April 18: Accept No Substitutes!

My mother was an accomplished lay minister, a powerful spiritual director, longtime practitioner of guided spiritual direction, a daily scripture reader, and a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology when women were just breaking into that field.  She would often teach in her counseling groups and during retreats, Accept No Substitutes!  Her theological axiom neatly summarized an enduring biblical arc of radical monotheism present from Israel’s earliest days.  The Lord our God, the Lord is One!  You shall worship the Lord your God and serve only Him!  The Lord is King, let the earth tremble!  Only God is God, and there can be only one!  (Bonus geek points to whomever identifies the faint cinematic franchise echo in that last statement!)  Whenever Israel attempted to substitute the one true God for a more convenient, more fetching, more tamed alternative, things didn’t go so well.  (Which they tried about every 10 minutes in the narrative!)

As goes the Father, so evidently goes the Son also.  Before we wade into authentic Resurrection, let’s briefly name, and then disrespect, the alternatives.  Resurrection is so unique, so distinctive, so novel in claim it’s understandable many confusing alternating misunderstandings have obfuscated our basic, beautiful Christian claim that Jesus rose from the dead.  Per Mom, ANS!!

  1. The Swoon Theory.  Smartly reflected in Billy Crystal’s epic performance in Rob Reiner’s 1987 cult classic The Princess Bride, early skeptics proffered this old pagan chestnut.  “Ahh, Jesus didn’t really die, he just pretended to die!  He was mostly dead, not all the way dead!”  Yep, that ol’ jokester he!  Sucked it up and held his breath when that (expert Roman career executioner) soldier speared his abdomen jabbing that metal-tipped spear point through the ribs to puncture his heart!  Yep, he really turned in an Oscar performance (after a first capital sentence of flogging by expert Roman executioners, not eating or drinking for almost 24 hours, carrying a 90 pound block of wood uphill for almost a mile before being nailed through major arteries and ligaments) by dying so quickly!  Friends, can we just be real….ANS!!
  2. The Apparition Theory.  He just looked corporeal but he was a phantom, a specter, a golem.  (Yes, it really is…look it up!)  He was never really here so he could not have really died at all you see (even after walking, eating, bleeding, being beaten with metal-tipped spikes on a whip, etc.).  Again, nice thespian work on the spearing moment for Casper!  ANS!!
  3. The “His Friends stole his body” Theory.  Another venerable hostile chestnut, actually embedded in the Matthean gospel narrative as Matthew’s church had evidently encountered this one early.  See Matthew 27:62-66 and 28:11-15, note “to this very day.”  A bit more believable except for two historically contravening evidences, the absence of…well, anything remotely resembling a relic of Jesus’ body and no sighting of a tortured body anywhere in ancient accounts.  Given the Christian proclivity to keep any body part (see, most of southern Europe) of any saint including independent parts (we all had to share) like thumbs, heads, and feet as relics, no one anywhere at any time has ever claimed to possess such a relic from Jesus’ crucified body.  Ever.  ANS!
  4. The Consciousness Theory.  This is just plain postmodern contemporary <insert favorite expletive here> propounded by the extremist edge of progressive American scholarship.  They assert that since scripture is all metaphorical myth in the scientific world we now inhabit, Jesus died quite physically and that is that.  Weeks or months later Peter is fishing on an early morning Sea of Galilee, and in a moment of personal revelation watching the wisps of steam rise from the water’s surface, realizes that everything Jesus taught is now alive in his own consciousness.  Jesus is alive in Peter through Peter’s consciousness.  Please.  Dressing up the resurrection in trendy neo-therapeutic Jungian archetypal code may help people come to terms with their own issues, which I wholeheartedly support, but it is language and concepts utterly foreign and incomprehensible to the courageously simple and shocking Christian claim that Jesus quite corporeally rose from the dead.  Please!  ANS!

Nope, no, nyet, nada.  Our earliest Christian forebears heard, understood and enthusiastically rejected these first theories as enthusiastically as I reject the latter trope.  Resurrection is none of these things, nor resuscitation (restoring normative life to one who briefly died) or reanimation (see Young Frankenstein) or simple revivification.  When it comes to Resurrection, accept no substitute!

  1. Can you recall your earliest discussions about Jesus’ resurrection?  Sunday School?  The family supper table?  Youth group?  When did you first encounter the Easter story?
  2. Can you recall your sharpest argument or disagreement regarding the Resurrection?  Ever hear one of these objections, or others, from anyone?
  3. In all candor, what is your greatest objection, skepticism, or challenge with the biblical accounts of Jesus’ resurrection?  Honesty here is important as we move forward together!

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