Tag Archives: resurrection

Authority, Easter, Church

I don’t worry about authority in the church so much.

I know that this is a big deal to a lot of people. I know folks who have converted to Roman Catholicism from various Protestant traditions largely because the unseemly mess of Protestant opinion seems to spring directly from the lack of authority.

How will we know what it is to speak for God if we do not have an authority on earth to make that known? Should we not look to those who have gathered and said, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us?” Should we not look to the vice-regent that Jesus has installed on Rome, his holy hill?

Protestantism is, surely, a mess.

And evangelical Protestantism is a magnification of this messiness, manifested in the proliferation of churches and denominations and non-denominations.

Or, if it’s not a mess, it’ll do till the mess gets here.

Without centralized authority, it seems that we are reliving the ignoble era of the judges: there was no king, and everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

But I don’t think that the answer is the establishment of an authority here on earth. I don’t worry about the lack of an earthly authority for one reason: Jesus was raised from the dead.

If there is one confession that truly unites all Christians in all times and places it is this: “Jesus is Lord.”

Or, as Jesus indicates in Matthew 28, something changed with the resurrection. The authority that Jesus had begun to exercise while on earth has now been fully given to him:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”

There it is.

The authority is Christ’s, and we shouldn’t attempt to take it for ourselves. Nor should we seek to give it to another person on earth.

I know, I know. Practically, this doesn’t help. We are, in fact, called to speak “authoritatively,” to speak for Christ, to exercise an ambassadorial function of those sent from the King to the distant kingdom in order to make our sovereign’s wishes known.

But that task is always one fraught with uncertainty. Locating Jesus’ voice in a person or a council only focuses the inevitable mistakes in the work a few rather than diffusing the mistakes more broadly.

And I suppose, that’s the point. By giving control to a group or a person we can eliminate diversity, but we cannot ensure even then that what we are doing is right.

We cannot turn our groping along toward the light into a full-fledged walking in the day simply by taking hold of the shoulders of the person who is groping along ahead of us.

Leadership is still important, but it will have to be much different leadership than the authority of a Tradition or Council if it is to function well in the story of the crucified and risen Christ.

If Jesus is risen from the dead, then “Jesus is Lord” must, in the end, be enough for us.

It’s Still Easter–So the Church Might Yet Live

The most difficult thing for us as Christians to receive, believe, and embody is that we serve the God who gives life to the dead.

I experience this dearth in myself.

I go into churches that were once vibrant, bustling, packed. And I experience hopelessness at the sight of classrooms become storage closets. I feel the emptiness, so much emptiness, in the spaces on the pews.

Can this death be undone? Can this people find new life? Can these bones live?

But this lack of hope—or is it faith?—reaches in from the dying gathering to the hearts of us who are called, ourselves, to die.

Such a place of apparent death holds up a mirror to us and asks, Have I been clinging to my own life, to the death of this place? Is the niche of power I carved out by finding my way to the vestry or diaconate, enabling me to maintain things here just as they were when they were so full of life—refusing to realize that clinging to the life of old is, itself, the source of the present death?

We create programs. We build a building. We find a place of influence. We offer an idea that sticks. We’ve birthed it. It is ours. It is us. It is me. So I will not give it up. I will not change.

I do not believe that God gives life to the dead.

I do not believe that those who find their life will lose it, but those who lose their lives for Christ’s sake, and the gospel, will save it.

If only life were so simply defined as “bodily life,” what an easy call that would be to follow. If only the life that I claim for myself weren’t in every word, or idea, or relationship, or place of influence.

But it is all these. And all of these must go with the body along the way of the cross.

Which is why the church must remember that it is still Easter. Our only hope, for thriving life as a people and as persons, is in the God who gives life to the dead and calls the things that are not into being.

Easter is Fathers Day

This week I spoke with a friend who, this past Sunday, was able to celebrate fathers day with her husband for the fist time. They had been trying to have a baby for a long time.

For all that our Hallmark holiday is a celebration of the parent, for the parent the day conjures up all the memories of the child–especially the birth.

When I saw my firstborn, I thanked her for being the one who made me a father. She thought I was weird, but got over it.

