"Spiritual" Resurrection

Posted under The Rectory Bulletin | Easter

When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. (John 21:9–14)

In the 1980s there was a great furore surrounding David Jenkins, one time Bishop in the Church of England. Prior to his consecration as Bishop of York, a petition with twelve thousand names was presented to the Archbishop fo York, urging him not to go ahead. Some days after his consecration, York Minster was struck with lightning, an event which some took as an expression of divine displeasure, and the satirical puppet show “Spitting Image” once portrayed him as trying to persuade God to become an atheist! A controversial figure, then.

One of his statements which attracted attention was that the resurrection was “spiritual rather than physical”. As one text book put it, Jenkins believed: "the resurrection was not a single event, but a series of experiences that gradually convinced people that Jesus's life, power, purpose and personality were actually continuing”. Jesus’s “life” continues, but in a spiritual manner. He remains a force within the world, a force which is distinctively “Jesus”, but the physical resurrection is denied.

Now, we need to be careful not to dismiss the idea that Jesus is known spiritually. Paul, writing to the Galatians, asserts that “God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!” (Galatians 4:6) and Peter speaks of the “Spirit of Christ” guiding the Old Testament prophets (1 Peter 1:11). That said, nothing here contradicts the physical resurrection of Christ. In fact, the idea of a “spiritual” resurrection is really just a modern thought, and the concept was unknown within ancient Judaism. The New Testament goes to great lengths to demonstrate the physical resurrection and , for example, we see Jesus cooking breakfast and eating fish.

And then we come back to the tricky issue of the empty tomb. Why would a spiritual resurrection result in the body disappearing? No, this theory may fit in with modern ideas which seek to deny any supernaturalism but it doesn’t fit with the evidence of the New Testament.

Mass Hallucination

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. (1 Corinthians 15:3–8) - It is hard to square this view with the facts on the ground. The disciples were not expecting a resurrection and Mary Magdalene, for instance, failed to recognise Jesus when he stood by her. It is hard to think that Thomas, skeptical as he was, would share in this delusion. It is harder still to believe that Paul, when he was determined to wipe out the earliest church, would have had a vision of Christ which can be put down to wishful thinking.

The Legend of Jesus

Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive (1 Corinthains 15:6) - A popular theory about Christianity is that the whole thing is rather a mistake! Yes, Jesus was a great teacher but he was no messiah, let alone God. The truth is that we have very early written evidence for the claims of Christianity, evidence backed up by the names of eyewitnesses. The claim that this is all a later legend simply does not hold water.

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