Humpty Dumpty, Doubting Thomas, and Resurrection – John 20:19-31 – Easter 2A

humpty dumptyChrist is Risen! Christ is Risen Indeed! Alleluia! Here we are still in the early days of the fifty daylong celebration of Easter and I’m already wondering how long we should keep chanting that Christ is risen! Sometimes, it seems that after the first flush of Easter Sunday’s excitement, our shouting that Christ is Risen sounds a little like we doth protest too much. The crowds of Easter are pretty much gone and churches all over Christendom are trying to keep up the excitement with the remnant of believers who turn up at church more often than Christmas and Easters. Our shouts of Christ is risen seem a little feeble; almost as if we are trying to convince ourselves that the celebrations of last Sunday actually mean something. After all it’s pretty safe to shout that Christ is risen in church. Nobody is going to challenge us in here about what we mean by that. But what if we were shouting that Christ is risen on the street corners or at work? Would we be comfortable telling people what we mean?

Christ is risen! Are we really willing to shout when it comes to declaring our belief in the resurrection? And if we are willing to shout about the resurrection, what is it that we would be shouting about? After all people have been arguing about the resurrection ever since the rumors about the empty tomb first began and after 21 centuries we still can’t agree what happened to Jesus after he died. Over the centuries the word resurrection has taken on so much baggage that it is difficult for many of us to talk about resurrection because we all bring so much to the conversation whenever we try to discuss it. Most of us grew up believing that we needed to believe in physical resurrection in order to belong. So we have learned to accept that resurrection means the physical resuscitation of a corpse. Yet even the stories that we tell in church don’t necessarily insist that Jesus physically rose from the dead.

The Irish novelist who wrote the famous book about his childhood in Ireland called Angela’s Ashes, also wrote a less famous book about his early years as a teacher in the United States. The book was called T’is and even though it didn’t sell quite as well as his first novel, McCourt’s I love it because it lends some keen insights into a teaching and teaching is one of the things I love about being a pastor. McCourt tells a story about Humpty Dumpty that illustrates some of the difficulties we face when we begin a discussion of the resurrection. McCourt tells his class the story of Humpty Dumpty to his class and for a whole class period there’s a heated discussion of “Humpty Dumpty” itself. (I’m using the term “itself” because no where in this English nursery Rhyme does it indicate what gender Humpty Dumpty is) In McCourt’s class Humpty Dumpty’s gender was automatically assumed to be male. But it was the sixties and so nobody argued about Humpty’s gender when McCourt recited the well known rhyme: “Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall; All the kings horses And all the king’s men Couldn’t put Humpty together again.” Then Frank asked his class what is going on in the nursery rhyme and all the hands shot up to say things like: This egg falls off the wall and if you study biology or physics you know that you can never put an egg back together again. I mean it’s common sense really. That’s when Frank asked the question that set the class at odds with him. “Who says it’s an egg? Of course it’s an egg! Everyone knows that! Where does it say that it’s an egg? The class is thinking. They’re searching the text for egg, any mention, any hint of egg. They just won’t give in. There are more hands and indignant assertions of egg. All their lives they knew this rhyme and there was never any doubt that Humpty Dumpty was an egg. They’re comfortable with the idea of egg and why do teachers have to come along and destroy everything with all this analysis. McCourt insists that he’s not destroying. He just wants to know where they got the idea that Humpty Dumpty is an egg. Because the class insists, it’s in all the pictures and whoever drew the first picture must have known the guy who wrote the poem or he’d never have made it an egg. So Frank says, All right. If you’re content with the idea of egg we’ll let it be but I know the future lawyers in this class will never accept egg where there is no evidence of egg. And so by tacit agreement Humpty Dumpty becomes now and always an egg. (I am indebted to Bernard Brandon Scott’s reminder of the story about Humpty Dumpty in  Frank McCourt’s novel “T’is”)

For me the subject of the resurrection of Jesus has a great deal in common with Humpty Dumpty because by some sort of tacit agreement it was decided long ago that the resurrection of Jesus just has to be a physical resuscitation of a corpse; this despite the fact that the earliest writer on the subject of the resurrection, the Apostle Paul denies that the resurrection of Jesus was a physical resuscitation of a corpse. Continue reading

Humpty Dumpty, Doubting Thomas, and Resurrection – John 20:19-31 – Easter 2C

humpty dumptyChrist is Risen! Christ is Risen Indeed! Alleluia! Here we are still in the early days of the fifty daylong celebration of Easter and I’m already wondering how long we should keep chanting that Christ is risen! Sometimes, it seems that after the first flush of Easter Sunday’s excitement, our shouting that Christ is Risen sounds a little like we doth protest too much. The crowds of Easter are pretty much gone and churches all over Christendom are trying to keep up the excitement with the remnant of believers who turn up at church more often than Christmas and Easters. Our shouts of Christ is risen seem a little feeble; almost as if we are trying to convince ourselves that the celebrations of last Sunday actually mean something. After all it’s pretty safe to shout that Christ is risen in church. Nobody is going to challenge us in here about what we mean by that. But what if we were shouting that Christ is risen on the street corners or at work? Would we be comfortable telling people what we mean?

