Of this I am sure

I did say that these posts will be somewhat random, jumping from one area to another… I read today of a writer who described himself as ‘a post-classical-trinitarian-wondering-what-comes-next’… On a number of issues I am post-this-and-not-sure… That’s how it is and I think it is really healthy. (I think) there is one strong anchor point for me in my faith and it is the resurrection of Jesus.

I find the resurrection so incredible it just has to be for real. The central claim – that could have been repudiated – was that his body is no longer in the tomb. It was not that he is alive beyond death, for such a claim would not have meant very much particularly in that early Jewish context. Resurrection, a hope that was a predominant hope among Jews, was expected to happen in the future for the righteous (and the unrighteous?) and would mark that ‘the end’ had come. The claim that Jesus had been raised from the dead was very divisive in the early Jewish context. It was not so much a declaration of a new faith, but of a new era. I think this is why the term ‘this generation’ had such a strong temporal warning element to it in the early (Jewish) context of the book of Acts.

The challenge for us is we have not had a visitation from the Risen Christ (even a direct visitation from Jesus is it is from the Ascended Christ) and so our faith is based on those eye-witness reports. But I find the context so compelling. How on earth would the message of ‘Jesus and the resurrection” (Acts 17:18, ‘he was telling the good news about Jesus and the resurrection’) have gained any level of traction. People did not rise from the dead, certainly not after being crucified and buried! (Resurrection not being that of the order of Lazarus (resuscitation) but permanent and in Jesus’ case with both discontinuity and continuity of physicality.) People did not rise, but the message takes root and in one city after another in the Roman empire people came to believe. They did not add ‘Jesus’ in as another god into their pantheon but belief in Jesus nullifed belief in all other gods, and put the recipients of this new faith in conflict with the whole Imperial setting. If there was no substance behind the claim that ‘he is risen’ there would have been no response within the Jewish culture, forget the ‘ends of the earth’.

I believe in the resurrection, and it marks Jesus out not as a ‘son of God’ but as the son of God (each Caesar was declared the divine son of the previous Caesar who had been divinised – the claim for Jesus, made by Paul in the letter to the believers in the capital is very poignant).

Belief in the resurrection has implications. Time being one of them. A new era is here now. That calls for sight at a different level, for without sight at that level it is evident that there is no new era present. It calls for a place to work from as much as a place to work toward. What does the new era consist of? No more tears, no more death (and decay). We can fight the old disorder or work from the new. I read with great appreciation the comments Ann makes on some of the posts. She knows more about climate change and crisis than most people I know and she of all people could be hopeless. I am sure her hopes are challenged many times, but her approach (and I hope I am reflecting it accurately) is that we are where we are, in that sense the old world has passed there is a new one here now. In the new one how can we respond in a way that we don’t simply grieve what is gone but within this context work for the future, for the next and subsequent generations. The resurrection of Jesus has much to say about the environment for Jesus is the first born of all creation – no burning up… and in the same way that at the return of Jesus that which is physically present will be transformed, so with those alive and that which is alive.

Inbreakings, irruptions from heaven. Disruptions, outbreaks. All of that become possible, and both together. Heaven (as a symbol of the new era) can break in. But that has to mean that the old gives way to the new. I think there is too much prayer for ‘heaven to invade earth’ without the corresponding commitment for ‘earth’ (as symbolic of the way things are) to give way. The resurrection of Jesus is not a simple add on that enhances this life but also displaces / transforms all values that we have been taught are normal.

It is my anchor point. In the light of that how do I live, for beliefs can be less than what is considered ‘orthodox’ but it seems that actions and behaviour are so important.

Resurrection appearances

As per many of you I have been reading of the resurrection this morning. None of it reads as if the disciples were having a series of hallucinations, nor is the belief simply in ‘he is alive’ but that ‘his body is not to be found in the tomb’… resurrection.

There were so many cosmic occurrences that surrounded the death and resurrection of Jesus and one that has caused puzzlement is the tombs that were emptied in Jerusalem:

The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many (Matt. 27:52,53).

It has puzzled some commentators and the report is reduced to a ‘theological’ statement separating it from a historical event (R.T. France) – partly because it is only recorded in Matthew. But the language is so similar to that of the language used for the resurrection of Jesus with the ‘appeared to many’ statement.

