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The 8th Sunday after Pentecost; Ephesians 2:11-22

Not that long ago I re-watched “The Da Vinci Code”, which in my opinion has few connections to reality, but once you start watching it you can’t stop. It has also attracted cult-like followers who think it is factual!

Then came today’s lessons, and frankly my first thought was “Meh”, this is not going to be very interesting. But, I kept coming back to Ephesians, and connections happened in my admittedly sometimes weird brain. There is much scholarly agreement that the author is not Paul, but a disciple of Paul who knew him well, and wrote this Letter as a summary of Paul’s thought and theology. Reading this passage several times, and then the entire Letter, one thing became very clear. Behind everything in this Letter is one accepted fact: there was a man Jesus in Palestine, who had an itinerant ministry, was radical enough to be executed by religious and civil authorities, and was resurrected by God!
Every Sunday is a celebration of the Resurrection! Let’s talk Resurrection, I thought; and you will to have to trust me that there is a connection (at least in my mind) to the Da Vinci Code.


In conversation with another cleric a while ago, he claimed many Christians found the theology of the resurrection difficult. I want to pick some nit with that; I don’t think it is the theology that is the problem, it is the fact of the resurrection that is difficult for some! Theologies, or theories, about the resurrection of Jesus abound, many just clever attempts to get around the fact that 20 centuries ago a man was nailed to a cross, died, buried, and after three days his tomb was empty and he was seen by witnesses, alive and well. It is this fact that is the centre of Christianity, it is this fact that you have to accept if you call yourself Christian. And there are many theories/theologies to explain away the seeming impossibility of the fact of the resurrection, to defuse it of its power, to make it acceptable, palatable, understandable!


Let’s deal with the many fraud theories first.

The simplest suggests the twelve apostles, who betrayed Jesus by running away, simply made up the resurrection, and pretended that his death was part of Jesus’ plan. The tomb wasn’t empty, the appearances of Jesus didn’t happen, it was all a fraud!

Then why didn’t the temple authorities, or Romans, open the tomb, produce the body of Jesus, and end the deception and nuisance of this new religious movement? Wasn’t if just to prevent such a fraud guards were put on the tomb?

A variant is that the tomb was empty, but it was the authorities who took the body, lest the disciples steal it and use it for their purposes. Again, if so, why not produce the body when the followers of Jesus begin spreading their inconvenient news of a resurrection?

Ah, some say, but what if the disciples themselves stole the body and proclaimed the resurrection? At least a dozen or more people would have to be a part of this conspiracy. If it was fraud, then all the fraudsters were willing to die in unpleasant ways for it. Of all the twelve apostles only John died in his bed. Of the other close followers of Jesus not many died of old age; most came to nasty ends still protesting the truth of their message; Jesus who had died on the cross had been raised from the dead for the forgiveness of sin and the redemption of the world. Given their behaviour at the arrest of Jesus, when all ran away and one, Peter, even denied knowing Jesus three times, is it reasonable to believe that not one of them would betray the fraud to save their life?

There is the latest version of the fraud theory, as described in Michael Baigent’s book of a few years ago, The Jesus Papers: Exposing the Greatest Cover-up in History. (Here is the connection to the Da Vinci Code; if this name sounds familiar, it is because his earlier book, The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, is behind Dan Brown’s novel. Baigent sued Brown for copyright violation. He lost, but this had the unintended consequence that both his books [The Holy Blood and The Jesus Papers-which is a re-work] became the most examined and debunked books of pseudo-history, leaving Baigent thoroughly discredited. And you thought biblical scholarship was dull!) Moving along, the short version is that Pontius Pilate conspired with the followers of Jesus whom he feared (heaven knows why) to have Jesus crucified to satisfy the temple authorities (again, heaven knows why), but in reality Jesus was taken down from the cross alive, and then he recovered. The entire theory is based on two Greek word used in the Gospel of Mark. Joseph of Arimathea going to Pilate to request the soma (supposedly living body) of Jesus, and then later Pilate gives him the ptoma (supposedly dead body) of Jesus. Trouble is both words in 1st Century Greek were, like our word “body”, used interchangeably to mean “living” or “dead” body, and Baigent cherry-picks what he needs them to mean to suit his agenda.

