suffocating the resurrection

6 04 2012

Paul says the cross of Christ is a stumbling block. He is right. I’ll tell you why.

Because the cross is so… historical. I have no sympathy for people who see it as metaphorical. Clearly the New Testament writers and the early church took it as fact. To write it off as metaphor would be convenient. There’s something attractive about an esoteric mystery religion surrounding a tragic, self-sacrificing mystical prophet. But those nails put a stop to that. Nails bashed into history. History with a face and a date. And a claim to be alive.

But being historical, it’s embarrassingly anomalous. What, he… came back to life? You’re telling me that sounds normal? Oh, ok. 

So what does it mean? This is where it does get mysterious. Jesus was god and man – both. He died. He was raised. By… God. Who had died. Well, sort of… And through this he forgives sins. Because he’s the Passover lamb. He’s a Jewish sacrifice. And the Jewish high priest. He’s what?

The resurrection is really hard. It’s a stumbling block to intellect, to rationality, to wanting to appear like you’ve still got your head screwed on. The cross and the resurrection together make earthy and real what could otherwise be – and sadly, often is – a floaty-mystery religion.

The resurrection is like a splinter in your palm that keeps you uncomfortable. Like a stone in your shoe as you walk down the catwalk of sanity. The resurrection provokes and irritates.

The gloom of Good Friday and Easter Saturday I can understand. We can all identify with pain, loss and hopelessness. But the celebration of Easter Sunday? The hope of Resurrection Day? Well, hopelessness can be real forever, lived in forever, without much effort. But hope? Hope is intentional. Hope always risks being dashed. Living with hope – just hope – is exhausting, as a deliberate , intentional and daily choice in a world of crescendoing hopelessness.

In the Hunger Games, President Snow, in charge of subjugating and oppressing his people, says he cannot let his people have hope:

President Snow: Hope, it is the only thing stronger than fear. A little hope is effective, alot is dangerous. This fact is fine, as long as it’s contained.
Seneca Crane: So…
President Snow: So, contain it.

The reason he doesn’t want the people to have hope is because hope is dangerous. Hope drives out fear. And he wants people to be afraid. God doesn’t want us to be afraid. God’s hope, rooted in God’s love, drives out fear.

And we’re back to the resurrection. Hope was contained for 2 days. Hope was dashed for what seemed like it would be a lifetime. Fear was most definitely in control. And then…   

Still a stumbling block. Sometimes I struggle to believe it. But it has not lost its power. Because if it really is true… it changes everything. 

The resurrection – counter-cultural, anti-rational, rooted in history and bursting with hope. If only we could let him breathe outside the tomb. 


the provocative resurrection /2/ this world matters

27 04 2011

In the first Provocative Resurrection post, I looked at how the resurrection happened, is real; the resurrection cannot just be a metaphor for ‘things working out’, but has to be an actual, real thing. And how Jesus’ first apprentices didn’t get it, and how we really can’t blame them. Who would get it?

So if we believe that Jesus knew he was going to be very much dead and then very much alive, what does that mean? Was it just a super-Lazarus-miracle-resuscitation trick, or something more?

Something more, something much more. Because Jesus wasn’t resuscitated, he was resurrected; he wasn’t just raised to life, but raised to new life. Because this Jesus who was very dead and then very alive wasn’t a normal human, but was God. So in a way, God was alive. Then God was dead. Then God was alive.

During Comic Relief this year there was an amazing telly programme called Comic Relief: Famous, Rich and in the Slums. Basically some people off the telly lived for a few days in the Kibera slum in Kenya, one of the worst places to live that humans have created and made their kind live in. This programme showed us what it is like to intentionally live somewhere you do not need to. For a few days. Jesus’ life shows us that it is in God’s character to do the same. Forever. The incarnation is what we call that, that God came to live among us. The resurrection takes the incarnation one step further.

Like the celebrities, God wanted to change the environment, to change the way people lived. Unlike Lenny Henry, who was able to make a huge difference to one family at little real personal cost, God took that filth and rubbish upon himself, at great personal cost; and yet it did not overcome him, he overcame it.  He made possible real change. The provocative resurrection shows us that God steps into the crap we make ourselves live in and is able to transform it.

But isn’t that just a metaphor, a spiritualisation? Does the resurrection mean anything real for people in suffering? Yes. Because it shows us that this world matters. That we do not seek to avoid this world and its pains in order to escape to the next. The resurrection happened here, the new life happened here. Here matters. Matter matters.

But. People suffer. We suffer. We think of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. And countless other things. Can anything real and meaningful be said of God in the midst of that sort of disaster. Nick Baines wrote this:

Christian hope is not derived from a fantasy of personal happiness or security, but rooted in the person of a God who doesn’t spare himself and drives the people who bear his name (and have been grasped by him) away from their own securities and into places of vulnerability. We are not called into the light, but to shed light in the dark places: the distinction matters.

The question of suffering is a big one. But as Nick later writes, we have no right to be spared cancer or hurricane. In our culture we do all we can to eradicate pain and suffering, desperate to control our lives and all influences on them; if we do not choose it, we think it is bad. If things go wrong, God must be absent.

God is not absent. Christians are not called to retreat from pain. God has not given up on this world. The cross is placed right in the middle of the pain of the world, geographically and spiritually. The resurrection challenges and provokes us not to spiritualise our faith, but to earth it; not to make it all about ‘up there’ and avoid the ‘down here’. God came here, chose here, lived here, died here and rose again here.

We must be a part of bringing that resurrection life to people here, both spiritually as people come to know the resurrected Jesus for themselves, and practically in an Isaiah 58 kind of way, as we serve those in the world who live in places desperate for light, any light.

The resurrection is true. The resurrection speaks hope into a world that often seems hopeless. And whilst there is no easy answer to the question of suffering, the question is a lot different when asked to the God of incarnation and resurrection.

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