I think Matthew is very careful in his language – the tombs are opened at his death, but it is only after his resurrection that they are raised. This is not a ‘Lazarus’ resurrection’ but an experience of the resurrection, something that is our hope beyond the grave and seemingly always coinciding time-wise with the parousia of Jesus. Something happens that causes a very real disruption to time in this event.

The dramatic, visible shift to time, the physical manifestation of the ‘new creation’ was present. Our challenge is that ‘new creation’ is here; that we do not have to simply wait for linear time to arrive at the future.

The early disciples did not suffer from hallucinations; they did not need to imagine he was alive; they were rooted in the experience something has visibly and tangibly changed. Easter Sunday – then and now.

Post Pentecost

Always love the festivals and what took place in them, and thinking as to how faithful we are to what was initiated in them. Pentecost has just taken place and this year I have focused on the post-Pentecost comments:

Fellow Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know—this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up… (Acts 2:22-24).

This Jesus God raised up (Acts 2:32).

Peter said, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.” (Acts 3:36).

The little words such as ‘this’ Jesus has impacted me. What ‘Jesuses’ were not raised up? Quite pertinent as we all have a Jesus in part of our own making. The religious Jesus, the angry Jesus, the Jesus who looks like me…Those ones were not raised up!! Only Jesus of Nazareth, ‘this’ Jesus.

There has been a debate as to the difference of the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith, and the debate has been at an academic level… but in reality it should be at our level. I believe in Jesus (the Jesus the Christ of my faith… the Jesus of my making) but is the Jesus that I believe in the Jesus that was raised, the one that is identified as ‘this’ Jesus?

The other side of Pentecost there are some that we name Jesus that will increasingly be found to be in the grave. Time to go seek and find the Jesus that God raised… the one who does not look like Martin, and if I can truly leave all the others behind in the grave and can find the Jesus that God raised then I will find that Martin (unbelievably) begins to look a little like him. I will find him through being offended, in measure shocked… but oh what a release.

Hope for all of creation

Easter Sunday has arrived again to remind us… if he is not raised then we are still in our sins; that God raised him from the dead by the Spirit of holiness thus declaring him to be the ‘Son of God’. Not that Jesus is alive, but that he is alive and his body has been raised.

In the Western mind Jesus is raised and raised alone but we have in a wonderful Scripture in Matthew:

Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many Matt. 27: 50-53).

It is such a strange Scripture that many commentators say it was not a literal event but is making a theological statement (possible… I do not suggest either that Jericho nor Ai as reported in Joshua was literal, but theological… historical and archaeological reasons for my perspective). However, this Scripture in Matthew I do think is literal: his reference to eyewitnesses suggest that to me. Matthew is very careful to say that they came alive (and by that I consider he means ‘bodily resurrection’) after Jesus was raised. Jesus was the firstfruits of the resurrection – everything that takes place is after his resurrection.

When he dies everything is shaken:

the Temple and creation. Has to be as creation is the Temple for God. And at his resurrection we can also add ‘time‘ because resurrection is promised to be ours, not when we die, but when he appears, yet here we have bodies raised ‘ahead of time’.

So resurrection is not a lone event. In the Eastern tradition there is a major ‘harrowing of hell’ and the icon in the Greek orthodox church is that of Jesus pulling Adam and Eve out of their graves or out of the fires of hell. That certainly takes it too far for me – hell: it is one thing to believe in hell post judgement but in the time prior to that?

Laying that ‘too far for me’ bit aside it so communicates the victory over death; the final enemy is defeated. Everything changes, the confirmation of it is the resurrection of Jesus. Is there a proclamation to the dead (1 Peter 3:19, 20)? Difficult passage to translate, hard to know what to make of it…

Yes numerous unanswered questions; but it seems so unlikely that there is no activity between cross and resurrection. The cross rips the curtain up – God cannot be found behind the curtain; it causes an earthquake; bodies of those who have passed get ready as the clock changes dramatically. The resurrection indicates he is to be found, but not among the dead; earthquakes continue not now with an eclipse of the sun but when the new day was dawning: the cross pronounced the end of an era, the resurrection the beginning of a new one; time changes and I guess something is released through those who have gone before and never seen the fulfilment of their hopes. Nothing is lost. That is the resurrection hope and assurance.

Time warp

There is a Scripture that records a strange event post-the resurrection of Jesus. So strange that a number of commentators suggest it was symbolic / theological not an actual event in space-time. I beg to disagree.

Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many (Matt. 27:50-53).