In Ephesians 3:15 speaks of God as the father from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. God’s own fatherhood is not simply about an eternal begetting of an eternal son. His is a fatherhood that has moments of celebration as new children come into the world.

When God creates humanity, God fashions for Himself his firstborn children upon the earth. That’s part of what “image and likeness” means:

This is the list of the descendants of Adam. When God created humankind, he made them in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them ‘Humankind’ when they were created.

When Adam had lived for one hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his likeness, according to his image, and named him Seth. (Gen 5:1-3, NRSV)

Do you see how God’s relationship to Adam & Eve is the same as Adam’s to Seth? The father has a child in his own image and in his own likeness.

Now, for God’s children, that originally meant, as well, that these children should rule for him (Gen 1:26-28). That will be important to bear in mind.

Of course, in the unfolding story, God has other children as well. He says to Pharaoh, “Let Israel, my firstborn son, go!” Israel plays the role of God’s child which is “originally” the job of all humanity.

But the focalizing continues.

Within Israel, God chooses a particular son who will fulfill that primordial vocation of ruling for God. It is the Davidic King:

Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
‘I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill.’

I will tell of the decree of the Lord:
He said to me, ‘You are my son;
today I have begotten you. (Psalm 2, NRSV)

When the king is enthroned, the one who was already God’s son because part of Israel, which was already in a sense God’s son because part of ‘Adam, becomes God’s son afresh. It’s a new day of begetting or adopting.

It’s father’s day all over again.

Easter is the consummation of this recurring story of the God who begets children, sons and daughters to rule the world on God’s behalf.

Paul says, “He was appointed son of God, with power, according to the Spirit of Holiness by the resurrection from the dead.”

Jesus becomes the representative, ruling king, the son of God, as he is raised from the dead.

Jesus, at the resurrection, becomes a second Adam embodying within himself a destiny of life, even as the first embodied a destiny of death (1 Cor 15). As the first Adam was created son-ruler, Jesus at the resurrection is re-created son-ruler.

Easter creates a new, eternal Fathers Day–the one that enables God to claim fatherhood over an eternal family of those who will be God’s children forever.

At the resurrection, Jesus becomes firstborn brother of a new, large family, such that we all are conformed to his resurrection-likeness (Rom 8).

Easter initiates an eternal Fathers Day as Jesus becomes the eternal king, inheriting the throne of David:

And we bring you the good news that what God promised to our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising Jesus; as also it is written in the second psalm,
“You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.”
As to his raising him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he has spoken in this way,
“I will give you the holy promises made to David.” (Acts 13, NRSV)

As long as the church must say, “Jesus is Lord,” it must also say “Jesus is Messiah, the son of God.” And this means that it is still Easter.

And, as long as it is Easter it is the Day on which God became father of Jesus, and of the eternal humanity that is joined to him.

Preach It

It’s still Easter.

Yes, still.

Even now that churches have shifted their gaze to Pentecost and the Trinity, it’s still Easter. It’s Easter so long as Jesus Christ is raised from the dead.

And the presence of Easter means that those who are Christ’s have the ability to speak for him, extending his ministry of preaching and teaching through their own.

After the resurrection, Jesus appears to his disciples and says,

“I’ve received all authority in heaven and on earth.” (Matt 28:18, CEB)

Something happens in the resurrection–not just for us, but for Jesus himself. Jesus becomes Lord in a sense that he was not Lord before. Jesus is given all authority as the Resurrected One.

This is why it is always Easter. As long as the resurrected Jesus is Lord, as long as we are a people demarcated by the Spirit-given confession, “Jesus is Lord,” it is still Easter.

Precisely as one newly imbued with authority over all things, Jesus sends the eleven out into the world:

Therefore go…”

When the resurrected Jesus appears, he always sends. He appears to the eleven and sends them out. He appears to the women and sends them to the eleven. Luke-Acts is the exception that proves the rule: he tells the eleven to wait. But that waiting is for the purpose of being empowered in order to be sent.

He appears to Paul. And Paul becomes an apostle.

