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Oddness of Easter, part II
Posted By Eric Sammons On April 15, 2009 @ 11:05 am In Jesus Christ,Scripture | Comments Disabled
Yesterday I posted about the “oddness” of Easter, linking to an excerpt from an N.T. Wright book. The final example given by Wright of the oddness of the Gospel accounts of the resurrection might be a bit hard to understand at first:
The fourth and final strange feature of the Resurrection narratives, which may call into question many of the Easter sermons that I and others regularly preach, is the absence of any mention of the future Christian hope.
Almost everywhere else in the New Testament, where you find people talking about Jesus’ resurrection, you find them also talking about our own future resurrection, the final hope that one day we will be raised as Jesus has been raised.
But the Gospels never say anything like, “Jesus is raised, therefore there is a life after death” (not that many first-century Jews doubted that there was); or, “Jesus is raised, therefore we shall go to heaven when we die” (most people believed something like that anyway); or better, “Jesus is raised, therefore we shall be raised at the last.”
No: insofar as the event is interpreted in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, it has a very “this-worldly” meaning, relating to what is happening here and now. “Jesus is raised,” they say, “therefore he is the Messiah; he is the true Lord of the whole world; therefore we, his followers, have a job to do: we must act as his heralds, announcing his lordship to the entire world.”
It is not, “Jesus is raised, therefore look up into the sky and keep looking because one day you will be going there with him.” Many hymns, prayers, and Christian sermons have tried to pull the Easter story in that direction, but the line of thought within the Gospels themselves is, “Jesus is raised, therefore God’s new world has begun, and therefore we, you, and everybody else are invited to be not only beneficiaries of that new world but participants in making it happen.”
Wright is addressing the common charge that the Gospels were written well after the events they recount and therefore contain added theological reflections and downright inventions that the later Church created. For example, many who deny the resurrection claim that the apostles had a purely spiritual encounter with Christ after the crucifixion and then invented these stories to justify them.
Yet the actual stories contained in the Gospels reflect a very early tradition, dating back to the time of Christ himself. Paul, for example, writing 20-30 years later, has contemplated the implications of the resurrection and applies it to the Christian life (see 1 Corinthians 15). This is an understandable development within the Church. Yet the Gospels offer no such reflection. If you notice, the story of the crucifixion takes up a lot of the text, yet the resurrection does not – it is almost an afterward to each Gospel. This is because the crucifixion was something they could quickly understand; there is much Scriptural support for it (such as Isaiah’s suffering servant). Yet the resurrection is a completely new event – there is no precedent for it in the history of Israel. So the initial reaction to it was simply to proclaim it (see the first sermons in Acts), not necessarily understand it or interpret it.
So the fact that the Gospels do not apply any eschatological sense to Christ’s resurrection is actually a good sign of the earliness of the tradition being used: nothing is added on to the story, it is just recounted as it actually happened.
Article printed from Divine Life – A Blog by Eric Sammons: http://ericsammons.com/blog
URL to article: http://ericsammons.com/blog/2009/04/15/oddness-of-easter-part-ii/
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