Much ado about the Resurrection
Westar has a lot of wonderful resources aimed at the life of Jesus, the movement he started, his death, and the ideas surrounding his resurrection. We’ve made a compilation of various resources available specifically for Lent and Easter. As part of that, I wanted to reflect on these concepts from the perspective of a working preacher. In addition to my role at Westar, I am also a Minister and Chaplain and although I don’t preach every Sunday I’m in the pulpit enough that I frequently find myself wondering how to best portray the events and theology around Jesus’ death and resurrection.
I’ve found that while I can’t, perhaps, come out and suggest that the resurrection may not have been bodily (or Jesus’ conception may not have been immaculate, or that baptism isn’t about getting dunked under water— to name a few!) I can lead people in uncovering what’s at the heart of these issues. Getting down to what the “resurrection,” or the virgin birth, or baptism, might mean to them, to us, to people exploring new ways to be in relationship with the divine. What Rudolph Bultmann might call the “kerygma.”
So I see my role as minister in an ideologically diverse congregation as that of guide. I can preach an advent sermon, or a lent sermon, or an Easter sermon, but I won’t imply or explicitly state the traditional orthodox position. Instead, I try to help us all better understand what these events are about. At the end of Jesus’ life and death, his radical message lived on. It inspired people then; it inspires people now. It has been studied, critiqued, dissected, interpreted, re-interpreted. Thousands of years down the line we continue to make meaning from it and with it. This is certainly an expression of life after death! It is one that resonates whether you believe in bodily resurrection or not, no matter how or if you read scripture.
For those of us in ministry, it can be challenging to lead people when we know in many ways our theology diverges from that of our context. It sometimes feels easier to preach or teach the “traditional” viewpoint rather than come up with new ways to say ground-breaking things. In these instances, I think it’s important to get creative, to know the limits, but to push them as much as there’s room, while discerning how best to guide people into fuller expressions of their spiritual lives.
Although I am part of a progressive denomination I have to face the facts: most people in my context aren’t ready to hear that Jesus’ resurrection may not have been a literal, bodily return to earth. This seems to be the consensus of scholarship on the issue, but the people in my pews aren’t quite there yet. To be sure, this is my unique context; I certainly know other ministers who can have these conversations with their people or at least raise the possibility without concerns!
But what can those of us do who are aware of ground-breaking scholarship on a variety of issues that may not be well-received? Because of my job at Westar, and my role as a minister, I find myself often in this situation! And I know that others in ministry have these questions as well, especially as we approach a time in the church calendar that is held sacrosanct. It can feel easier to just go with the flow than to dig in and think creatively about how to address some of these discrepancies.