Monday, May 2, 2022

The explosion of the resurrection across the pages of the New Testament (with an exception)

Preaching yesterday morning (Easter 3), when the readings were Acts 9:1-6 (the Conversion of St. Paul), Revelation 5:11-14 (the worship of the Lamb in heaven) and John 21:1-19 (Fishing on the Sea of Tiberias) got me thinking ...

The resurrection is like an explosion with a massive rippling effect across the pages of the New Testament.

Sure, most of the four gospels could have been written without the resurrection (which takes up just the last chapters of Matthew, Mark and Luke and the last two chapters of John). But without the resurrection there is no conversion of Saul to become Paul and no history of the first Christians which is Acts. No epistles of Paul, no other epistles, except may be the Epistle of James. And no Revelation with its vision of a heaven transformed through the presence of the once slain, now resurrected Lamb.

Which makes it all the more intriguing that the Gospel passage yesterday begins with no sign at all of an explosive resurrection impacting the main disciples of Jesus:

Simon Peter said to [the other disciples with him at the Sea of Tiberias], "I am going fishing." (21:3)

Simon and his fishing mates seem to be at a loose end! Now, sure, to be a bit anachronistic, workers for God need a day off, annual leave, team building exercises, and, within the 40 days (per Luke's account in Acts 1), there could have been a lull in activity in Galilee (though, per Luke the disciples do not go to Galilee, in contrast to Matthew, Luke and John).

Yes, the historical accounts of the appearances of the risen Jesus, especially in relationship to the commissioning-by-Jesus-and-what-happens-next, are intriguing as we note tension across the accounts between Jerusalem and Galilee and, in John 20 and 21, between Simon Peter and the Beloved Disciple, to say nothing of the tension between the explosive character of the resurrection and this exceptional lull at the beginning of John 21.

Perhaps that might keep us humble as readers many centuries later - humble in the sense of not being too sure and certain about exactly what happened, even as (through the witness of the apostles, embedded in the pages of the New Testament) we have high and joyful confidence that the Lord is risen and lives among us, as he did in the heady days of the expanding Christian church in the first century AD.

There are other things to keep us humble these days - or they ought to. Globally we have the continuing scandal of the Russian Orthodox Church showing not one scintilla of compassion for Ukraine and Ukrainians from its top leadership. Locally, Down Under, we have media stories about serious misconduct and unsatisfactory conduct in churches in Australia and New Zealand. Even when it is only a few named churches which feature in the headlines, it seems to me that all churches are tarred with the same reputational damaging brush.

I have been delighted, nevertheless, to read recently one heartwarming media story about a Down Under church - it concerns Curate Church in Tauranga and can be read here. (That's "curate" in a non-Anglican sense of the word "curate" - an active noun versus a role description!!)

Of course bad stories about churches do nothing to create, let alone enhance some kind of warm, questing space in people's minds re the existence of God and the possibility that God has revealed God's self to be compassionate and merciful. Secularism (in the sense of a society and its cultural expectations excluding the possibility of God's existence and interest in our world) grows apace hereabouts.

Interestingly, in this morning's Christchurch Press a local scientific commentator, Peter Griffin, has a column about the origins of life. As far as it goes it is an informative column, informing us of the possible role of meteorites (as carriers of DNA etc) in the development of life here. But its last sentence highlights the contrast between a questing science which knows not of God's revelation and a questing Christian (i.e. someone interested in meteorites) who knows of Genesis 1:

"Our origin story is still to be fully understood and written. But it will eventually make for one of the most remarkable chapters in the history of life itself."

(Incidentally, the thread of comments below the column is delightful!) 

These are challenging times. A person with no acceptance of the role of God as Creator is unlikely to be open to the thought that the power of the Creator has resurrected our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. The pathway along which we hope the good news travels into people's hearts is beset with blocking landslides and unbridgeable chasms.

Yesterday Psalm 8 was read in a service. It struck me that verse 4 is the question which all of Scripture answers:

"what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?"

But the question presupposes the Being to whom the question may be addressed and from whom an answer has come. We live in a world, many of us on this planet, in which it is denied that there is anyone who minds us!


Unknown said...

Some teachers that I had long ago might have speculated that The. Explosion of the Resurrection Across the New Testament was redacted from several sources. As they could have read its paragraphs, 1-7, 8-10, and 11-12 each made independent sense to its respective community, but all are integrated into a higher unity by the mysterious 13.