But, I digress! Again, if this fraud had occurred, why wasn’t it revealed when there was talk of a resurrection, and the Jesus sect was becoming troublesome. There would need to be enough co-conspirators in a fraud of this magnitude that sooner or later someone would have revealed it. Especially when some of the supposed conspirators, the followers of Jesus (as noted not the strongest and most resolute people), were being tortured and executed. (And it is probably un-Christian to emphasize again that in serious scholarly circles, even un-believing scholarly circles, Michael Baigent has a lot of notoriety, but not a great deal of respect!)

Enough of fraud, it simply won’t do! What about hallucination then? The resurrection appearances of Jesus were hallucinations! If so, they were remarkably vivid, and don’t match hallucinations as psychologists have studied them. They also happened to different sets of people, alone or in groups, not always the same people and yet with a certain consistency. The Jesus that appeared on the Emmaus road walked with two travellers, entered into discussion of scripture, and handled food. The disciples in Jerusalem met a Jesus that could be touched, ate fish, taught and empowered, and lead all of those gathered out to Bethany, a distance of some two miles. Thomas meets a touchable, solid Jesus, and in John’s Gospel, Jesus broils fish and eats with the disciples. Not your usual hallucination, psychologists tell us. And again, given what we know of the earlier intestinal fortitude of the apostles, is it likely that even one, let alone all but one, would be willing to die a painful death for their hallucinations?

Moving right along, to the third class of theories, the spiritual resurrection. The disciples had spent so much time with Jesus, heard so much of his teaching, that after his death they lived the values of Jesus, and felt he was present with them in a spiritual way. They could draw on their experiences of Jesus and in a sense have him present. Nice, but it doesn’t really explain the bald declaration “We have seen the Lord!” It doesn’t explain the reported physical reality of Jesus with them (unless you accept both spirituality and fraud)! And it especially doesn’t explain how these illiterate fishers and farmers could suddenly proclaim a complex theological message of salvation by death and resurrection with convincing power. And finally, again it really doesn’t explain the subsequent fate of the apostles – I’m fairly certain of myself that I wouldn’t be prepared to die painfully for a vague “spiritual” non-resurrection!


Enough!

In philosophy and in science there is a principle called Occam’s razor. Named after William of Occam, a 12th century Franciscan scholar, it has many forms, but in essence it says, “Don’t think up a complex theory to explain something when a simple theory will do the job”. Applying that principle to the resurrection and its many “explanations,” suggests that perhaps the simplest explanation is to take the biblical account and subsequent history at face value; Jesus who died was resurrected on the 3rd day after death, he appeared to his disciples in a physical and yet non-physical body, and then went to be with God, sending the Holy Spirit to empower them to take the message of Jesus into the entire known world.


Ah, you say, or maybe OK but I’d still like to know just exactly how Jesus was resurrected. What happened, tell us what happened!

I haven’t the slightest idea! But unless you want your God weak and docile, conforming to human expectations, and subject to human physical theories, then God can resurrect anyone God pleases! For the God who created the universe and holds it in existence the resurrection of Jesus to a body both physical and spiritual would not be difficult. And I don’t need to know the mechanism of the resurrection, because I have seen the Lord! And before you call the wagon, and the guys in the white coats with the nets, let me explain. There have been a few times in my life, a very few, when I have experienced a power beyond myself, a presence within me, a guide beside me, working in my present reality. It has been a real enough experience that I made a fairly drastic life changes to follow the call of that power. I can come up with a whole load of explanations for my experience, (and I tried, mostly so I could ignore the call!), but the simplest (remember Occam’s razor) is that I met the risen Christ.

And, if I might be so presumptuous, so have you. Why else are you here watching a service on a screen? Why else did you get up early on Sunday mornings when we could meet physically, struggle to get dressed,, drive or walk, to get to our building? Why are you going to do that again, when we are able to reopen? Somewhere in your life, the risen Christ came to you, in both a physical and spiritual way, and you were convinced enough by that encounter that here you are, like me, hoping to meet him again!


Copyright ©2021 by Gerry Mueller.