in it) have positive meaning for him/her on the whole"(32). In other words, how does God heal the despair of the victims or perpetrators of things like murder, incest, or genocide?

Adams calls this healing process "horror-defeat" and it has three stages (47). In Stage-I God does not remain aloof from our suffering, but enters into it; this is one aspect of the Incarnation. Since many if not most people die with unresolved pain, God continues the healing process immediately after death; this is Stage-II horror-defeat. Finally, Stage-III will occur at the point in the furture when we are resurrected into glorified bodies and the cosmos is renewed as well.

This is a book that will reward several re-readings, as can be gathered by the following excerpts.

...since radical vulnerability to horrors renders embodied personhood in this world a curse, something which...robs our ante-mortem careers of any positive significance, it is conditionally necessary that Divine goodness-to human horror participants turn embodied personhood into an ultima facie blessing. We have paid prices to fill that role in God's plan. A God Who means to be good-to us would have to make it pay big dividends for us as well. For these reasons, horrors make human bodily resurrection conditionally necessary for the fulfillment of Divine purposes (212).

Merely human effort cannot harrow the hell of horrendous evil, because horrors are a product of systemic and structural mismatches: between God and creature; between the material and the personal; between the material and the spiritual within human beings; between human nature and our material environment of real and apparent scarcity; between what God is and what we are. The human condition cannot become optimal or even excellent unless God is able and eventually ready and willing to "change the system" and establish a new world order. The completion of Stage-II and Stage-III horror-defeat requires Divinely instigated cosmic renovation!

Notice that I am not saying that God is compelled by the necessity of the Divine nature to re-create us or to renew the material cosmos. Both creation and re-creation are a matter of God's free and contingent choice. Rather, just as Anselm argues that a God-man is conditionally necessary, given Divine purposes for humankind and given human sin, so I want to say that resurrection and cosmic remodel are conditionally necessary, given God's love for material creation and given God's love for human being(s). (213)

Wright on the Resurrection  

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NT Wright, Anglican bishop of Durham (England, not North Carolina), is probably the go-to guy in the Anglican communion when it comes to issues relating to both the resurrection of Jesus and the resurrection of everyone else at the end of time. He is the author of The Resurrection of the Son of God, a massive and magisterial tome published by Fortess Press (Minneapolis 2003). The same material is treated more briefly and more accessibly in Surprised by Hope (HarperOne 2008). A leading New Testament scholar, Wright presents a robust defense of the doctrine of the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead, a defense fully cognizant of alternative explanations from both secular scholarship and more liberal expressions of Christian theology.

The following excerpt is from a sermon preached at Durham Cathedral this past Easter Sunday.

The resurrection of Jesus, the great fact at the heart of the Easter faith, means that we now know, suddenly and in a blinding flash, what our ultimate future will be. Our ultimate future isn't just that we bumble along trying to live the present life a little bit better until one day we decay and die and end up either in the grave or in a disembodied heaven or perhaps both. Our ultimate future is that we will be raised to new life in God's new world, not only to inhabit God's new creation, a world full of beauty and life and justice and freedom, but actually to run it on God's behalf. That's a solid New Testament truth which the church usually keeps quiet about, but it's time to get it out of the cupboard, blow the dust off it, and see what it means for today. Running God's world won't mean, of course, arrogantly imposing our own will on it; it will mean being God's stewards, and ruling with gentle, wise love. To be Easter people, we are called to anticipate, here and now, that future vocation, to look after God's world on his behalf, and to gather up the praises of creation and present them before the creator. Stewardship and worship, the practice of being kings and priests, are the habits of heart and life that Easter people must acquire.

Stewardship and worship take a thousand different forms. Stewardship means working for God's justice in the world, for the health and flourishing of the planet and all who live on it, for God's wise order and exuberant freedom to come to birth in all directions. Pray, in the days to come, about the ways in which God wants you to be a steward in his creation. That's what you're going to be doing in the resurrection life; start practicing now. Worship means celebrating God's powerful deeds in history, in your own history, in your community; it means summing up the praises of the whole creation and expressing them articulately and with understanding and delight, in the presence of the God who made you, loves you, and has redeemed you. Pray, in the days to come, about the ways in which God wants you to worship him, where that should be, how often you should come to the Eucharist, and how to worship in private as well. Worship is what you're going to be doing in the resurrection life; start practicing now.