Christ is risen! Are we really willing to shout when it comes to declaring our belief in the resurrection? And if we are willing to shout about the resurrection, what is it that we would be shouting about? After all people have been arguing about the resurrection ever since the rumors about the empty tomb first began and after 21 centuries we still can’t agree what happened to Jesus after he died. Over the centuries the word resurrection has taken on so much baggage that it is difficult for many of us to talk about resurrection because we all bring so much to the conversation whenever we try to discuss it. Most of us grew up believing that we needed to believe in physical resurrection in order to belong. So we have learned to accept that resurrection means the physical resuscitation of a corpse. Yet even the stories that we tell in church don’t necessarily insist that Jesus physically rose from the dead.

The Irish novelist who wrote the famous book about his childhood in Ireland called Angela’s Ashes, also wrote a less famous book about his early years as a teacher in the United States. The book was called T’is and even though it didn’t sell quite as well as his first novel, McCourt’s I love it because it lends some keen insights into a teaching and teaching is one of the things I love about being a pastor. McCourt tells a story about Humpty Dumpty that illustrates some of the difficulties we face when we begin a discussion of the resurrection. McCourt tells his class the story of Humpty Dumpty to his class and for a whole class period there’s a heated discussion of “Humpty Dumpty” itself. (I’m using the term “itself” because no where in this English nursery Rhyme does it indicate what gender Humpty Dumpty is) In McCourt’s class Humpty Dumpty’s gender was automatically assumed to be male. But it was the sixties and so nobody argued about Humpty’s gender when McCourt recited the well known rhyme: “Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall; All the kings horses And all the king’s men Couldn’t put Humpty together again.” Then Frank asked his class what is going on in the nursery rhyme and all the hands shot up to say things like: This egg falls off the wall and if you study biology or physics you know that you can never put an egg back together again. I mean it’s common sense really. That’s when Frank asked the question that set the class at odds with him. “Who says it’s an egg? Of course it’s an egg! Everyone knows that! Where does it say that it’s an egg? The class is thinking. They’re searching the text for egg, any mention, any hint of egg. They just won’t give in. There are more hands and indignant assertions of egg. All their lives they knew this rhyme and there was never any doubt that Humpty Dumpty was an egg. They’re comfortable with the idea of egg and why do teachers have to come along and destroy everything with all this analysis. McCourt insists that he’s not destroying. He just wants to know where they got the idea that Humpty Dumpty is an egg. Because the class insists, it’s in all the pictures and whoever drew the first picture must have known the guy who wrote the poem or he’d never have made it an egg. So Frank says, All right. If you’re content with the idea of egg we’ll let it be but I know the future lawyers in this class will never accept egg where there is no evidence of egg. And so by tacit agreement Humpty Dumpty becomes now and always an egg. (I am indebted to Bernard Brandon Scott’s reminder of the story about Humpty Dumpty in  Frank McCourt’s novel “T’is”)

For me the subject of the resurrection of Jesus has a great deal in common with Humpty Dumpty because by some sort of tacit agreement it was decided long ago that the resurrection of Jesus just has to be a physical resuscitation of a corpse; this despite the fact that the earliest writer on the subject of the resurrection, the Apostle Paul denies that the resurrection of Jesus was a physical resuscitation of a corpse. Continue reading

Approaching the Resurrection – What Did Paul Actually Say?

trouble with resurrection

Far too many preachers stumble into the celebration of Easter without doing our homework. Resurrection is a central tenant of the Christian faith and Easter is the primary celebration of resurrection and yet, too many of us fail to open ourselves to current scholarship surrounding the doctrine of resurrection. Questions about the nature of the resurrection ought to send us back to the words of the Apostle Paul. Bernard Brandon Scott is a charter member of the Jesus Seminar. His book “The Trouble with Resurrection” is a must read for those who preach during the Easter Season.

If you are planning to write a sermon or listen to a sermon this Easter, this video provides essential background information about the words of the Apostle Paul on the nature of the resurrection which may surprise you. Scott’s treatment of 1 Cor. 15 provides a new understanding of resurrection which is compelling as well as liberating.

 

 

I Plead Guilty to the Charge of Denying the Resurrection – But I ain’t leaving!!!

I am reposting this particular post because it remains the most visited post of this blog.  It first appeared during  my first months of blogging and I am often asked about this post. Its contents continue to invoke the wrath of some and the appreciation of many. I offer it here, mindful that in the intervening tree years since I first posted it, I have had the opportunity to explore progressive and evolutionary theologies which have nourished me in my efforts to proclaim the Easter story in ways that move beyond the tired debate over the physical resuscitation of a corpse toward an understanding of resurrection that permeates my daily quest to know the unknowable ONE who lies at the heart of reality. 

Peter Callesen's Papercut Resurrection

Peter Callesen’s Papercut Resurrection

Blogging is sometimes a very strange medium and I must say that I am overwhelmed by the responses to my recent posts about resurrection.  While many have emailed or posted their ardent “amens” others have been scathing and some hostile to my remarks.  I am grateful to everyone who has responded.  All of your comments help me as I continue to ponder the theological and practical implications of the Easter story.  For those of you who have suggested that I have no business calling myself a Christian or a pastor and have suggested that I ought to consider leaving the church, I offer the following.

A while back, I got together with clergy colleagues to talk about the challenges of preaching during Holy Week. When the subject of the crucifixion and the resurrection came up, the conversation became very lively as the traditionalists challenged the progressives. Toward the end of our conversation, it became clear that because I was unwilling to concede to the notion that Jesus corpse was physically resuscitated; I stood accused of having denied the resurrection.

