More about The Empty Tomb and the Lost Corpse.
By Ronald Lloyd Ryan, DA., PhD., REV
I am a Christian! Every fibre of my being is Christian. Every moment of my being is Christian. The ethos and spirit that energizes my living and my moving and have my being is Christian! I believe in the exaltedness of real Christianity. I believe in the potential of Christianity even though that potential has been subverted, bastardized, trivialized, prostituted. I have been called the Antichrist by a fundamentalist pastor who has read some of my stuff on my facebook page; I cannot share fully in the life of the congregation in which I grew up because I cannot proclaim that I believe in a Holy Trinity that has no Biblical substance; I cannot (legally, according to the “laws” of the denomination) enter the pulpit of the denomination that I served in for almost 40 years because my ordination was without the “laying on of hands,” a piece of magic that has no Biblical basis. I have been called a heretic, an apostate. But, I am Christian!
The big mistake being made by people, wanting to experience some certainty about the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, is to look for, to have expectations of and for, the body, the corpse of Jesus, once they understand that the “new” body of the “risen” Jesus was a transformed one because Jesus was then, and now, clothed with immortality, if we believe anything at all about the Christian scriptures. We miss the significant fact that Jesus no longer needed a body just as he no longer needed the clothes that was left at the tomb.
In our quarrels over the minutiae of the whole crucifixion-resurrection story, we forget that this was not, never intended to be, a literal, historical event that defied the laws of existence, was never meant to be. It is a spiritual event, a mystical event, a faith event, all of which is founded on the “Primary Premise”: God is!
To view, or to try to view, the crucifixion-resurrection events as literal, as historical, as non-symbolic, is to deny that primary premise: God is.
All of the doctrine, dogma, creeds, statements of faith, have, with the body of Jesus, been placed in a tomb for safe-keeping, for preservation … but the tomb is empty, and it remains empty, except for whatever served as clothing or covering for it. The symbolism is startling!
Was there a crucifixion? Undoubtedly, according to our faith if according to nothing else. Was there a resurrection? Of course there was, if we want there to have been; if by faith we would have it that way. But it was not literal; it was not historical; it was not a resuscitation of a dead body to old life. Moreover, there was, and is, no corpse! The tomb remains empty!
We are looking in the wrong place for our story. We insist on thinking literally and historically while pretending to have faith. We insist on seeking the un-necessary, and there is nothing to support the search. The tomb remains empty.
The resurrection is an article of faith, faith in the primary premise. Jesus was resurrected into God. There was no-where else for Jesus to go once he had cast off his earthly body. The stories of the post-resurrection appearances were no more than parables in an attempt to explain the inexplicable, the ineffable – which explains why these stories were so badly done, so unbelievable to begin with. Jesus passing through walls: just like the magician, David Copperfield, walking through the Great wall of China, except that Copperfield does it with much more flair and immensely more dramatically – but, it is the same thing. With his old, earthly, body, Jesus was not able to pass through walls. Neither are we. With his post-resurrection, new, body, resurrected into the father, Jesus was able to go anywhere instantly, presumable even without black holes, or worm holes, or otherwise assisted by quantum physics … and so shall we, or our faith is in vain!
We don’t understand this? Maybe it is no more than wilful blindness, wilful stupidity?
Paul shouted at the Christians of Corinth to begin to eat real meat (cooked, I think. But, maybe, just maybe, he meant raw? Consider the theological and spiritual implications!) Jesus, likewise, became angry with the disciples, whom Jesus considered wilfully stupid; wilfully recalcitrant, anyway; the disciples plaintively begging, like fearful, unbelieving children, of Jesus to “explain it to us, again, Lord; we don’t understand. Surely, Master, you don’t mean for us to ….” And Jesus shouted at them in his exasperation, “Go and do some thinking! And figure things out for yourselves!”
Actually, I feel compassion for the poor disciples, not having a living clue about what it was that Jesus was about, the paradigm of Jesus not having broken through their pedestrian, earthly, simple-minded perception of the world and their place in it … and Jesus, frustrated to the max because they didn’t understand.