Polkinghorne on the Resurrection  

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Rev Dr John Polkinghorne, Anglican priest and emeritus Cambridge University physics professor, has no trouble combining a passionate love of science with an equally passionate commitment to theological orthodoxy. Here are some excerpts from an essay appearing in yesterday's TimesOnline.

...Something happened to continue [Jesus'] story. All the writers of the New Testament believe that what happened was his resurrection from the dead on the first Easter Day. Can we today believe this strange counterintuitive claim? Looking for the motivations for this belief requires a careful and scrupulous assessment of the evidence. Here I can do no more than sketch the considerations that persuade me to bet my life on accepting the claim. The belief that within history a man should rise from death to lead a life of unending glory would have seemed as strange in the !st century as it does to us today. Many Jews believed that at the end of history the dead would be raised, and there were stories of people who had emerged from apparent death for a further spell of life before finally dying, but that was resuscitation not absolute resurrection. The claim that Jesus is a living Lord is quite different. The New Testament offers two lines of evidence. One line is the appearance stories, strangely varied, yet with a surprisingly consistent theme, that initially it was hard to recognise the risen Christ. I believe that this is a genuine historical reminiscence, indicating that these are not just a bunch of made-up tales constructed by a variety of early Christians.

Then there are the empty tomb stories. If these were just concocted, why make women the discoverers when they were regarded as unreliable witnesses in the ancient world? Clearly there is much more that needs to be said, but I hope I have said enough to show that a scientist, open to unexpected beliefs but stringent in demanding adequate motivation for them, can believe in the Resurrection of Jesus, the fundamental pivot on which Christian belief turns.

Lancelot Andrewes on the Resurrection  

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Today I begin a series of comments by Anglican theologians on the Resurrection. Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626) enjoyed a brilliant career in both academia and the church. He eventually became Bishop of Winchester and his most lasting achievement was probably his role in preparing the King James Version of the Bible. In his own lifetime he was a renowned preacher, being a favorite of King James I. (Andrewes was a staunch supporter of the divine right of kings, which was of course a big help). The following excerpt dealing with the role of Mary Magdalen was preached before James on Easter Sunday of 1622.

The risen Christ gave Mary Magdalen a comission. "Go" is her mission and "tell my bretheren" is her comission. A comission, to publish the first news of his rising, and as it falls out, of his ascending too.

The Fathers say that by this word she was by Christ made an apostle, nay, "an apostle to the apostles themselves". An apostle: for what lacks she? Sent first, immediately from Christ himself; and what is an apostle but so? Secondly, sent to declare and make known. And last, what was she to make known? Christ's rising and ascending. And what are they but "the gospel", yea the very gospel of the gospel?

This day, with Christ's rising, begins the gospel; not before. Crucified, dead and buried, no good news, no gospel in themselves. And them the Jews believe as well as we. The first gospel of all is the gospel of this day; and the gospel of this day is this Mary Magdalen's gospel, the prime gospel of all, before any of the other four. That Christ is risen and upon his ascending, and she the first that ever brought these glad tidings. At her hands the apostles themselves received it first, and from them we all.

Which, as it was a special honour, and "wheresoever this gospel is preached, shall be told for a memorial of her", so was it withal, not without some kind of reproaching to them, to the apostles, for sitting at home so drooping in a corner, that Christ not finding any of them is fain to seek him a new apostle. And finding her where he should have found them and did not, to send by the hand of her that he first found at the sepulchre's side, and to make himself a new apostle. And send her to them, to enter them as it were, and catechise them in two articles of the Christian Faith, the resurrection and the ascension of Christ. To Mary Magdalen, they and we both owe them, the first notice of them.

"A Great Understanding"  

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For today's Good Friday meditation, I turn to Kallistos Ware's "The Orthodox Experience of Repentance", found in his compendium The Inner Kingdom (Crestwood, New York, St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2000), pp 45-48.

But what in fact is meant by repentance? It is normally regarded as sorrow for sin, a feeling of guilt, a sense of grief and horror at the wounds we have inflicted on others and on ourselves. Yet such a view is dangerously incomplete. Grief and horror are indeed frequently present in the experience of repentance, but they are not the whole of it, nor even the most important part. We come closer to the heart of the matter if we reflect on the literal sense of the Greek term for repentance, metanoia. This means "change of mind": not just regret for the past, but a fundamental transformation of our outlook, a new way of looking at ourselves, at others and at God--in the words of The Shepherd of Hermas, "a great understanding". A great understanding--but not necessarily an emotional crisis. Repentance is not a paroxysm of remorse and self-pity, but conversion, the recentering of our life upon the Holy Trinity.

