The Resurrection: Myth or Reality?

The Resurrection: Myth or Reality is the title of a book published a few years ago by Bishop John Spong. In the run-up to Easter I have been re-reading it. I love the Bishop’s profound knowledge of the Bible. He explores the contradicting stories about the Resurrection in the four Gospels and reminds us that they are not history books. They are examples of ‘midrash’: that Jewish method of exploring a profound spiritual experience by commenting on or expanding earlier Biblical stories. The remarkable parallels between the Gospel accounts of the Resurrection and what we Christians call the Old Testament are well known. Traditionally Christians have appealed to these parallels as proof of the way in which the ‘Old Testament’ prophecies are fulfilled in the Gospel stories. However to the non-Jewish mind, and especially to 21st century people the contradicting details will no longer allow us to accept that we are reading historical accounts of something that literally happened.

Having explored all this the Bishop comes up with an imaginative reconstruction of what might have happened on that first Easter. Whatever the Resurrection event was, he suggests it happened not in Jerusalem three days after the crucifixion but in Galilee six months later, just before the feast of Tabernacles. The Palm Sunday triumphal entry into Jerusalem becomes the return of Peter and his fellow disciples from Galilee to celebrate the feast of Tabernacles, their consciousness now awakened. Like  blind Bartimaeus in chapter 10 of Mark’s Gospel, NOW they see!! Now they KNOW what Jesus meant by the kingdom. In this reconstruction bits of the Gospels’ jigsaw fall into place: the Transfiguration, the cursing of the fig tree for example. I cannot summarise a carefully argued book here. It’s worth reading if you are unfamiliar with it.

“God does not know how to be absent” wrote Martin Laird in ‘Into The Silent Land’. I wonder what the Christian liturgical calendar would look like for a God-does-not-know-how-to-be-absent Church?!

Happy Easter!

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