Sunday, March 31, 2024

Beyond the Horizon: A Reflection on the Message of Resurrection

"If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory." (Colossians 3:1-4 NABRE

The persistence of belief is incredible. And its effects can be powerful.

There was a very small cult group called "Love Has Won," also known less commonly as Galactic Federation of Light and 5D Full Disclosure. It centered around a woman named Amy Carlson who asserted that she was "Mother God." I won't go into all the details, which you can see in a documentary called "Love Has Won: The Cult of Mother God." What caught my attention in the story of this cult was how they did not accept the death of Amy. She predicted that she would be taken up in a space ship before death, something that clearly did not happen. When this failed to take place, her followers proceeded to keep her slowly decomposing/mummifying corpse with them as they traveled across state lines. Eventually the authorities found out and the body was gathered and properly returned to her next-of-kin. The group had kept the body because they remained convinced that she was Mother God, and variously believed that she wasn't fully dead and that the space ship would eventually come get her. To this day her hard core followers remain convinced of her divinity, and have explanations for what happened. 

The Gospels go out of their way to present Jesus explaining that he will die and then rise on the third day, only for his disciples to not understand what he's talking about. We are told at times by modern preachers that this was due to how set they were in their belief in a conquering messiah who could not possibly be put to death. Maybe so, and maybe not. Jesus was speaking to them in terms that they could understand, given that in the Second Temple Period, in which they lived, belief in the resurrection of the dead was fairly commonplace among the Jewish people. It's not too much of a stretch for someone in that mindset to grasp the idea that a messiah could die and be resurrected. Perhaps, though, their belief was already so fixed that they could not countenance the possibility. Who's to say?

The story of Jesus' resurrection is muddled. Different numbers of angels at the tomb, different women going to the tomb, and so forth. In some places the disciples have gone back to Galilee already, and in others they are told to stay in Jerusalem. What actually happened is something else that's anyone's guess. In any event, the core of his disciples were firm in their declaration that he had been raised from the dead. Ghostly stories are told of him appearing in a closed room, or going unrecognized until he broke bread with a pair of disciples. The whole situation is simply weird. 

The faith of the church over the ages has crystallized into one of death, burial, and resurrection that seems plain and straightforward. It makes clear what in its nature was a very foggy situation, reducing it to a form that can be grasped reasonably and thereby accepted or rejected. 

One possibility, in actual fact, is that Jesus died and that was it. His disciples were overcome with grief and had hallucinations and/or dreams of Jesus communicating with them. Whatever happened to Jesus' body, whether cast out to the dogs or buried in a tomb, that was irrelevant. They had direct, personal experiences of Jesus after he had died. He could not have died without fulfilling his purpose, they reasoned, and so this all meant that his purpose was to die and thereby somehow save the nation and by extension the world. 

Another possibility is, of course, that he actually came back from the dead. The story is muddled because it was such a bewildering experience. That doesn't explain why he only appeared to his followers, rather than doing away with the hiddenness of God, in a sense, by making himself known to others. It could be that the divine plan required him to be unknown to the rest of the world as one risen. 

Those are possibilies, but not the only ones. If one were to mull it over for a while other explanations could be found. Some well-grounded in reality, and others more fantastical. 

Maybe it doesn't matter. What does come across in Christian history is the story of an undefeated life. All the powers of oppression could not keep the message of liberation from spreading. For long stretches this message was obscured by the powers that be co-opting it and reducing it to personal salvation from eternal hell. It was held up in this form as justification for imperial domination rather than revolutionary love. And yet at times the light breaks through.

On a personal level, it is manifested when someone feels the release from their guilt and the things from their past that bind them. On a systemic level, it is manifested when people march for their rights and enact nonviolent resistance that demonstrates the vulnerability of the domination system. When people can see beyond the horizon of their immediate pain and guilt, to a better country, there the good news of resurrection is taking root. And that all independent of the details of what happened, if anything, one Sunday morning almost 2000 years ago.