As a "new mind," conversion, recentering, repentance is positive, not negative. In the words of St John Climacus, "Repentance is the daughter of hope and the denial of despair". It is not despondency but eager expectation; it is not to feel that one has reached an impasse, but to take the way out. It is not self-hatred but the affirmation of my true self as made in God's image. To repent is to look, not downward at my own shortcomings, but upward at God's love; not backward with self-reproach, but forward with trustfulness. It is to see, not what I have failed to be, but what by the grace of God I can yet become.

When interpreted in this positive sense, repentance is seen to be not just a single act but a continuing attitude. In the personal experience of each person there are decisive moments of conversion, but throughout this present life the work of repenting remains always incomplete. The turning or recentering must be constantly renewed; up to the moment of death, as Abba Sisoes realized, the "change of mind" must become always more radical, the "great understanding" always more profound. In the words of St Theophan the Recluse, "Repentance is the starting point and foundation stone of our new life in Christ; and it must be present not only at the beginning but throughout our growth in this life, increasing as we advance."

The positive character of repentance is clearly apparent if we consider what comes just before the words of Christ already quoted, "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand." In the preceeding verse the Evangelist cites Isaiah 9:2, "The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them has the light shone." Such is the immediate context of our Lord's command to repent: it is directly preceeded by a reference to "great light" shining on those in darkness, and directly followed by a reference to the imminence of the Kingdom. Repentence, then, is an illumination, a transition from darkness to light; to repent is to open our eyes to the divine radiance--not to sit dolefully in the twilight but to greet the dawn. And repentance is also eschatological, an openness to the Last Things that are not merely in the future but already present; to repent is to recognize that the Kingdom of Heaven is in our midst, at work among us, and that if we will only accept the coming of this KIngdom all things will be made new for us.

The connection between repentance and the advent of the great light is particularly significant. Until we have seen the light of Christ, we cannot really see our sins. So long as a room is in darkness, observes St Theophan the Recluse, we do not notice the dirt; but when we bring a powerful light into the room--when, that is, we stand before the Lord in our heart--we can distinguish every speck of dust. So it is with the room of our soul. The sequence is not to repent first, and then to become aware of Christ; for it is only when the light of Christ has already in some measure entered our life that we begin truly to understand our sinfulness. To repent, says St John of Kronstadt, is to know that there is a lie in our heart; but how can we detect the presence of a lie unless we already have some sense of the truth? In the words of EI Watkin, "Sin...is the shadow cast by the light of God intercepted by any attachment of the will which prevents it illuminating the soul. Thus knowledge of God gives rise to the sense of sin, not vice versa." As the Desert Fathers observe, "The closer we come to God, the more we see that we are sinners." And they cite Isaiah as an example of this: first he sees the Lord on His throne and hears the seraphim crying "Holy, holy, holy;" and it is only after this vision that he exclaims, "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips" (Is 6:1-5).

Such, then, is the beginning of repentance: a vision of beauty, not of ugliness; an awareness of God's glory, not of my own squalor. "Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted" (Mt 5:4): repentance signifies not merely mourning for our sins, but the "comfort" or "consolation" (paraklesis) that comes from the assurance of God's forgiveness. The "great understanding" or "change of mind" signified by repentance consists precisely in this: in recognizing that the light shines in the darkness, and that the darkness does not swallow it up (Jn 1:5). To repent, in other words, is to recognize that there is good as well as evil, love as well as hatred; and to affirm that the good is stronger, to believe in the final victory of love. The repentant person is one who accepts the miracle that God does indeed have power to forgive sins. And, once we accept this miracle, for us the past is no longer an intolerable burden, for we no longer see the past as irreversible. Divine forgiveness breaks the chain of cause and effect, and unties the knots in our hearts which by ourselves we are not able to unloose.

There are many who feel sorrow for their past acts, but who say in their despair, "Icannot forgive myself for what I have done." Unable to forgive themselves, they are equally incapable of believing that they are forgiven by God, and likewise by other human beings. such people, despite the intensity of their anguish, have not yet properly repented. They have not yet attained the "great understanding" whereby a person knows that love is ultimately victorious. They have not yet undergone the "change of mind" that consists in saying: I am accepted by God; and what is asked of me is to accept the fact that I am accepted. That is the essence of repentance.