Unknown said...

Selected Aphorisms from the Apocryphal Gospel of St Wilbur the Cognac-Sniffer

Judas Iscariot, who betrayed the Lord to help the poor, rightly believed that he was a person with high ideals.

The society in which the Lord was raised from the dead was secular for few then noticed or believed.

Beware when all men think well of you.


Mark Murphy said...

Some Russian Orthodox have been courageously outspoken....

Anonymous said...

It is interesting that, apart from the last two verses of Luke about the joy of the disciples, the power of the resurrection was not evident until the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost. Then it was preached by Peter with great effect.


Anonymous said...

I should have added that the later end of Mark in 16:20 presupposes Pentecost with signs accompanying the preaching.


Mark Murphy said...

In Acts 8: 4-25 (especially 14-17), we hear of Philip at Samaria, preaching the good news (presumably of Jesus's resurrection), baptizing, and performing many signs.

And yet Peter and John are sent to them from Jerusalem, for although the people have accepted the Gospel, "the Spirit had not come upon any of them".

"Then Peter and John[s] laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit."

Presumably, the Spirit 'coming upon them', 'falling on them', is a reference to Pentecost, as well as recalling Jesus' own baptism.

I was always taught this story as the scriptural grounds for the sacrament of confirmation. I'm sure it says something, also, about the development of the early Church in terms of being an episcopacy.

The Explosion of the Resurrection Across the Pages of the New Testament is complex, differentiated, developing-over-time...

a big explosion and series of mini-explosions setting off others in an intricately ordered, creative way?

Father Ron said...

'Explosion' sounds exciting, Bishop. However, 'Implosion' may be the more necessary experience for Christians. I guess this is the sovereign work of the Holy Paraclete - The Comforter - Whose visitation is both necessary and, sometimes, disturbing but never off-putting: Like a Dove. "Come, Holy Spirit; fill the hearts of your people with the Fire of your LOVE".

Unknown said...

Explosion... Implosion... Well, there's Karl Barth's "religion is the crater left by the impact of the Word of God."


Anonymous said...

That sounds too solid to me and takes us back to the need for the stooping and bending that religion has to be aware of. But perhaps Karl Barth went on to speak of the living and active Word of God like a flame of love.


Mark Murphy said...

"Living flame, burn into us,
cleansing wind, blow through us,
fountain of water, well up within us..."

Anonymous said...

"If ripples spread across the pond, can there not have been a stone?"

"As fire spreads through a forest, who remembers the shape of the spark?"

--Ancient Proverbs from Cockaigne

I also like Mark's--

"...big explosion and series of mini-explosions setting off others in an intricately ordered, creative way?"

The Judaism of Jesus's day was far more diverse than modern anti-semitic stereotypes of it. Jesus’s resurrection nudged Jews from different starting points along personal yet converging paths to a new identity.


Mark Murphy said...

"As fire spreads through a forest, who remembers the shape of the spark?"


The eastern word for this, perhaps, at least the western word that Buddhists often use to speak of spiritual cause-and-effect, is "transmission". In Islam, "barakah"
(Wiki: "a kind of continuity of spiritual presence and revelation that begins with God and flows through that and those closest to God").

It is a rather dry - and Anglican - to say that Christian transmission occurs through sacrament, word, and episcopacy: better say through water, fire, sound, and hands.

Mark Murphy said...

And bread and wine, too, of course.

But it all flops around if there's no centre, no explosion or Big Bang.

Anonymous said...

And when there is a fire, we know there has been a spark! The resurrection proclaimed.

Anonymous said...

Bryden also liked to argue this--


Anonymous said...

You are right Bishop Peter, that our secular age has moved away from any faith in a Creator. But we who live in connection with the risen Lord Jesus, the centre of God’s salvation plan, can bring that knowledge of the Creator to others because Jesus is the Way to God. And Jesus said, ‘Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me and whoever welcomes me, welcomes the one who sent me’. So Jesus Christ can be the starting point for a journey to faith in the Creator. It is all back-to-front but it is the mystery of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one God.

Anonymous said...

"How hath the Lord been with thee since last we met?"

-- A Quaker greeting

"What are your thoughts telling you today?"