Some colleagues rose to my defense and insisted that I wasn’t saying anything different than what we all learned in seminary. But they also insisted that most lay-people simply don’t want to hear it. So, I asked them if they were going to preach about what they had learned in seminary and beyond and the general consensus was that there are too many guests on Easter Sunday to tackle theology.

Some said, they were simply too afraid of the fundamentalists in their congregations to ever even attempt to preach what they knew. A few confessed that they were working up to it; but not on Easter Sunday.

The traditionalists in the group were disgusted. One colleague went so far as to insist that I had no business being in the church because my very presence puts the beliefs of the faithful at risk. He wondered aloud, “Why do you stay in the church if you don’t believe?  If the church’s theology no longer works for you, why don’t you just leave?” Continue reading

Approaching the Resurrection – What Did Paul Actually Say?

trouble with resurrection

Far too many preachers stumble into the celebration of Easter without doing our homework. Resurrection is a central tenant of the Christian faith and Easter is the primary celebration of resurrection and yet, too many of us fail to open ourselves to current scholarship surrounding the doctrine of resurrection. Questions about the nature of the resurrection ought to send us back to the words of the Apostle Paul. Bernard Brandon Scott is a charter member of the Jesus Seminar. His book “The Trouble with Resurrection” is a must read for those who preach during the Easter Season.

If you are planning to write a sermon or listen to a sermon this Easter, this video provides essential background information about the words of the Apostle Paul on the nature of the resurrection which may surprise you. Scott’s treatment of 1 Cor. 15 provides a new understanding of resurrection which is compelling as well as liberating.

 

Humpty Dumpty, Doubting Thomas, and Resurrection – John 20:19-31 – Easter 2A

humpty dumptyChrist is Risen! Christ is Risen Indeed! Alleluia! Here we are still in the early days of the fifty daylong celebration of Easter and I’m already wondering how long we should keep chanting that Christ is risen! Sometimes, it seems that after the first flush of Easter Sunday’s excitement, our shouting that Christ is Risen sounds a little like we doth protest too much. The crowds of Easter are pretty much gone and churches all over Christendom are trying to keep up the excitement with the remnant of believers who turn up at church more often than Christmas and Easters. Our shouts of Christ is risen seem a little feeble; almost as if we are trying to convince ourselves that the celebrations of last Sunday actually mean something. After all it’s pretty safe to shout that Christ is risen in church. Nobody is going to challenge us in here about what we mean by that. But what if we were shouting that Christ is risen on the street corners or at work? Would we be comfortable telling people what we mean?

Christ is risen! Are we really willing to shout when it comes to declaring our belief in the resurrection? And if we are willing to shout about the resurrection, what is it that we would be shouting about? After all people have been arguing about the resurrection ever since the rumors about the empty tomb first began and after 21 centuries we still can’t agree what happened to Jesus after he died. Over the centuries the word resurrection has taken on so much baggage that it is difficult for many of us to talk about resurrection because we all bring so much to the conversation whenever we try to discuss it. Most of us grew up believing that we needed to believe in physical resurrection in order to belong. So we have learned to accept that resurrection means the physical resuscitation of a corpse. Yet even the stories that we tell in church don’t necessarily insist that Jesus physically rose from the dead.

The Irish novelist who wrote the famous book about his childhood in Ireland called Angela’s Ashes, also wrote a less famous book about his early years as a teacher in the United States. The book was called T’is and even though it didn’t sell quite as well as his first novel, McCourt’s I love it because it lends some keen insights into a teaching and teaching is one of the things I love about being a pastor. McCourt tells a story about Humpty Dumpty that illustrates some of the difficulties we face when we begin a discussion of the resurrection. McCourt tells his class the story of Humpty Dumpty to his class and for a whole class period there’s a heated discussion of “Humpty Dumpty” itself. (I’m using the term “itself” because no where in this English nursery Rhyme does it indicate what gender Humpty Dumpty is) In McCourt’s class Humpty Dumpty’s gender was automatically assumed to be male. But it was the sixties and so nobody argued about Humpty’s gender when McCourt recited the well known rhyme: “Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall; All the kings horses And all the king’s men Couldn’t put Humpty together again.” Then Frank asked his class what is going on in the nursery rhyme and all the hands shot up to say things like: This egg falls off the wall and if you study biology or physics you know that you can never put an egg back together again. I mean it’s common sense really. That’s when Frank asked the question that set the class at odds with him. “Who says it’s an egg? Of course it’s an egg! Everyone knows that! Where does it say that it’s an egg? The class is thinking. They’re searching the text for egg, any mention, any hint of egg. They just won’t give in. There are more hands and indignant assertions of egg. All their lives they knew this rhyme and there was never any doubt that Humpty Dumpty was an egg. They’re comfortable with the idea of egg and why do teachers have to come along and destroy everything with all this analysis. McCourt insists that he’s not destroying. He just wants to know where they got the idea that Humpty Dumpty is an egg. Because the class insists, it’s in all the pictures and whoever drew the first picture must have known the guy who wrote the poem or he’d never have made it an egg. So Frank says, All right. If you’re content with the idea of egg we’ll let it be but I know the future lawyers in this class will never accept egg where there is no evidence of egg. And so by tacit agreement Humpty Dumpty becomes now and always an egg. (I am indebted to Bernard Brandon Scott’s reminder of the story about Humpty Dumpty in  Frank McCourt’s novel “T’is”)

For me the subject of the resurrection of Jesus has a great deal in common with Humpty Dumpty because by some sort of tacit agreement it was decided long ago that the resurrection of Jesus just has to be a physical resuscitation of a corpse; this despite the fact that the earliest writer on the subject of the resurrection, the Apostle Paul denies that the resurrection of Jesus was a physical resuscitation of a corpse. Continue reading

I Plead Guilty to the Charge of Denying the Resurrection – But I ain’t leaving!!!