What business does the church have speaking for God? What business does the church have thinking that it can speak as though it knows what Christ would say?

The church has this business because it believes that Jesus is risen from the dead. As the Risen One, he has authority not only to rule, but to send.

Under the Lordship of the Resurrected One, we do not merely go out into the world, but are sent there. We do not merely talk, but we speak for him.

We are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us.

So go ahead and preach it. Speak what is true about God. Make disciples of Christ. Teach them to obey what Christ himself has taught.

Do this, because you are not alone:

“Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.” (Matt 28:20)

Do this, because it is still Easter.

Apocalypse and Hope

This week I was listening to Philip Clayton debrief his book, The Predicament of Belief: Science, Philosophy, and Faith on the Homebrewed Christianity Podcast. Clayton is a progressive, Process theologian who refuses to give up on resurrection.

Real resurrection, it seems. Not the sort of “redefine resurrection such that happy things are happening in your heart” kind of resurrection.

In the podcast he says, in essence, that he can’t let go of resurrection because that would be to let go of justice. There is hope for true justice, true rectification, for the poor and oppressed.

This is what caused resurrection expectations to flower in the first place, and Clayton won’t give up on it.

It just so happened that the day I was listening to this podcast, I was also teaching on Mark 13. The chapter that begins, innocently enough, with Jesus’ prediction of the Temple’s destruction ends with the darkening of the sun and stars and the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, sending his messengers out to the four corners of the world to gather the elect.

In between?

Lots of bad stuff.

Wars and earthquakes, yes. But more significantly: persecution. Persecution as of such a kind as has never been seen before.

The story that begins with earthly calamity resolves with some sort of heavenly intervention, a intervention of divine glory through the person of the Son of Man.

Scholars have debated how much this passage intends to refer to A.D. 70 and how much it intends to refer to a future, coming arrival of Jesus. N. T. Wright, for one, has argued that the destruction of Jerusalem is a final act of vindication for Jesus, the prophet, and that this coming on the clouds is his enthronement.

Traditionally, of course, this language has been read as referring to Jesus’ return–perhaps to judge the world, definitely to set all things to rights.

Scholars who do not agree with Wright will sometimes argue that the entire speech of Mark 13 is a subject shift: an answer to the question about the end of the age, without tying that answer to the destruction of the Temple.

The context clues, however, are far too strong for this. Jesus is talking about the destruction of Jerusalem that was looming in the years when Mark was written.

And, Jesus’ vindication as a true prophet is tied up with this judgment on the “vineyard keepers” (Mark 12:1ff.).

And, I would not be at all surprised to hear that those who were wrapped up in the horrors of that war anticipated that the culmination of their time of trial would be a revelation that their pains were climactic labor pains, giving birth to the age to come.

In the face of suffering and injustice, we must not only work for justice (for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven), but also hope that this injustice will be reversed through the power of God who gives life to the dead.

Again and again we will find that no one knows the hour: not the angels or people or even the son. But we cannot give up on the hope.

Suffering cannot overcome hope.

Tears must be dried.

We continue to believe in resurrection, in final eschatological reversal, because we believe in the God who has bound Himself to the story in which all things are set to rights.

The God who authors this story, the God who stars in this story, will see to it that the story is brought to its promised culmination.

Even if that culmination, and its timing, surprise us all.

Easter’s Adam

It’s still Easter.

This is your regular reminder.

I know how it is: the lamb is long since gone from the fridge, the extra half pound you gained by eating Cadbury Cream Eggs has been shed in anticipation of that summer by the pool, so there aren’t very many reminders.

But it’s still Easter.

As long as the embodied, resurrected Jesus is seated at the right hand of God the Father, it’s still Easter.

This is a claim that demands faith. Ongoing faith. Faith in the most ancient and basic and important claim that Christians make: Jesus is Lord.

To sit at God’s right hand is to be charged with reigning over the world on God’s behalf. It is as though God has said on Easter Sunday: let us recreate humanity after our image, and after our image, and let them rule the world on our behalf.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn, resurrected son, over all creation.

The king.

And yet, we do not now see all things subjected to his rule.

