The recent posting by Fr. Tom over at "The Anglican Centrist" is a very fine follow-up to my more restrained posting over there and on this blog. Fr. Tom gives both support and homiletic bite to my use of Luke Timothy Johnson's work as warrant for asserting that it matters whether or not one believes that Jesus was really raised from the dead.
Here's a snippet from his posting (in which he's drawing on an Easter sermon based on John 20:1-18):
Dead people stay dead, right? We know this. It’s medically impossible for someone dead three days to “come back to life”. It just doesn’t happen…so there must be a rational explanation.
“Obviously”, people say, “someone is telling tales to make a sage into a Savior, to make Jesus, who was a great religious leader, or prophet, or guru into something much more.” Do you suspect they’re making this up? Stay with me because on close examination of this story it’s obvious they aren’t.
If they were inventing this, would they say, “Jesus is risen from the dead….as a gardener”?! No. If they were weaving a myth to elevate their guy Jesus from sage into Savior they’d make him look much more impressive, wouldn’t they? They’d include angelic trumpets and timpani, with great shining heavenly lights and Handle’s Messiah in the background. That’s how people would stage-manage such an event if it were up to them. But it’s not. Instead Jesus gets mistaken for a gardener.
Why is that? Because Jesus, alive from the dead, is the last thing these people expected to see. EVERYONE knows dead people STAY DEAD. Mary does. Look at her thought process. The tomb is empty… so the only rational explanation is that grave robbers have stolen his body. Jesus is standing right in front of her… yet she’s can’t assimilate that fact. The only rational explanation is “Wow, that gardener sure looks like Jesus!”
And the fact that it’s Mary telling the story is another mark of authenticity. Here she is bearing authoritative witness, and yet, in that society she has ZERO credibility. Not only is she a woman, but she also has a history of mental illness and demonic possession. She’s crazy! She’s not credible. If John were inventing this story he wouldn’t imagine including her in it.
The only conclusion is John’s not making this stuff up, but scrupulously telling the story AS IT HAPPENED, in all its embarrasing details and implausibility. In fact, the utter implausibility of the resurrection is the very POINT of it! OF COURSE it’s impossible! People don’t rise from the dead… and yet… here’s Jesus. Deal with it.
Read it all.