I have been asked to repost this particular post. It first appeared during  my first months of blogging and I am often asked about this post. Its contents continue to invoke the wrath of some and the appreciation of many. I offer it here, mindful that in the intervening two years since I first posted it, I have had the opportunity to explore progressive and evolutionary theologies which have nourished me in my efforts to proclaim the Easter story in ways that move beyond the tired debate over the physical resuscitation of a corpse toward an understanding of resurrection that permeates my daily quest to know the unknowable ONE who lies at the heart of reality. 

Peter Callesen's Papercut Resurrection

Peter Callesen’s Papercut Resurrection

Blogging is sometimes a very strange medium and I must say that I am overwhelmed by the responses to my recent posts about resurrection.  While many have emailed or posted their ardent “amens” others have been scathing and some hostile to my remarks.  I am grateful to everyone who has responded.  All of your comments help me as I continue to ponder the theological and practical implications of the Easter story.  For those of you who have suggested that I have no business calling myself a Christian or a pastor and have suggested that I ought to consider leaving the church, I offer the following.

A while back, I got together with clergy colleagues to talk about the challenges of preaching during Holy Week. When the subject of the crucifixion and the resurrection came up, the conversation became very lively as the traditionalists challenged the progressives. Toward the end of our conversation, it became clear that because I was unwilling to concede to the notion that Jesus corpse was physically resuscitated; I stood accused of having denied the resurrection.

Some colleagues rose to my defense and insisted that I wasn’t saying anything different than what we all learned in seminary. But they also insisted that most lay-people simply don’t want to hear it. So, I asked them if they were going to preach about what they had learned in seminary and beyond and the general consensus was that there are too many guests on Easter Sunday to tackle theology.

Some said, they were simply too afraid of the fundamentalists in their congregations to ever even attempt to preach what they knew. A few confessed that they were working up to it; but not on Easter Sunday.

The traditionalists in the group were disgusted. One colleague went so far as to insist that I had no business being in the church because my very presence puts the beliefs of the faithful at risk. He wondered aloud, “Why do you stay in the church if you don’t believe?  If the church’s theology no longer works for you, why don’t you just leave?” Continue reading

Approaching the Resurrection – What Did Paul Actually Say?

trouble with resurrection

It may only be the early days of Lent, but many preachers are already beginning to make plans for Easter. Far too many preachers stumble into the celebration of Easter without doing our homework. Resurrection is a central tenant of the Christian faith and Easter is the primary celebration of resurrection and yet, too many of us fail to open ourselves to current scholarship surrounding the doctrine of resurrection. Questions about the nature of the resurrection ought to send us back to the words of the Apostle Paul. Bernard Brandon Scott is a charter member of the Jesus Seminar. His book “The Trouble with Resurrection” is a must read for those who preach during the Easter Season. (some may be familiar with Scott as a result of his contributions to the Living the Questions programs)

If you are planning to write a sermon or listen to a sermon this Easter, this video provides essential background information about the words of the Apostle Paul on the nature of the resurrection which may surprise you. Scott’s treatment of 1 Cor. 15 provides a new understanding of resurrection which is compelling as well as liberating.

 

 

The Passion of Jesus: Holy Week, Good Friday and Easter: Marcus Borg

last-weekSpeaking on March 18 2013, Marcus Borg breathes life into the book he wrote with John Dominic Crossan: “The Last Week”

Thanks Marcus, now I have this song on the brain!

Humpty Dumpty, Doubting Thomas, and Resurrection

humpty dumptySecond Sunday of Easter – April 7, 2013

I am indebted to Bernard Brandon Scott’s reminder of the story about Humpty Dumpty in  Frank McCourt’s novel “T’is”

Listen to the sermon here

Approaching the Resurrection – What Did Paul Actually Say?

trouble with resurrection

Far too many preachers stumble into the celebration of Easter without doing our homework. Resurrection is a central tenant of the Christian faith and Easter is the primary celebration of resurrection and yet, too many of us fail to open ourselves to current scholarship surrounding the doctrine of resurrection. Questions about the nature of the resurrection ought to send us back to the words of the Apostle Paul. Bernard Brandon Scott is a charter member of the Jesus Seminar. His book “The Trouble with Resurrection” is a must read for those who preach during the Easter Season.

If you are planning to write a sermon or listen to a sermon this Easter, this video provides essential background information about the words of the Apostle Paul on the nature of the resurrection which may surprise you. Scott’s treatment of 1 Cor. 15 provides a new understanding of resurrection which is compelling as well as liberating.

 

 

THE RESURRECTION OF MARY – An Idle Tale

St. Mary of Magdala the Apostle to the Apostles

As our Easter celebrations continue, the readings for this coming Sunday quickly move our attention to the story of Thomas.  Poor old doubting Thomas.  It’s the same every year.  Thomas’ doubts greet the faithful on “low Sunday”.  But before you let Thomas’ doubts capture Easter’s hope, consider exploring the resurrection of Mary.  Perhaps my not-so-long-ago encounter with a visiting New Testament scholar will entice you to follow Mary out of her tomb and beyond the streets to her place at the head of the fledgling community that became the church: 

He just said it for the third time! “Harlots!” He keeps calling them “harlots”, while I rack my brains to come up with one harlot. Then he points to the text and his charges become clearer, he says, “she is a “prostitute!”