“He must reign until all things are subjected to him.” It is Easter, but Easter’s dawn has not yet reached the full light of day, has not yet driven darkness out of every corner.

“He must reign until all things are subjected to him.” In the mean time, we must discern: is what we see the activity of God? Or is it the action of the powers that are not yet subject?

What is God up to in the world? There’s a question. But it also means we must carefully distinguish it from, What is happening in the world?

Some of us are too apt to lump all in the God basket. Some of us are too apt to lump all in the “against God” basket.

Jesus is Lord: God is at work in the world.

All things are not yet subject: not all that happens in the world is the hand of God.

As Barth says, power is not God; God is the one who is all-powerful.

More provocatively, he says, “Power in itself is not merely neutral. Power in itself is evil” (§31.2).

But there is power defined by God.

Better, there is power as defined by Easter. It is the power by which the crucified Jesus was appointed son of God by the resurrection from the dead according to the Spirit (Rom 1:4).

It is the resurrection power of God, at work to drive back the powers of sin and death and law.

It is the resurrection power of God, at work through the one who was raised from the dead and now sits enthroned at God’s right hand.

It’s still Easter.

Even Now, It’s Still Easter

Don’t let the resurrection of Jesus slip out of consciousness too soon. It’s still Easter, even now.

Having vanquished the Enemy, who had usurped authority over all the kingdoms of the world (Luke 4:5-8), Jesus reclaims for humanity its original purpose: to rule the world on God’s behalf (Gen. 1:26-28). This is one reason why we find Paul referring to the resurrected Jesus as the second and last Adam. But as the last Adam, Jesus also holds humanity’s destiny in his hands. (Read more here)

It’s Still Easter

Just a reminder, especially for all the self-inflicting faithful who suffered through forty days of Lenten fasts: it’s still Easter.

I know, it’s Thursday. But really. (Of course, in terms of cosmic reality, it really is always Easter and Lent is a sort of game we play to keep us from taking it for granted. But that’s another rant for another day.)

Easter lasts seven weeks in the liturgical year, so don’t leave behind the resurrection yet.

Resurrection means that God is invested in the world God created–not to rescue us out of it, but to transform it for us to inhabit forever.

Image: zirconicusso / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

New Creation is a transformation of the old, not creation out of nothing. Sort of like we, as new creatures in Christ, are transformations of the old, not creation out of nothing.

Of course, the two are related. It’s the God who calls into being the things that are not who is also the God who raises the dead (Rom 4). It’s that kind of power that God has at work in us through God’s Spirit. It is the power to create. It is the power to bring new life.

If there is a Church of God; if there is a people who are in Christ–it is Easter.

Of course, the trick in all this is that Easter comes by way of Good Friday. So our Easter triumph is the paradoxical triumphal-procession of the way of the cross. Ours is a resurrection through crucifixion.

But that’s just why we need the resurrection and its power. This is not a mere slavish existence to get to the end of our dreaded, drudging task.

Our participation in God’s commitment to transform the world is suffused with hope. We pour ourselves out in Christ-like, God-reflecting love. And we can only hope and trust as “I die daily,” the “life of Christ will be at work” in every corner of this world to which we give ourselves.

It’s Easter. We celebrate. We celebrate not the absence of scars, but their transformation and glorification. We celebrate. We celebrate new life from the old, new creation from the old.

And we make that new real in the present because the future has already begun.

Receiving Justice

Power.

Too often, power is the enemy of justice.

“Justice” is the cry of those who cannot make their own.

Power calls itself justice. It makes a thriving land a desert and calls it peace.

Power knows how to be rid of a nuisance. It knows how to excommunicate. It knows how to execute.

But Easter stands, will always stand, over against power in order to proclaim that there is a greater Power who cannot be escaped. Easter proclaims that there is a true justice that cannot be bought.

Resurrection says to the tyrants of the earth: you cannot take from me what is always in God’s power to give.

Resurrection faith looks like this:

“You, who are marked out for vengeance, may take our present life, but the king of the universe for whose laws we die will resurrect us again to eternal life.”

