Sunday, March 23, 2008

More About Resurrection

Acts 2.14, 22-32
This passage from Peter's sermon on the day of Pentecost is the closest that the first Christians come to mentioning the empty tomb, and then Peter does so only by implication. Assuming that David is the writer of Psalm 16, Peter reflects on David's celebration of God's power to rescue him from death. Clearly, David himself was not rescued because - says Peter - his tomb is with us to this day, so the psalm must be prophetic. David must have been looking forward to a time when his royal House would be able to triumph over death through his descendant Jesus. Setting aside the fact that modern scholars think the psalmist is not talking about actual resurrection from death, but about being rescued from the brink of death, the obvious implication of Peter's words is that - in contrast to the tomb of King David - Jesus' tomb is empty. Then Peter concludes, however, not by emphasising the fact of the empty tomb but by stressing once again that the first disciples are witnesses to Jesus' resurrection. It is personal testimony to the resurrection of Jesus which really counts. The empty tomb seems to be mere icing on the cake.

1 Peter 3.3-9
Peter's theology is taken up and developed by the author of the Letters of Peter. He begins this passage by talking, in similar terms to last week's passage from Paul's letter to the Church in Colossae, about our personal experience of Jesus' resurrection. Paul described becoming a Christian as a spiritual experience in which we are drawn into the dynamic of Jesus' resurrection. We die to our old life and are raised to a new one by believing that Jesus died for us and is alive again. The author of 1 Peter draws on a different metaphor to describe the same experience'. Like the author of John's Gospel he prefers to compare becoming a Christian to rebirth rather than resurrection, but he links the two ideas. Our new birth into the Christian faith comes as a result of a living hope which Jesus' resurrection makes possible.

However, like Paul, the writer draws parallels between the actual historical experiences of Jesus and our own personal faith journey. Jesus had to suffer and die in order to enter into his risen power. In the same way, Christians must expect to endure hardship and suffering in order to share in Christ's glory. This is a logical extension of Jesus' own teaching about carrying our own cross if we wish to follow him.

The difference between us and Peter is that we must believe in the resurrection even though we have not seen the risen Jesus. But, once we believe, we can begin to enter into the same indescribable joy which the first disciples felt at Easter.

John 20.19-31
There are echoes here of another theme in John's Gospel, the story of doubting Thomas and John's teaching about it. Like the author of 1 Peter, the author of the Gospel is keen to emphasise not only the importance of believing the testimony of the first disciples, but also the necessity of suffering and death as a prelude to sharing in Jesus' resurrection life. The enduring wounds in Christ's body are a reminder that there is no easy way to glory.

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