My carefully reigned in anger is unleashed. “Where?  Where?  Where? Show me where it says this woman is a prostitute!”

As he refers to the Gospel text and insists that, “It is there, right there in the text”,

I want to scream, I want to cry, I want to wipe the bemused expression from his face. I want to rub his nose in the damned text. Instead, I begin the uneasy process of reigning in my anger. I slow my speech, I try to erase the tremor from my voice and I ask him to, “Show me, show me where it says this woman is a prostitute.”

He consults his text and says, “a woman in the city who was a sinner.”

“A sinner not a prostitute.”  I respond.

He insists, “Yes a prostitute.”

“Where?” I ask.

Again he insists, “A woman who was a sinner.”

I demanded to know, “Where does it say she was a prostitute?”

He insists, “The author means that she was a prostitute.”

I lose control, “How do you know?  What words does the author use to say that his woman was a prostitute? Show me in the text where it says she was a prostitute?”

He still doesn’t get it, “What do you mean? It is clear that this woman was a prostitute.”

Once again I push, “Show me.  Show me where?”

He continues to say, “She was a woman from the city who was a sinner.”

I know that the text says that, so I implore him to tell me, “The Greek… What does the Greek say?”

He replies, “amartolos”.

I push, “Does that mean prostitute?” We both know that it does not.

He replies, “Sinner. But the context clearly shows that she was a prostitute.”

Still pushing I ask him to “Show me.  Show me how the narrative says this woman was a prostitute. Show me where it says her sins were sexual.             Show me where it says so in the narrative.”

He says, “It’s clear.”

Clearly we disagree, so I try again, “Clear to you.  Show me. Show me!”

As he fumbles through the pages, I offer him a way out, “Okay.  Even if I concede the point that her sins were sexual, show me where it says that these sexual sins were nothing more than lust or adultery, show me where it says that she was a prostitute.  Show me!”

He couldn’t show me.  It’s simply not there.

Nowhere in the New Testament does it ever say in Greek or in English that Mary of Magdala is a prostitute.  But over and over again scholars, theologians, popes, preachers, and dramatists, have continued to cast Mary of Magdala as a prostitute.  

In the years that have transpired since than day in seminary, when a visiting New Testament scholar insisted that “the context clearly shows that she was a prostitute,” I’ve delighted in being able to participate in the phenomenon of Mary’s resurrection as the first Apostle.

I’ve gobbled up all the many books that have recently been written about the woman commonly known as Mary Magdalene. Some of them have been great scholarly texts like Jane Schaberg’s tome entitled “The Resurrection of Mary Magdalene.” While others have been little more than a salacious romp like Dan Brown’s:  The Davinci Code. But whether its scholarly speculation on the nature of Mary’s leadership in the Early Church or scandalous speculation on her sexual exploits with none other than Jesus himself, what these books hold in common is their ability to touch an insatiable curiosity about this enigmatic biblical character whose feminine attributes have ruffled the cassocks of those patriarchs of the priestly persuasion for centuries.

The recent resurrection of Mary has offered up portraits of a character whose historical roots go all the way back to a relationship with Jesus of Nazareth. And that relationship situates Mary at Jesus’ right hand. Now you’d think that someone whom all four gospels declare to be so very close to Jesus, ought to be someone your hear about in the church all the time.  You’d think that someone who the gospels record as having supported Jesus fledgling ministry out of her own resources, someone who if the gospels are to be believed, followed Jesus all the way to the cross and to whom the risen Christ first appeared and who is the first to be sent by Christ to proclaim the good news of the resurrection, you’d think that such a someone would be heralded down through the centuries, from pulpit to pulpit across the length and breadth of Christendom as the First Apostle. For indeed the literal definition of apostle is “one who is sent”. And if the gospels are to be believed,  Mary was sent by none other than the Risen Christ, so you’d think she would be honored by the very church that professes to follow Christ.  

But there’s just something about Mary….  that has made priests and preachers down through the centuries abhor her.  That the historical evidence clearly points to Mary’s role as a leader, perhaps the foremost leader of the first, fledgling followers of Jesus Christ, has not seemed to help Mary’s case. Indeed, it may be that her leadership position as the Apostle to the Apostles, the first witness to the resurrection and the first to proclaim that Christ is alive, is the very thing that set the proverbial cat among the priestly pigeons.

Now I know that there are those who would say that the swirling conspiracy theories that abound around any discussion of Mary are little more than the rumblings of ill-advised detractors who seek to undermine the teaching authority of the church.  But the evidence is clear that dear old Pope Gregory the Great, whether it was by accident or design actually misrepresented the Scriptures when he pontificated in a way that only popes can, about a woman’s sexuality. That this particular woman happened to be a close confidant of the one his holiness Pope Gregory called, “Lord and Saviour” did not save her from falling (pardon the pun) falling prey to his holiness’s foibles as he confused Mary Magdalene with the woman caught in adultery and made the perilously, presumptuous leap from adultery to prostitution.  And low and behold for 14 centuries after Gregory’s not so great condemnation, Mary has remained relegated to the ranks of those whose bodies are bought and sold for the sake of those who care little for the female gender. And despite biblical and historical evidence to the contrary, Mary has been denied the titles that befit her rank.