When it was demanded of the third brother, he put out his tongue quickly, extended his hands courageously, and stated with dignity, “I have received these limbs from heaven, and I give them up for the sake of God’s laws. But I hope to recover them from God again.”

When the end was approaching, the fourth brother said, “Death at the hands of humans is preferable, since we look forward to the hope that God gives of being raised by him. But for you there will be no resurrection to life.”

The boys’ mother encouraged them, saying, “I don’t know how you grew in my womb, nor did I grant the breath of life to you or arrange what makes you who you are. For this reason, the creator of the world—who brought about the beginning of humanity and searched out the origin of all things—will again mercifully give you both spirit and life, since you disregard yourselves because of his laws.”

The last brother said to the king, “Just like my brothers, I give up both body and life for the ancestral laws. I call upon God to be merciful to the nation without delay, and to make you confess, after you suffer trials and diseases, that only he is God. Also I hope through me and my brothers to stop the anger of the almighty, who is justly punishing our entire nation.” (2 Maccabees 7, CEB [modified])

Resurrection means that justice matters.

Those who hunger and thirst will be filled with food and drink.

Those who surrender their hands and tongues will receive them back again.

The life-taking power of the tyrant, the love-shunning power of the zealot, cannot hinder the God of power and love.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ puts on display the previously hidden justice of God–from Christ’s faithfulness unto the faithfulness of God’s people. Just as it is written: the Righteous One will live because of His faithfulness.

Storied Reality

What’s the point of storied theology? At its best, storied theology taps into a fundamental dynamic of our humanness that other theological approaches miss. Human beings, inherently, are story tellers.

Story is a basic principle of mind. Most of our experience, our knowledge, and our thinking is organized as stories… narrative imagining is our fundamental form of predicting [and our] fundamental cognitive instrument for explanation. (Mark Turner, The Literary Mind)

Image: jannoon028 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We connect the dots in such a way that we give meaning to the world around us. (Why did you answer the phone with excitement? Why did you let it go to voicemail? What story were you telling yourself about who was on the other end and what they might want to talk about?)

Storied theology not only recognizes the narrative dynamics that undergird the entirety of scripture; it beckons us to begin inscribing our own stories within God’s own. Or, better–to recognize that God is inscribing us into God’s own. I this Divine story, the power at work transforms every smaller story of pain and death, brokenness and failure in a movement from cross to resurrection.

Humans not only make sense of the world through stories, we make sense of the world through endings–especially, projected endings:

Humans, personally and collectively, are preoccupied with trying to understand their deaths. For life to have meaning, to amount to more than just a sequence of events, that meaning must be projected backwards from an ending that provides the key to interpreting everything that preceded it. (Sam Sacks, epitomizing Frank Kermode)

Ultimate moments in the stories have the power to reconfigure the entirety of what came before (cf. Till We Have Faces). And the storied theology pulls back the curtain on our future by showing us that ours is hidden in Christ. We believe that his ending is ours, that his ending is that of humanity, that his is the ending of the entire created cosmos.

New creation. The end that changes everything has been made known.

And so, our faith and hope are in God–this God: the one who raised Jesus from the dead. That is the ending that reaches back into the present to transform our now. That is the God who reaches back from our life yet to come and provides a present installment by God’s Holy Spirit.

Don’t underestimate the power of a good story (or a bad one) to change your life. This isn’t just theological wishful thinking, it’s the way of the world:

It’s painful to even consider giving up the narrative we use to navigate our life…

So we play it safe and go back to our story.

The truth though, is that doing what you’ve been doing is going to get you what you’ve been getting. If the narrative is getting in the way, if the archetypes you’ve been modeling and the worldview you’ve been nursing no longer match the culture, the economy or your goals, something’s got to give. (Seth Godin)

When we keep our theology in the realm of story, we keep it in the sphere within which we make sense of all of life, and therefore the arena within which all our decisions are made and all our affections cultivated.

Why storied theology? Because a story-bound people need a story-bound God to bring a story of salvation that makes God’s saving story our own.

******
Personal aside: this is the 1,000th entry I have posted on Storied Theology. Thank you all for helping make this blog a great success by helping it become a place to learn in public alongside each other. Here’s to the next 1,000!