The poor, frightened, childish, disciples were just like the man who accosted me a few days ago, a man who has known me since childhood, who lamented, equally fearfully, “Surely, Lloyd, you don’t mean what you are writing on facebook!” his direct gaze showing his total incomprehension, absolute disbelief, absolute misunderstanding of what I have been writing as well as missing the point entirely of the life and teachings of Jesus, just as did the disciples who, after the crucifixion, were on their way back to their fishing boats, back to something they understood, having no expectation of ever hearing anything about Jesus, let alone seeing him, ever again, having never ever heard anything about a potential resurrection – certainly not from Jesus who seems to have had no expectations of it, either, or not sufficiently to explain to the disciples: and, consequently, they seeing no reason to wait around Jerusalem. Their fishing boats were waiting, pulled up on the strand. That, they understood. They, like the lady, staunch church-goer, staunch fundamentalist, certain about her first-class ticket to Heaven, who told me I was an idiot when I said that I had seen Jesus that day. She may have been going directly to heaven. That I didn’t doubt. But I suspect that she would be equally as willfully stupid in Heaven as she was insisting on being while clothed with the clothing of earth.
Is it not easy to see the direct parallel with the disciples willfully not understanding, refusing to believe, what Jesus was trying to explain, not willing to “go” (conceptually) where Jesus was calling them to go; where Jesus was leading them; they cowering like frightened children because they were afraid to take on the responsibility of thinking for themselves. They wanted Jesus to give it to them in concrete terms: A …. B … C … Jesus refused! Jesus refused! Surely, we cannot miss that message! Jesus refused to treat them like children! He refused to give them the simple-minded theology that we find, today, in colouring books for six year olds. Jesus demanded that they grow up and put away childish things, childish ways of thinking, infantile magic-based theology, unfounded fundamentalism.
And the parallel: people looking for (a) the dead body of Jesus and (b) a corporeal resurrection – one or the other … or both. That is, we still insist on concrete evidence and pretend that we still, despite that, have faith. We want to believe our eyes. We claim to have faith, but we want proof. We cannot have a resuscitated pre-crucifixion body. We know that. Jesus demonstrated that. But, we want our proof, of what we are not sure. We demand a dead body! OR we demand a resurrected, corporeal, pre-crucifixion body because we pretend to ourselves that that, somehow, would be concrete evidence, of what we are not sure. But evidence of … of … of something, damn it!
We cannot accept that the body is gone, that whatever has become of Jesus it is not something with which we can be comfortable.
Rather than seeing it as evidence of the best possible sort, as affirmation of our faith that we, also, can have that hope of being absorbed into the Father, we insist on staring at the empty tomb, crying, “Where is the body?”
We are like the people “amening” and “praisgoding” the story currently on facebook, about a church in the mountains which needs a miracle … and the miracle happens. But the name and address of the church is not provided, neither is the name and email address of the believing pastor! The fact it, that it is a story, not a true story, nor yet a lie. But, the story does not hang together, a badly designed story as an illustration of faith.But is still only a story. It serves the concretizing function.
The same function that the dead body of Jesus would serve, because we cannot, yet, accept the truth: the real meaning of the resurrection of Jesus! We refuse to acknowledge the real miracle. We want water turning into wine. We don’t understand that, either, but it sound ok.
We are reminded of how strong is the need for concrete evidence, regardless of our faith when we see the TV images of the multiple millions of Muslims who go to Mecca and take their turn walking around the sacred rock. All over the world Roman Catholics revere, if not worship, the shriveled heart of Saint Bridget, the dried-up left big toe of Saint Abner, a vial of blood from Saint Anneta, the ear tip of Saint Jenger, and so on, and enough pieces, slivers, of wood of the Holy Cross that, put all together, would sink a large ship. Consider, about few years ago, the millions of people who flocked to the Buddhist shrines in cities throughout China, to cast adoring eyes on the 3000 or 5000 or 10,000-year-old baby bootie of the Blessed Buddha, encased in a crystal box and displayed only once every 100 years. Consider, also, the Temple of the Sacred Tooth relic (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temple_of_the_Tooth) where millions of people go to worship/venerate what is believed to be a tooth of the Blessed Buddha.
It is not wrong to want to see concrete evidence of one’s faith. But, then, what is the meaning of faith?