But if you want to believe that it is merely a coincidence that the denial of Mary’s rank coincides with the church’s adamant denial down through the centuries that women could ever hope to enter the ranks of the priesthood, well I’m sure that God will forgive you, I’m just not sure Mary or her sisters will.

So what do the scriptures tell us about the disciple whom Jesus loved?             Well for starters Mary was a woman whom Jesus healed.  The gospel according to Luke tells us that:

“With Jesus went the twelve, as well as some women he had healed of evil spirits and sickness;  Mary of Magdala, from whom Jesus had cast out seven demons; Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza; Suzanna; and many other women who were contributing to the support of Jesus and the Twelve with their own funds.”

Evil spirits and sickness; 7 demons, no mention of sex.  No mention of prostitution. Now I don’t know about you, but if a prostitute showed up at your church tongues would be wagging.  And whoever wrote the gospel of Luke was more than capable of passing on a sexual tidbit or two. In fact just before he tells us about the women who support Jesus’ ministry, the writers tells the tale of a woman caught in adultery. But the writer never mentions that Mary was a prostitute.

Now there are some who insist that Gregory the not so great was simply confused by this story and so we should understand that it was an easy mistake to make. But to accept this is to accept that adultery and prostitution are the same thing. Now I get that popes are not well versed in matters of sex, but sadly that’s never stopped them from pontificating.

What irks me more is that a 20th Century New Testament scholar, who ought to know better, could suggest that adultery and prostitution are the same thing or indeed that one woman is the same as the next.

Okay, I’ll admit that I have an ax to grind. Many women do. But can you blame us?

Gentlemen.  I know that I have the rare privilege of serving in ministry with the most enlightened generation of men any woman has had the privilege of serving. You guys are great! So, please don’t hear this as some sort of angry tirade against men. Because sadly, the attitudes that have confined Mary to walking the streets at night are not confined to men. The entire church culture is steeped in antiquated attitudes that will take all of us, women and men together, decades to recover from.

But recover we will.  We will recover the witness of St Mary of Magdala, whose dedicated faith in Jesus, helped her to follow Jesus, despite the fact that all of the Twelve Disciples abandoned him, Mary stayed and followed Jesus all the way to the foot of the cross and beyond. Even in her grief, while the disciples remained locked behind closed doors because they were afraid, Mary ventured out to perform with her ointments ready, not knowing how she would be able to roll the stone away, only knowing that they could not fail to do what she thought would be the last loving act for her beloved Jesus.

It is long past time for the church to celebrate the resurrection of Mary of Magdala, the Apostle to the Apostles. 

Mary faithfully ventured forth, not knowing how; only knowing that she must.  And it was Mary who recognized in the face of someone she thought was just a gardener; Mary recognized the face of Christ. In Mary Magdalene we see a woman whose love of Jesus pushed her to keep going in the face of torment and death. It was Mary’s love of Jesus that sent her into the garden alone. Even though she though that her beloved Jesus was dead and gone, her love helped push her forward and she discovered that everything old has been made new through love.

So, looking back to Mary, I wonder what it would take for us to proclaim, “I have seen Christ”?  Where can we find God in our lives and thereby find new life, new hope, new love?  Where can we find what Mary found; Mary who when she found this new thing, was able to go on to found a community of followers of Christ who endured despite the odds against them.  A community who although their writings were suppressed by the powers that be, they could not be kept silent. A community whose gospel lay buried for centuries, and whose restoration preserves the traditions if not the words of Mary who encourages us down through the centuries with these words:

“Do not weep and be distressed nor let your hearts be troubled. For Christ’s grace will be with you all and will shelter you. Rather we should praise Christ’s greatness, for Christ has joined us together and made us true human beings.”(Gospel of Mary and no I won’t supply the exact reference, in the hope that you might just read the entire Gospel)

Mary saw the risen Christ in the face of a gardener. Were can we find the face of Christ? Can we begin to see the face of Christ in the human beings that surround us?  Perhaps when we begin to share Mary’s faith that the risen Christ can bee seen, we will begin to see the ace of Christ in those around us; in face of the stranger we meet on the road, in the face of the homeless man as we sit and share a meal with them, in the face of a child we reach out to lift up out of poverty, in face the woman upon whose shoulders we stand, in the face of our opponent as together we struggle for understanding, in the face of our enemy as we work for peace, in the face of our tormentors as we strive for justice, in the face of the sick as we seek healing, and in the face of the poor as we offer aid.

When we can look into the face of those we meet and see the face of Christ then perhaps we can follow in the footsteps of Mary and all the world will know by our love, that we too follow Christ.

St. Mary of Magdala, the first Apostle, the Apostle to the Apostle, the one in whom the Risen Christ entrusted the good news of eternal life.

May the power of Mary’s witness inspire you to see the face of Christ in the world.

I PLEAD GUILTY TO THE CHARGE of` DENYING THE RESURRECTION

BUT I AINT LEAVING!!!

             Blogging is new to me and I must say that I am overwhelmed by the responses to yesterday’s post about resurrection.  While many have emailed or posted their ardent “amens” others have been scathing and some hostile to my remarks.  I am grateful to everyone who has responded.  All of your comments help me as I continue to ponder the theological and practical implications of the Easter story.  For those of you who have suggested that I have no business calling myself a Christian or a pastor and have suggested that I ought to consider leaving the church, I offer the following.

