Someone once asked me if I thought the resurrection was necessary. He meant it in the most sincere way, as a person of both faith and doubt who wondered if we needed to be bound by so unreasonable a proposition that Jesus’ tomb was, in fact, empty on that first Easter morning.
I hesitated in answering, because there seemed to be layers of argument behind the question. My answer was yes, resurrection is the foundation of Christian faith, but probably not in the way he meant it.
To say that resurrection is essential doesn’t mean that if someone were to discover a tomb with Jesus’ remains in it that the entire enterprise would come crashing down. The truth is that we don’t know what happened to Jesus after his death, anymore than we can know what will happen to us. What we do know from the stories handed down is how Jesus’ followers experienced his resurrection. What we know is how we experience resurrection ourselves.
"Resurrection is the foundation of the Christian faith," Bishop Budde rightly notes. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that everything hinges on the reality of the resurrection. "If there is no resurrection of the dead," writes the apostle Paul, "then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain" (1 Corinthians 15:13-14).
But according to Bishop Budde (and contrary to the apostle Paul), the resurrection doesn't necessarily refer to an event in history that actually happened to a real person named Jesus. And so she says we don't really know what happened to Jesus after his death. And since we don't know what happened, the term "resurrection" is not really about the raising of Jesus to bodily life again after bodily death such that the tomb was actually empty. That's not what's important. What's important is that resurrection refers to what what we experience within ourselves. Resurrection is a symbol for a subjective phenomenon, a matter of individual consciousness-raising and the experiences of liberation from impediments to our fulfillment as persons (cf. Bishop Budde's Easter Vigil homily entitled "How Resurrection Feels").
In short, the resurrection is not really about Jesus; it's about us!
"To say that resurrection is essential doesn’t mean that if someone were to discover a tomb with Jesus’ remains in it that the entire enterprise would come crashing down." According to Bishop Budde, it doesn't really matter if Jesus actually rose from the dead. It would be difficult to find a more clearly articulated rejection of the bodily resurrection of our Lord as the central miracle of the Christian faith, the chief premise of Christian teaching, and the foundation event for the entire Christian religion. Instead, that understanding of the resurrection so clearly affirmed in the New Testament and by apostolic tradition is rendered optional, at best.
Bishop Budde's take on the resurrection ultimately reduces it to subjective spiritual experience. Like the counsel of self-help gurus, that may give inspiration and hope to some people for this life. But, as the apostle Paul rightly notes, "If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied" (1 Corinthians 15:19).