…about the resurrection.
You’d think they would have told me this in Bible college. I must have taken the wrong courses. I was leafing through some books on the shelf tonight, instead of doing my homework. One of those books was John Stott’s Basic Christianity. I happened to notice a heading which read, “The graveclothes were undisturbed”, and was intrigued enough to keep reading. This is the lightbulb moment:
Now supposing we had been present in the sepulchre when resurrection of Jesus actually took place. What should we have seen? Should we have seen Jesus begin to move, and then yawn and stretch and get up? No. We do not believe that he returned to this life. His was a resurrection, not a resuscitation. We believe that he passed miraculously from death into an altogether new sphere of existence. What then should we have seen, has we been there? We should have noticed that the body has disappeared. It would have ‘vaporized’, being transmuted into something new and different and wonderful. (p. 52-3)
I’m a bit reluctant to admit this, given the fact that I grew up the son of a preacher-man, in a Christian school system, 2 years of Bible college, lots of theological reading and writing, and now in the employ of a church, including in the capacity as occasional preacher, and future seminarian, but my idea of the bodily resurrection of Christ (the orthodox position) has always been precisely what Dr. Stott initially describes: Jesus beginning “to move, and then yawn and stretch and get up”. The pictures I saw in film adaptations of the Gospels, in which the cloth wrapping of Jesus’ body just deflated, seemed to me at the time (years ago) to be too reminiscent of a belief in a spiritual resurrection, rather than a bodily resurrection, and didn’t really give me any clues in this direction. I suspect most Christians had the same idea as I did.
The unhappy result has been misunderstanding the difference between resurrection and resuscitation, which has come up in discussions on this very blog (I had always imagined resuscitation being what happens to someone who has passed out); wondering how on earth a bodily resurrected person could pass through doors (as in when Jesus appeared to the disciples in the upper room) but also be physically touched by Thomas (the doubter), and some related difficulty in understanding the difference between N.T. Wright’s view of the resurrection and Marcus Borg’s in Jesus: Two Visions; and, later, questions about what Paul is getting at with this talk of “transformed” bodies; etc.
So, a toast to John Stott, for clearing things up a little. This was probably a “fullness of time” moment—all my previous experience and reading (including much N.T. Wright) was probably a necessary precurser, in a sense, to this moment. Weird how that works sometimes.
(This isn’t make-it-or-break-it Christianity here, but an important understanding nonetheless.)