-- A geronta's morning question


On your 9:09, Mark, I am delighted to see effervescences of comparative theology.

Although oblique, that is often a powerful heuristic for discovering what churchgoers do in bad faith. In an age of decadent *sin management*, and *happy warriors*, that is indispensable.

In this instance, the notion in Buddhist monasticism and Islamic sufism that spiritual knowledge comes through a transformative initiation from above exposes the inadequacy to our humanity of the Western dilution of the scriptural *pistis* to mere opinion or belief. Every high religious culture recognises that intellect has its part in the mature spiritual life, of course, but nobody says that this is the whole of it.

Personally though, I am not quite persuaded that a cosmology centered in Christ can have a parallel to Asian notions of lineage and transmission. Because you have read N T Wright on heaven/earth and the resurrection, you may also see the problem.

If heaven is interlocked with earth as Judaic faith supposes, then Jesus is close to the Body because he is in heaven. There is no distance of space or time to be spanned. He is here. As the Holy Spirit frees us from bondage to the powers, just so he regenerates our humanity and joins it to the Son so that ultimately we participate with him in the life of the Three. That's the Way.

So on one hand, *cheirothesia* (laying on of hands) invokes the Holy Spirit to complete some proper connection to a Reality that is ubiquitous and just so ecumenical and ultimately eschatological. Canon 19 of 1 Nicaea necessarily requires eg deaconesses joining from the Paulinist schism to receive the Body's proper cheirothesia because they are saved along with it. Insofar as ceremonies among Buddhists and Muslims sort a soul into a particular lineage or *tariqa* they appear to mute or lack this cosmic participation.

And on the other hand, the spiritual guidance primal among Christians differs from that of the Asian religions. It emphasises the guide's listening, coaching, discernment of spirits, and especially intercession over his or her teaching of esoteric doctrine from a higher level of initiation. Work through the several volumes of the Philokalia and a sense of proportion emerges. To realise the Not Yet in the Now as far as God allows, the spiritual work of the *koinobion* (common life) reliably helps, but from night to night one is led through that by Christ. In the morning, one's geronta or gerontissa helps one to sort one's thoughts.

Again, this is not to say that St John of the Cross was doing something odd in using his symbolic map of Mount Carmel to counsel his zealous nuns, but the whole of his spiritual theology is closer to mere Christianity than say al-Ghazali's vast speculative system is to exoteric Islam. Of course, the lazy, the vain, and the dull have burnt, beheaded, or ignored mystics everywhere.


Thanks for commenting so often.


Mark Murphy said...

I love that it takes me many readings to begin to understand some of your sentences, Bowman. Recently I read Scott McKnight bemoaning how contemporary translations of the Bible make it *too* accessible, too homely. Some parts of Scripture should sound strange, other, otherworldly, we should have to work hard to understand them, he demands.

Your words light up the pages of our Living Tradition; I see there is so much more for me to behold and learn (not least about the early councils and *pistis*). Thank you.

I like how your response draws our attention to cosmic space-and-time, to the interpenetration of heaven and earth in the Body of Christ, and how all Christian initiation plugs into that Reality, as it were – or, rather, that plugs into us, transfigures us. Yes, that’s one of the major parts of NT Wright’s theology of the cross that stays with me – the reconciliation of heaven and earth in the Body of Christ. The birthing of the New Creation.

Today, dear geronta, the lectionary takes me to John 6: 44-51. I read:

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

With the Spirit of NT Wright and John Walton on my shoulder, I think of the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden; our original “antidote” to “dust/mortality” (Walton)…

…Christ’s flesh as the new ‘bread of heaven’ (manna/Exodus); his body as the new Tree of Life (not cherubim with burning sword to guard the way – we have the password now).

I return to your words: you are inviting us to consider the differences between Christian and, say, Buddhist and Islamic notions of transmission (yes to differences!):

1. Christ is here, because heaven interpenetrates earth, and his earthly body is in heaven: there is not time or space to be spanned for the initiate.
2. His Presence flows through the sacraments and the episcopacy, through Christ’s Body on earth.
3. “…he regenerates our humanity and join it to the Son so that ultimately we participate with him in the life of the Three. That’s the Way.”
4. Initiation in other traditions/ceremonies/sacraments/hillsongs lack this specific cosmic participation (and its connection to Genesis and Last Days).