            Last year, I got together with clergy colleagues to talk about the challenges of preaching during Holy Week. When the subject of the crucifixion and the resurrection came up, the conversation became very lively as the traditionalists challenged the progressives. Toward the end of our conversation, it became clear that because I was unwilling to concede to the notion that Jesus corpse was physically resuscitated; I stood accused of having denied the resurrection.

            Some colleagues rose to my defense and insisted that I wasn’t saying anything different than what we all learned in seminary. But they also insisted that most lay-people simply don’t want to hear it. So, I asked them if they were going to preach about what they had learned in seminary and beyond and the general consensus was that there are too many guests on Easter Sunday to tackle theology.

            Some said, they were simply too afraid of the fundamentalists in their congregations to ever even attempt to preach what they knew. A few confessed that they were working up to it; but not on Easter Sunday.

            The traditionalists in the group were disgusted. One colleague went so far as to insist that I had no business being in the church because my very presence puts the beliefs of the faithful at risk. He wondered aloud, “Why do you stay in the church if you don’t believe?   If the church’s theology no longer works for you, why don’t you just leave?”

            “Why do you stay?” is a question I am all too familiar with.

            Well, before I can answer that, I have to say, that I’ve taken a leaf out of Joan Chittister’s book. Chittister insists that we should all be asking ourselves why we stay.  She cautions that those of us who stay, need to respect those who decide to leave and those who leave must respect those who stay. Chittister also insists that while we continue to ask ourselves why we stay, we ought to remember that “if we go, we must not go quietly and if we stay we must not stay quietly”. We must speak out because the church needs us to speak out.

            I confess that I am constantly asking myself why I stay and there are days when I feel like leaving, days when I feel like staying quietly, and days when I am convinced that it is in the church where I must not only stay but echo the words of Luther with gusto:  for in here I stand!

            I stay, because I still believe that it is possible to change the church from within. I stay, despite the fact that each time I go out into the wider church, the traditions and traditionalists that I meet there often make me want to leave. But then I remember all of the people in the faithful community that I serve. I remember their wiliness to dwell in the questions of our faith. I remember their courage and their determination. I remember their thirst for knowledge. I remember the amazing ways they reach out to the people outside the walls of the church. I remember their faithfulness, their love,  and their keen sense of justice. I remember the image of Christ that I see in their faces and I know without a doubt that the church is where I belong, even though I know that as a community we will continue to ask ourselves,  “Why do we stay?”  And I know that if we stay we will not stay quietly. And if we should ever decide to leave, we will not leave quietly. I stay because in the church community that I serve, I have encountered the Body of Christ.

            Here in the church, I have seen the risen Christ reach out to our neighbours in need, fight for justice, and love God with all our hearts, with all our souls and yes with all our minds.  So, I stay surrounded by such a great crowd of witnesses.  But like so many before us, we must not stay quietly. Together we must continue to speak out for change in our church.  And together we must continue to explore what the best minds of this century have to teach us about the nature of our God.

            My desire to work together with others to move the church into the 21st century is precisely why I preach the sermons I preach on Good Friday and Easter Sunday mornings.  And for the most part, despite the dire warnings of some of my clergy colleagues, our visitors take it all very well. Indeed many are relieved to hear that there is more than one way to follow Christ.  But there was this one person last Easter Sunday, who on the way out the door, insisted that I had denied the resurrection.  This person was quite distressed and wondered aloud how a Christian could deny the resurrection and still call themselves a Christian.

            Now even though I assured this person that I do indeed believe in the resurrection, it was clear to me, what this person heard me say was not exactly the same as what I actually said.  So, let me make it clear. There is, and there has always been, from the very beginning disagreement among the followers of Christ as to the exact nature of the resurrection. And things aren’t any different today than they were in the first century. There is a distinct disagreement between the Christianity of biblical scholarship and the Christianity of fundamentalists.  And 21st century Christians can be found faithfully following Christ all along the spectrum of beliefs about the resurrection.

            Fundamentalists are quite sure of their truth.  On Easter the crucified Jesus, who was laid in the grave as a deceased man on Good Friday, was by the mighty act of God, restored to life on Easter. Jesus had broken the power of death for all people. If the body of Jesus was not physically restored to life, the fundamentalists claim, then Easter is fraudulent. There can be no compromise here. Those who waver on this foundational truth of Christianity have, according to this perspective, abandoned the essential core of their faith tradition.

            Well, to borrow the words from an old song and say, “”Tain’t necessarily so!” When you read the New Testament in the order in which these books were written, a fascinating progression is revealed.  Paul, for example, writing between the years 50 and 64 or some 20 to 34 years after the earthly life of Jesus came to an end, never describes the resurrection of Jesus as a physical body resuscitated after death.  There is no hint in the Pauline corpus that one, who had died, later walked out of his grave clothes, emerged from the tomb and was seen by his disciples.

            What Paul does suggest is that Easter meant that God had acted to reverse the verdict that the world had pronounced on Jesus by raising Jesus from death into God. It was, therefore, out of God in a transforming kind of heavenly vision that this Jesus then appeared to certain chosen witnesses. Paul enumerates these witnesses and, in a telling detail, says that this was the same Jesus that Paul himself had seen. No one suggests that Paul ever saw a resuscitated body.