Creeping Up the Ladder  

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St John Climacus (ca 579-649) was the abbot of St Catherine's monastery, situated at the foot of Jebel Musa, traditionally the site of Mt Sinai where Moses had his direct encounters with God. He is the author of The Ladder of Divine Ascent (Colm Luibheid & Norman Russell, Paulist Press 1982). This is perhaps the single most popular ascetical work in the Eastern Church and is customarily read by all Orthodox monks every Lent. It inspired the creation of the accompanying icon showing monks making their perilous way up the 30-step ladder to eventual salvation; some of course fall off to become prey for demons. I was fortunate to be able to see the original when it was part of an exhibit at the Getty Museum several years ago. As we enter the home stretch of Lent, the Ladder is worth a look.

For this western Christian, at least, Climacus is definitely an acquired taste. There is lots of stereotypically negative material that has to be worked through to get to what I would consider useable spiritual insights. "Treat your body always as an enemy, for the flesh is an ungrateful and treacherous friend. The more you look after it, the more it hurts you" (153).

Or this: "Mortification of the appetite, nightlong toil, a ration of water, a short measure of bread, the bitter cup of dishonor--these will show you the narrow way. Derided, mocked, jeered, you must accept the denial of your will. You must patiently endure opposition, suffer neglect without complaint, put up with violent arrogance. You must be ready for injustice and not grieve when you are slandered; you must not be angered by contempt and you must show humility when you have been condemned [all of this abuse comes from other monks, needless to say!]".

I am in distinguished company, for Thomas Merton says "Climacus was a kind of sixth-century desert Hemingway...he sees through the weaknesses of men and monks, and cannot resist the temptation to caricature them without mercy. He never stops. Even when one gets to the last, supposedly serene rungs of the Ladder, on which all is sweet repose and hesychia, he restlessly yields to the same wild reflex and keeps lashing out on all sides. You cannot keep the man quiet...[the Ladder] was read within the last decade at the Abbey of Gethsemani, in the refectory. In the main, the monks seem to have found it either funny or unpleasant, and some unfledged ascetics openly complained to the present writer that Climacus was nuts." (in Disputed Questions 1960).

However, I firmly believe that one of our most important tasks as 21st-century theologians is to salvage what is of lasting validity from the theologies of the past. Accordingly, I will continue to give Climacus a second reading and then some. Some flecks of gold found amidst the gravel:

[How married people can be holy]: Do whatever good you may. Speak evil of no one. Rob no one. Tell no lie. Despise no one and carry no hate. Do not separate yourselves from the church assemblies. Show compassion to the needy. do not be a cause of scandal to anyone. Stay away from the bed of another, and be satisfied with what your own wives can provide you. If you do all this, you will not be far from the kingdom of heaven (78).

Some labor and struggle hard to earn forgiveness, but better than these is the man who forgets the wrongs done to him. Foregive quickly and you will be abundantly forgiven. To forget wrongs is to prove oneself truly repentant, but to brood on them and at the same time to imagine one is practicing repentance is to act like the man who is convince he is running when in fact he is fast asleep (154).

I have seen people delivered from passion by the very fact that they had flared up and then poured out their long-stored grievance and, in addition, they got from their offender either some reparation or some explanation for what had caused the long-standing grievance. On the other hand, I have seen men who appeared to be displaying stolid patience, but who, in reality, were silently harboring resentment within themselves. These, it seems to me, were much more to be pitied than the men prone to explosions of temper, because what they were doing was to keep away the holy white dove with that black gall of theirs (147-148).

Monks, in a Nutshell  

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Leo Campos is a co-founder of the Community of Solitude, a non-residential network of contemplatives rooted in Benedictine-Camaldolese spirituality. In an essay appearing in Episcopal Cafe, he has some interesting insights into what monasticism is all about.

...all I "do" as a contemplative monk is to live out my baptismal covenant. In other words, I do exactly, no more or less, than what every other Christian does. Or, better, I try to do exactly what everyone else tries to do. And I fail just as badly at it. But perhaps here's the point where being a monk can be a service--my struggles can become an object lesson for others. Hopefully not a risible case study in failure, but rather a visible reminder of what we are all going through together. It is a communal experience, where my robes and my public profession become a mirror for others.

When someone realizes that I am trying to be a mirror to them it usually leads tgo their adoption of various defensive postures and gestures. "Oh I don't think so, I am not a monk! I am not this or that". It is unfortunate that we in the Episcopal Church do not live more openly the theology of the Eastern Orthodox tradition, where the life of the laity and that of the monk are much more closely aligned.