Sunday, 16 April 2017

He is Risen!

I believe he rose the third day. 

The physical, historical resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the essential, non-negotiable heart of our faith. Without it, the cross is just a cross. A death. A defeat. The resurrection is the proof that the cross was a victory. 

It is an integral part of the great chain of events that begins (in terms of human history) with the incarnation and leads through to the ascension. The physicality is critical throughout; without ceasing to be what he eternally was, the Son became what he eternally was not. Who is he in yonder stall? 'Tis the Lord! Our God contracted to a span, the Creator come as one of us, in our flesh. 

We are not spirits trapped in bodies, souls needing release from an intrinsically evil material world. We are human beings, physical entities, part of God's good material creation. Our rebellion has brought injustice, pain, chaos and death into the world, and the whole natural order is affected. Our gracious God has entered this world,  united himself to our suffering condition, experienced our pain, faced our injustice and undergone our death. 

The resurrection is the pledge of future transformation of the whole creation, which is groaning, longing for the big day ahead. The resurrection reveals the man who will judge us all and lead redeemed humanity into the eternal, physical, glorious future. The risen Christ, ascended, has taken the throne and intercedes for us; the dust of the earth is sat down at the right hand of the Majesty; a real man who knows my pain and frailty and temptation speaks on my behalf in the control room of the universe.

Jesus is our man at God's right hand. Jesus is the Firstborn of the new creation, the physical pledge that the present creation's groanings will be heard and heeded and resolved. His physical resurrection was the first roar of judgement day, when this man himself will put a shocking stop to the violence and injustice and abuse and slavery that so often characterise our treatment of each other.

Abandon the physical resurrection and faith becomes super-spiritualised. Ironically, sometimes it is the very people who claim that the early church and even the New Testament itself were influenced by Greek thought, who actually capitulate to Greek thought here. Lose the robust, flesh and blood, realistic, human vision of physical resurrection, and you are left with insipid moralising or anchorless mysticism.  

The glimpse of the future creation that we have in the resurrected body of Jesus is, of course, different in some ways from our present reality. The risen Man can apparently enter a locked room, or appear at will in distant locations. But it is not less than physical, and there is a continuity with what had gone before. He ate, he drank, he was holdable and touchable. There were marks where the nails and the spear went. And he is now really physically absent from our experience. But will be back!

Despite its rather narrow doctrinal basis, the Salvation Army is oddly open and vulnerable at this point. We make no direct affirmation of the resurrection of Jesus, and that line about "the immortality of the soul" sounds vaguely Greek until rescued by "the resurrection of the body" which follows it. It ought to be impossible for anyone honest to be a soldier without believing in physical resurrection and the future re-creation, but it could have been made even harder!

The Christian message is good news. Like the News at 10 it deals with stuff that has happened. It isn't simply a philosophy, though it has huge philosophical repercussions. It isn't just a moral code or way of life, though it has huge implications for how we live. It is news, it tells of God's inbreaking into history, it proclaims the true man, our true King, to us, it offers hope of his new world and warns of the disaster of continuing in rebellion against him.  That moral challenge is so rooted in the historical event that it would be an entirely different thing without it. 

Jesus Christ is risen! We tremble at that fact. And we are filled with joy by it. And we must live by it, must speak of it, must stand firm for it, must hope in all it promises. That may turn out to be awkward at times. But so be it; united to the crucified and risen one, we will face the future boldly. 


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