It takes place in two steps. Tombs were opened at the moment of death. The realm of the dead is manifestly being impacted at that moment. Something happening visibly with the tombs and probably something happening invisibly to sheol / hades. Then after the resurrection of Jesus there was a resurrection, ahead of schedule(!), for those whose tombs had been made visible. Those saints, in resurrected form, appear to many in the city. The language and the timing of the events indicate to me that we are to read it as a literal occurrence, that was verifiable through eye-witnesses. The language is no different to that of the resurrection of Jesus, who appeared to many eye-witnesses.

A time warp? I think so. It seems to me that the resurrection of the dead is a future event, one that takes place when Jesus returns. Those who are dead rise, and come with the Lord and we are bodily transformed at that time, the time of the parousia. Yet here are saints in Matthew’s account who are raised – and it would seem raised (as per Jesus with resurrected bodies) not simply resuscitated (as per Lazarus, raised to die again). One of the the major future events happening out of time sequence… says a lot about the resurrection of Jesus. (Maybe an implication here such as what I wrote yesterday; the clock no longer being the instrument that tells the time, but people conversing together?)

I have very little idea what happens to those who have died; or to put it another way as to where they are / what is their state. I do know they are secure in the Lord, and the text I am considering suggests that I think there are some big surprises in it all. After all if time was disturbed (understatement!!) it is not likely we can work it all out, and along the way experiences that do not fit neatly with biblical material – after all this Scripture just does not fit well… maybe the other writers decided to stay well clear of recording this event for that reason!

My favourite easter story

What an event! The birth of new creation marked by the raising from the dead of the ‘firstborn of all creation’, closely followed by a whole group of saints in Jerusalem also being resurrected (only Matthew records this, but it indicates a major time warp). Then the first appearance and being identified as the ‘Gardener’ highlights the connection back to the former garden… and then.

The road to Emmaus.

If not a married couple, Luke records it in such a way that we are to think it is a married couple… but a married couple I strongly consider it is: Cleopas and his wife Mary. The man is revealed as Cleopas (Lk. 24:18), and we have his wife identified in John’s Gospel (variant of name Cleopas is used Clopas, variants not being unusual also where Aramaic and Hebrew languages being similar are quoted):

but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene (Jn. 19:25).

The parallels (explicit and implicit) are incredible. Imagine the two leaving Eden. The discussion, the heavy hearts, the disappointment. The road to Emmaus and also the heavy discussion, perhaps even the ‘he let us down in the end’ discussion.

  • Then the day is closing, the evening is drawing in, as they walk with a ‘stranger’. Just like that other Garden when God came to visit at the ‘cool of the day’, certainly a stranger to them.
  • Their action in Eden caused their eyes to be opened (to shame); he breaks the bread and their eyes were opened.
  • They leave Eden with the ‘death’ consequence ringing in their ears; they talk to the stranger informing him that the one who carried the hope for the future had been ‘condemned to death’.
  • Behind them was a cherubim with a flaming sword that stood guard so that access to the tree of life was banned to them; but the flame no longer external but burning now within them (Lk. 24:32).

I am sure there are more parallels, but here on resurrection morning, with the birth of ‘new creation’ that changes sight (2 Cor. 5:16,17 – kaine ktisis -‘new creation’, not new creature… see up to date translations) there is so much to see.

Sight all the way back to the beginning. The original commission is re-established; the future placed in the hands of humanity again. Placed in the hands of humanity for when they were expelled from Eden a stranger walked every step with them. Unrecognised, unrecognised even by the righteous who could (as did Jesus) quote Psalm 22 ‘My God, My God why have you forsaken me’. They might have left with the sound of ‘death’ in their ears but the Living God left Eden also carrying the consequence of death in his heart, trudging through the dust with them.

(And as we continue to read in Psalm 22

For he has not despised or scorned
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help (Ps. 22:24).

We realise that God did not turn away from Jesus on the cross. Far from it, he was ‘in Christ reconciling the world to himself’. Even the final words of Jesus on the cross ‘it is finished’ are likely to be a response to the last words of Psalm 22 – ‘he has done it’. The idea that God turned away from Jesus on the cross does not bear up – there is no split in the Trinity, not even a ‘creative dispute’!)

The path from Eden for God was the path to the cross; the path for humanity was to the tree of Life. The cross was indeed the final door closed to the tree of knowledge of good and evil that religion in particular has always sought to cultivate. Right / wrong are such sub-criteria in Scripture, the overriding criteria being that of life and death.