And also:

5. Spiritual guidance amongst Christians differs to that of Asian religions (I am less clear on your point here but readily accept this in the general).

I don’t disagree with any of these points. Making them this way helps us be more clear about what we do and why. I don’t often hold the cosmic and eschatology pieces as spontaneously; this helps me to think of those more. And yet…

cue thoughts drifting into a spontaneous recognition of grace and holiness in people of other faiths, but being out of time and energy to say more right now! What to do!

More pointedly, perhaps, in our own ‘patch’…in terms of Hillsong, the Arise Church in NZ (that Peter refers to in his initial post)..

...(Grateful thanks to the client who cancelled so I had time to write this response)!

We are one in Christ,


Anonymous said...

I love that comment that the Holy Spirit regenerates our humanity and joins it to the Son so that ultimately we participate with him in the life of the Three. That is the Way.
That is what I was trying to say in my earlier (un-named) post but could only repeat standard language. Thank you BW and Mark


Anonymous said...

"I love that it takes me many readings to begin to understand some of your sentences."

This is very charitable, Mark. "Much reading is a weariness to the flesh."

Over the past few years, the comments of + Peter, his regular readers, his erudite visitors, his soulful pilgrims, and his cranky trolls have been so wide-ranging that there is almost nothing new under the ADU sun. When topics recur, a few of us not only pick them up where we left them last time, but do so with the semantic shortcuts that have saved us explanations and keystrokes in the past.

When Father Ron types *all* in uppercase letters, for example, he is alluding *en passant* to his passionate arguments here about universalism, catholicity, That Topic, contagion/sanctity, and divine mercy. And why not? Why should he type out all of that every single time he wants to push back against some infuriating bit of exclusivity, actual or hypothetical? He is busy; we understand him.

When Bryden Black was leaving long, dense, complex comments here, I found so many ways of keeping my replies to him short that a sort of idiolect resulted. To minimize technical language, we both shipped extra cargo on a few seafaring words-- Body, Way, canon, etc-- that already have common meanings. The sentences made sense; to a few, they made more interesting sense.

As surrebuttals piled on rebuttals stacked on arguments, I began to use fictive devices to allude to whole streams of repeated past argument. So occasionally, I mention the bitter controversies in Cockaigne over foxhunting. If I don't do that, then I have to first describe and then refute a common but inept sort of NT exegesis. An wry allusion to our Lord's words on the holes of foxes saves everybody that time and tedium, and can sometimes be the tactful choice.

Thank you for your attention and patience.


Anonymous said...

Hi Moya

"I love that comment that the Holy Spirit regenerates our humanity and joins it to the Son so that ultimately we participate with him in the life of the Three."

Then you may like the spiritual theology of St Cyril of Alexandria. Donald Fairbairn describes this as the *personal trajectory* here--


Anonymous said...

Thanks I am interested but the link is not live and my old iPhone won’t copy and paste it. If you are willing my email is (Forgive me Bishop).


Mark Murphy said...

Light dawns on the righteous, and joy for the upright in heart. (Psalm 97).

All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1: 3-5).

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. (1 John 1: 5)

The resurrection as the Big Bang within the human and the more-than-human space-time continuum (“…proclaim the good news to the whole of creation”, Mk 16: 15). Cosmos is changed. The whole of creation is changed – heaven and earth – and needs to catch up with this, consciously.

The light-that-enlightens-every-being-that comes-into-the-world has drawn the darkness onto himself, up onto himself, into one place on the Cross. Has descended into and ‘harrowed’ Hell. Has risen Christus Victor.

This is not an event just for Christians. Or humans.

Happy Saint John the Evangelist/Hoani Tapu, Te Kaituhi Rongopai day!

Father Ron said...

Moya said:
"I love that comment that the Holy Spirit regenerates our humanity and joins it to the Son so that ultimately we participate with him in the life of the Three. That is the Way.
That is what I was trying to say in my earlier (un-named) post but could only repeat standard language. Thank you BW and Mark".

Precisely, Moya, that's why the calling down of the Holy Spirit on the Bread and Wine at the Mass is so important. This is a liturgical reminder of the FACT that, uniquely in the Eucharist, we have the 'epiclesis' a Special Presencing of Christ (brought about by the descent of the Holy Spirit) that enable us to become at one with Him and with one another.
Christ is risen, Alleluia! He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia, Alleluia!