            The Pauline corpus later says, “If you then have been raised with Christ, seek the things which are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” Remember, the story of the Ascension had not been written when these Pauline words were formed. Paul did not envision the Resurrection as Jesus being restored to life in this world but as Jesus being raised into God. It was not an event in time but a transcendent and transforming truth.

            Paul died, according to our best estimates, around the year 64 C.E. The first Gospel was not written until the early 70’s. Paul never had a chance to read the Easter story in any Gospel. The tragedy of later Christian history is that we read Paul through the lens of the Gospels.  So, we have both distorted Paul and also confused theology.

            When Mark, the first Gospel, was written the Risen Christ never appears. The last time Jesus is seen comes when his deceased body is taken from the cross and laid in the tomb. Mark’s account of the Resurrection presents us with the narrative of mourning women confronting an empty tomb, meeting a messenger who tells them that Jesus has been raised and asking these women to convey to the disciples that Jesus will meet them in Galilee. Mark then concludes his Gospel with a picture of these women fleeing in fear, saying nothing to anyone.  So abrupt was this ending that people began to write new endings to what they thought was Mark’s incomplete story. Two of those endings are actually reproduced in the King James Version of the Bible as verses 9-20. But thankfully, these later creations have been removed from the text of Mark in recent Bibles and placed into footnotes.  The sure fact of New Testament scholarship is that Mark’s Gospel ended without the Risen Christ ever being seen by anyone.

            Both Matthew, who wrote between 80-85, and Luke, who wrote between 88-92, had Mark to guide their compositions. Both changed, heightened and expanded Mark. It is fascinating to lift those changes into consciousness and to ask what was it that motivated Matthew and Luke to transform Mark’s narrative. Did they have new sources of information? Had the story grown over the years in the retelling?

            The first thing to note is that Matthew changes Mark’s story about the women at the tomb. First, the messenger in Mark becomes a supernatural angel in Matthew’s story. Next Matthew says the women do see Jesus in the garden.             They grasp him by the feet and worship him. This is the first time in Christian history that the Resurrection is presented as physical resuscitation. It occurs in the 9th decade of the first century.  It should be noted that it took more than 50 years to begin to interpret the Easter experience as the resuscitated body of the deceased Jesus.

            I don’t have time to go into the details of the development of this interpretation. But you can trace its growth through the gospels of Matthew and Luke until finally at the end of the first century to the Gospel of John. And when you read these chronologically, you will see that the Easter story appears to have grown rather dramatically over the years.

            Something happened after the crucifixion of Jesus that convinced the disciples that Jesus shared in the eternal life of God and was thus available to them as a living presence.   This experience was so profound that the disciples, who at his arrest had fled in fear, were now reconstituted and empowered even to die for the truth of their vision.  This experience had the power to force the Jewish disciples to redefine the God of the Jews so that Jesus could be seen as part of who God is. Finally this experience was so profound that it ultimately created, on the first day of the week, a new holy day that was quite different from the Sabbath, to enable Christians to mark this transforming moment with a liturgical act called “the breaking of bread.”

            When these biblical data are assembled and examined closely, two things become clear. First something of enormous power gripped the disciples following the crucifixion that transformed their lives. Second, it was some fifty years before that transforming experience was interpreted as the resuscitation of a three days dead Jesus to the life of the world. Our conversation about the meaning of Easter must begin where these two realities meet.

            As for those who condemn those of us who choose to follow the biblical strains of our resurrection theology as non-Christians, well there will always be those who will insist that it is their way or the highway.  As for the person who greeted me on the way out the door last Easter Sunday and questioned my ability to call myself a Christian, I would say, “Thank-you!”.  This question allowed me the opportunity to communicate clearly and concisely my thoughts on the resurrection, so please allow me to repeat myself. To those who have responded to my blogs, I say, “Thank-you!”  I thank-you for engaging me in the questions of our faith.  I thank-you because your questions make me a better follower and I trust that my questions will do the same for you.  Let us together be the church in our own time and place and have the courage to follow where-ever Christ leads.

            So, without equivocation or hesitation I fully and completely admit that I deny the resurrection of Christ. This is something that anyone who knows me could tell you, and I am not afraid to say it publicly, no matter what some people may think.  I deny the resurrection of Christ.  Theologian Peter Rollins puts it far better than I ever could, and with him, let me just say:

             “I deny the resurrection of Christ every time I do not serve at the feet of the oppressed, each day that I turn my back on the poor;  I deny the resurrection of Christ when I close my ears to the cries of the downtrodden and the oppressed.

            Every time I do not serve my neighbour, every time I walk away from the poor.

            I deny the resurrection every time I participate in an unjust system.

            However there are moments when I affirm that resurrection, few and far between as they are.

            I affirm the resurrection when I stand up for those who are forced to live on their knees,

            I affirm the resurrection when I speak for those who have had their tongues torn out,

            I affirm the resurrection, when I cry for those who have no more tears left to shed.

            I affirm the resurrection each and every time I look into your eyes and see the face of Christ.”

             Christ has died. Christ has risen.  Christ will come again and again.

            This is the mystery of our faith.

            Christ is Risen!

            Christ is Risen Indeed!  Alleluia!

            Christ is risen in you and in me. 

            In the words of Martin Luther:

            “This is most certainly true!”

            Can I get an Amen?