I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live (Deut. 30:19).

The resurrection.

  • Tells us God was with us and never left humanity. He walked from the Garden, determined that he would restore not a Garden but the whole of creation for and with us, where we could invite his permanent presence to be with us (no going to heaven then).
  • It tells us that we cannot flee from his presence; that he does not hide his face from us.
  • It tells us that the restoration of gender equality is essential for the way forward (and also what lies beyond gender, for there is not ‘male and female’).
  • It gives us sight back – to Eden and original purpose, and forward – to new creation; a creation that appears in contrast to this one as feminised, incomplete but to be explored (with the eschaton as both and end and a beginning).
  • It gives us new lenses to see others. Not through the lenses of categorisation but the lens of ‘image’, the ultimate lens being the Jesus’ lens.

Little wonder the couple did not sleep that night but made their way back to Jerusalem to tell the others. We live in that flow. The flow of resurrection.

Gardens, couples and sight

Always a few aspects that come up in the zoom groups that provoke a little expansion. So here are two related aspects from last night’s zoom.

[BTW I add a few articles from time to time that are drawn from the books and they can be found at: https://3generations.eu/explorations. For example there is one there on Jesus always sinless, but becomes mature. I will also probably expand this post into an article for those pages.]

The resurrection. A cosmic event, that changed the world. Marked by an earthquake and ‘saints’ in the grave coming out (I actually think they came out with resurrected bodies, unlike Lazarus who came back to life with the same body. If I am right then we also have a time warp aspect that took place at the resurrection of Jesus, an event destined to occur at the parousia taking place significantly ahead of time!) The resurrection, that which we bear witness to, is what opens up sight. So…

First starting at the end of the trajectory that I want to touch on. Jesus appears on the road to Emmaus. I put in the books that this was to a married couple (Cleopas and Mary). Mary the wife of Clopas (either a variation of spelling, not uncommon in the ancient world, or the influence of Hebrew / Aramaic coming through) was one of the women who remained at the cross (John 19:25)… more to come, so the two disciples seems to me to be those two, consoling each other, trudging away from the bitterness of disappointment. But before this we have the first sight of Jesus being by Mary Magdalene who identified him as ‘the Gardener’. I put a capital ‘G’ there as her identification is not corrected for I believe there is something very profound going on. Adam, the Gardener leaves the Garden with his wife, with the word ‘death’ ringing in his ears. They leave life behind. Jesus rises in a garden that is full of tombs of death, leaving death behind, so that the word ‘life’ will ring throughout the cosmos. First, visitation is to a woman… the resurrection sets some priorities!

From the woman he visits the couple. For Mary Magdalene he lifted her status (‘my Father’ = ‘your Father’ / ‘my God = your God’ – John 20:17). To them… well their eyes are opened. At evening, just as God used to visit in ‘the cool of the day’, so on the road to Emmaus they come to the close of the day. The original couple had their ‘eyes opened’, opened to see the nakedness of their state (literally and metaphorically) now this couple have their eyes opened also. No longer shame but true sight. True sight as natural sight was kept from them. Sight that dealt with corporate shame, corporate personal disappointment. Looking back on Eden there was fire preventing them returning, now there is fire in their hearts pressing them forward.

The resurrection, ‘it is already the third day’ being on the lips of Cleopas, gave sight. Sight of the future, for ‘there is new creation’; sight on who they are; and sight on who God in Jesus is, that being sight on the past. The resurrection allows sight to go all the way back to Eden. Three left Eden, just as three walked to Emmaus. When there was an exile from Eden, hidden from their sight, was a third companion; humanity never left Eden alone. God travelled with them, the sentence of ‘death’ might have rung in their ears but it was carried for them in the heart of God. Expulsion ends at the cross. The death consequence was truly fulfilled. The resurrection makes that plain.

The resurrection opens eyes to see where God has been all this time. Not locked up in a Temple, nor a ‘holy’ land, but trudging in the dust with the rest of us, even drawing boundaries for the people so that they might find him (!) and not be hidden from them (many implications in that!). The revelation of God is not found in a holy place, nor a holy land – Acts 7 and Stephen’s speech makes that point in a very profound way by selecting the revelations of God that took place outside the land of Israel… oops he should have re-written that speech cos that provokes certain people to pick up stones. (Oh and maybe we should add that the Pauline Gospel is birthed at the gates of Damascus and then nurtured in the desert.)

