April 8, 2012
The gospels give us two groups of narratives which provide us with a glimpse onto the resurrection. There are those narratives when people find the empty grave, and those where the resurrected Christ meet them. See for example Luke 24: First a group of women come to the grave, finding it to be empty, with messengers from God announcing that they shouldn’t look for the living among the dead, after which Peter run to the grave, confirming that it is indeed empty. Then two people are walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus, and are met by a stranger, a stranger whom they discover to be the resurrected Christ, just as this Christ disappear from their sight.
Modern debates about the resurrection, to my mind, don’t seem to focus on any of these narratives, but rather construct, from all sides of the popular debates, a new narrative not told by the writers of the gospel: the narrative of what happened inside the grave.
Take any construction of two sides to a popular debate on the resurrection, call them “conservative vs. progressive” or “fundamentalist vs. liberal” (both constructs of tensions in the church which I believe oversimplify the reality of real communities of faith) and you generally find a debate raging on: “could a body come back to life?” The question of what happened inside the grave. From various theological and scientific presuppositions we speculate on the missing narrative, the narrative inside the grave. Did the blood miraculously start to flow again? Was the body stolen? Was there a ‘spirit’ or ‘ghost’ which rose out of a dead Jesus? Did this Jesus simply take the blankets of from his body and face and walk out?
These are not modern questions, but have been the subject of speculation for many centuries, and particularly in the first centuries of the church. But the gospel writers refuse to answer the many questions. The gospel writers, as authors of their books, have the power to reveal information hidden to the characters. They sometimes reveal information on what Jesus was thinking, or what he prayed when no one else was with him, so they are willing to present the reader with information which no one could actually know (in the technical sense which we modern people like to connect to the word ‘know’). But when it come to the grave, they don’t dare walk onto that ground.
So we are left with two narratives: The grave is empty. The resurrected Christ has appeared to Peter, the woman at the grave, the travelers to Emmaus.
Are we allowed to dare walk into the grave, attempting to guess what happened? I would say yes. I say yes simply because I don’t think anything is out of bounds. Simply because I think that the God which we find in the Bible is fine with our questions, our attempts at sense-making, our attempts at giving a coherent or rational (sometimes both, sometimes these two seem to exclude each other) argument for our beliefs, or the tradition within which we live.
But I do think we miss the point if our debates and conversations about the resurrection end up as a technical conversation about what happened within the grave. The grave is empty. That’s it. That’s enough. That’s what the gospel present us with. The resurrected Christ, the one with whom we have been resurrection (following the (post)-Pauline writings in Collosians), has appeared to his followers, and this changed their lives.
I want to dare say that if we move our conversations out of the grave and into life, away from what happened in the grave and into what should happen to those to whom the resurrection Christ appeared in their lives, we might find a conversation which both bind us together and lead the church into becoming salt and light. This, to my mind, is a conversation we are in dire need of. What is the implication of the resurrection for the economy, the ecology, for a world in which death, not life, is the reality which face a very large proportion of this planets inhabitants. If our belief in the resurrection don’t translate into a belief that the death facing us can be overcome (and leaving people to die because we believe that they will go to heaven is not believing that death has been overcome, but rather a firm belief that death has won, that opposing death is impossible), then I struggle to call it faith in the resurrected Christ.
This is the sixth year that I’m blogging on the resurrection on resurrection Sunday. Earlier posts can be found here.
December 10, 2010
I spent the weekend down in Pietermaritzburg with the steering committee of ANiSA, visioning what the role of ANiSA might be in South Africa today. Coming from the Afrikaans Dutch Reformed church environment (a context to which I declared my love in one of the sessions, admittedly in similar fashion to which Ani Difranco declare love to her country), I found the conversations source of hope. The crowd was diverse in race, language, church background (gender however is a question which I would hope to see more diversity in future). We came with very different theological backgrounds, but with a willingness to consider radical possibilities, and a strong commitment to justice and peace.
The day was spent drafting a kind of vision statement, through discussion of one-word concepts which might be used to tell something of the values of this network. The discussions opened up an amazing richness which I hope can continue to flow into the broader theological discussion in South Africa. The best meetings I’ve had in the church all contained two aspects, both which I found at ANiSA as well: deep theological debate, and lots of laughter. With out the deep debate, we end up simply stating some kind of common denominator, which contributes nothing, and changes no one. Without laughter we take ourselves too seriously, and we are no longer able to change. We had the intense debate, but with a lightness which opened up everyone (that’s how it felt at least) to the possibility that I may be changed through these discussions.
Probably the concept which stimulated the most conversation was “simplicity”. Our various reactions convinced us that this concept, contested as it is, is of the utmost importance to our context today, although we acknowledge the complexity with the term.
For myself, I think the double-bind we experience is that the fact that we find ourselves in South Africa, with its poverty and economic inequality, vast riches and extreme poverty, calls us to seriously discuss what the simple lifestyle would mean. However, exactly because this is the context we find ourselves in, we acknowledge that it is almost impossible to state with clarity what simplicity and simple living would look like. When we call for simplicity, for simple living, it is not yet a call which is defined in the detail of what the exact implication would be, but a very strong value, calling us to take this conversation very seriously, and work through the questions which the South African context births.
The call towards simplicity may never be just another way of romanticizing poverty in some spiritual way. The poor is not those who are living lives of simplicity. Simplicity require that we have access to that which we need to simply live, it is not a blind call to “simply own less and less, simply have access to less and less”. I’d describe the call to simplicity as a deeply prophetic call. Prophetic in the old-school sense of pointing out that: “this way of inequality and over-consumption for a few is not just, not sustainable. If we continue down this road it will lead to our death! It will create violence! Therefore we need to turn from our greedy ways”. It is a critical voice to those of us in positions of power and privilege to rethink our participation in the global economic and ecological systems, as well as in the local relations with those whom we should call neighbours. As such simplicity must be more than just an individual private choice, but must be a public outcry, a systemic suggestion for a better world.
In a way I’d therefore say that simplicity is a choice. It is a choice which some do not have, and others choose not to make. It is the choice which those who have it should make, so that those who do not have access to the choice of living in simplicity can be made room for. Still, we don’t have an answer to what this life would look like in hard financial terms. However, this acknowledgement of the complexity of the question may never become just another way of postponing the critical question facing us.