Four things have converged this morning that make for an interesting question. How can we believe in the resurrection of the dead in this secular age?
The four points of convergence:
First, we read the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from dead this past weekend, found in John 11:1-44. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live.” (John 11:25) The physical resurrection of the very dead Lazarus was the scandal that pushed the authorities over the edge and motivated them to arrest Jesus. (see visual meditation here)
Second, the Grow Guide daily reading schedule calls for the reading of 1 Corinthians 15:1-58 this Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. The apostle Paul says, “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:13-14)” He then proceeds to talk about how the perishable will be swallowed up by the imperishable. Our physical body comes first, he says, and then it will be transformed into a spiritual body. He doesn’t necessarily allude to a dualism between the physical and the spiritual. It sounds more like a wholistic progression from one form of physical to a better, “glorified” form of physical/spiritual body. It is very confusing.
Third, our youth director, Hans, asked me if I would be willing to come to youth group one Wednesday night in Lent and talk about resurrection. That is their one-word theme for the whole season.
Fourth, Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditations this week are focused on the theme “Creation.” Today’s meditation talks about how everything is connected. He quotes philosopher Brian Swimme and historian Mary Evelyn Tucker from their book, Journey of the Universe,
With our empirical observations expanded by modern science, we are now realizing that our universe is a single immense energy event that began as a tiny speck that has unfolded over time to become galaxies and stars, palms and pelicans, the music of Bach, and each of us alive today. The . . . universe is not simply a place but a story—a story in which we are immersed, to which we belong, and out of which we arose.
This story has the power to awaken us more deeply to who we are. For just as the Milky Way is the universe in the form of a galaxy, and an orchid is the universe in the form of a flower, we are the universe in the form of a human. And every time we are drawn to look up into the night sky and reflect on the awesome beauty of the universe, we are actually the universe reflecting on itself. . . .
Bringing It All Together
I stand with Paul. Without Jesus’ physical resurrection from the dead, we, as Christians, have nothing new to offer the world. We simply have another moral code by which we can try to make the world a better place. Don’t get me wrong, a moral code is good, but it has no teeth in the Secular Age. Further, that moral code was given to us by a guy who made some crazy claim that he is the resurrection and the life. The resurrection of Jesus sounds like a fairy tale and is easily dismissed to the mind of the Secular Age.
I need to pause for a moment and clarify an important point. I am constantly reminding people, in writing and preaching, that the Kingdom of Heaven is less about where we end up when we die than about how to live in the world right now. That is true, but I don’t want to be misunderstood. I still believe there is an “afterlife.” Death is not the end. I do believe in the resurrection of the dead and the continuation of relationship with God and the universe. I just have no idea how or what it is like.
Is it possible that our ancient belief about the resurrection of the dead, as taught in scripture, was a way to discuss the Law of the Conservation of Energy in an age when we saw things differently? As a pastor and a theologian, it is my job to navigate between the ancient texts, the theological traditions that have been built up around those texts in various cultural contexts, and our current moment in human history and cosmological awareness.
What if the resurrection of the dead is the natural progression of our spiritual growth? Jesus said that until a seed falls to the ground and dies it cannot grow to become something beyond itself. Paul uses this same imagery in 1 Corinthians 15.
What do you think?