The resurrection opens sight on all of creation, and all of those who inhabit creation, including the plant life, the animals (even the wild animals, the promise of Old Testament restoration, wonderfully fulfilled in Mark’s account of the temptations of Jesus).

Tonight I am on ‘Witness’ chapter in book 1. Witnesses of the resurrection. If we have seen the resurrection we will see where God has trudged; we will see ‘new creation’ and we will see all others differently. Not according to the flesh, just as the two on the road did not see / recognise Jesus among them, so until we see differently we will not see Jesus among us.

Certainly not all Greek

No need to read the verses above! Just a lot of the word ‘anthropos’ that appears there including the part that affirms that Jesus’ identity post resurrection is as ‘the man Christ Jesus’… and yet that is what I wish to challenge.

The resurrection is a very key event which has enormous ramifications for creation. The resurrection is not a Greek alive-after-death scenario affirming that there is life after death, rather it is the resurrection of a physical body that affirms God’s ongoing commitment to his work of creation and secures a physical future.

Jesus died, Jesus rose again. The body that went in the grave is the one that came out and there was a transformation of that body. He enters the grave male and comes out…

A little speculative theology about to be embarked on here.

I have considered the question about resurrection and gender in my little head before and had previously reasoned that if sexual identity is an element of my identity then resurrection would include that element. Recently though I have re-considered. So a little journey to get to where I am speculatively settling.

A few basics first, and in this terminology is not always easy. I consider that God is neither male nor female, but both masculine and feminine. Humanity (and I appreciate there are biological exceptions to this) are either male or female but both are masculine and feminine. In other words I am using male / female biologically and masculine / feminine to relate to characteristics, and in that open up the whole scenario to the critique of cultural and gender stereotypes.

Jesus was male and Jewish. Jewish as they were the redeeming nation that had lost the plot. Born of a woman and born under the law he came at a time when the ‘sins of the Jews’ had reached fullness:

Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all (Lk. 11:50,51 – ‘sins of the Jews’ is a cheeky, but I think appropriate, adaptation of the term ‘sins of the Amorites’ from Gen. 15).

The nation called to be the means of redemption are condemned under the power of sin and therefore needed a representative redeemer. He is the Jewish Messiah. He dies as a Jew – we will come back to his resurrection in due course on this. He is not only Jewish but male, not because of some inherent superiority in the male gender – far from it. Male, as male had partnered with the powers, as expressed in patriarchal rule. Such dominance is antithetical to the kingdom of God. Jesus, as male, broke, through his relationships, behaviour, words and action this male dominance. A simple example of his cultural opposition to patriarchy is in Luke 11: 27,28:

As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.”
He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”

Her world view spilled right out in the presence of such a truly human presence. A woman’s status was like climbing a set of steps to the pinnacle. A woman needed to be married (step 1), to have children (step 2), to have a male child (third step) and the ultimate was to be a woman who not only gave birth to a male child but to a rabbi of the stature of Jesus. In one short sentence he corrected this totally. A woman’s status was not tied to her marital nor maternal relationships. Males are not superior, females are not subservient.

He is male, not to demonstrate superiority, but to deal with patriarchy. Unless sin at the sharp end is dealt with there can be no redemption. If he dies as Jew he dies for the world; if he dies as male he dies for humanity. Now to the resurrection.

He rises as new humanity, a humanity that is neither Jew nor Greek. Hence I do not see Jesus today as Jewish. He dies as Jew, he rises trans-national. And then… yes I think I have also moved ground on the maleness of the resurrected Jesus. He dies male, but ‘in Christ there is neither male and female’. This verse uses the term ‘and‘ when referring to male and female, unlike the ‘nor’ when referring to Jew / Greek and slave / free. The ‘and’ pushes us back to Genesis when God created male and female. New humanity is not male and female.

There is in heaven a human mediator:

For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people (1 Tim. 2: 5,6).

I chose this translation with all its clumsy male language deliberately. ‘Mankind’ would be much better translated as’ humanity’, and the term the ‘man Christ Jesus’ is the generic ‘anthropos’ (humanity) not the specific ‘aner’ (male). Jesus was male, he (?) is now still fully human, but this verse leaves open the gender issue in the sense of ‘male’ or ‘female’.

The Godhead was not and is not male nor female. The Godhead was not Jewish. Jesus in the incarnation was both Jewish and male, but now?