Near the end of Kurt Vonnegut’s war novel, Slaughterhouse Five, the narrator envisions a bombing mission in reverse. Fires go out. Homes are repaired. Bombs that were dropped over towns and cities are raised back up through the sky into the bodies of the American planes. The bombers fly home backwards where they are taken apart rivet by rivet and, eventually, even the soldiers become babies.
Vonnegutt’s vision is one where the violence and death of war is undone. Original beauty is restored.
While Vonnegutt was himself one of the 20th century’s most articulate atheists, he might be chagrined to discover how thoroughly biblical was his version of hope. Slaughterhouse Five reads like it was ripped off of the prophet Isaiah (65) or St John (Revelation 21-22).
Of course, if God did not actually, literally, physically raise Jesus’ cold, dead body from the tomb, then it’s just what Vonnegutt took it to be: fiction.
Somewhere along the way I discovered that the most contentious, disputed doctrine among the every Sunday pew people isn’t homosexuality, abortion, or biblical authority.
It’s belief in the resurrection of the body.
The literal, physical, historic and material resurrection of Jesus from the tomb as the first fruits of our eventual literal, physical, historic and material resurrection from our tombs, caskets and urns.
I know many more Christians who cross their fingers during that part of the creed (‘…and the resurrection of the body…’) and who are willing to argue with me about it than I do Christians willing to debate the ‘social issues dividing the church.’
The (mainline at least) Christians get their panties in a bunch like no else when you suggest that belief in the physical resurrection of Jesus is the lynch pin of Christian orthodoxy.
Don’t believe me read the Book of Acts. Every sermon of the first church revolves around the resurrection. Peel away your penal substitution prejudice and read Paul again- it’s resurrection through and through.
Times may change but you can be damn sure cowardly Peter didn’t let himself get crucified upside down because he held a ‘Search for Spock’ doctrine of the resurrection (when we remember him, it’s like he’s still here with us).
I’m not even arguing science or history right now. I’m arguing linguistics.
Christian speech falls apart without Easter.
Resurrection’s the verb that makes sense of all Christian language.
Without it, Cross and Incarnation and Sermon on the Mount are all unintelligible, free-standing nouns.
Jesus might’ve thought all the law and the prophets hang on the greatest commandment, but- think about it- we’ve absolutely no reason to pay any attention whatsoever to anything Jesus said, thought, or did if God didn’t vindicate him by raising him from the dead.
Actually. Really. Truly.
If the resurrection is just a metaphor, then Jesus’ teaching and witness is just another way that leads to Death.
Even worse, if you still insist that Jesus is God Incarnate, the Image of the Invisible God but deny the resurrection you’re arguing that violence, suffering and tragedy is at the very heart and center of God’s own self-understanding- rendering a God not worthy of (mine, at least) worship.
In other words- in John Howard Yoder‘s words- without the actual, physical, literal resurrection of Jesus we’ve no basis to assert that the way of Jesus goes with the grain of the universe.
In other words- mine this time- if God did not vindicate Jesus’ words and way by raising him from the dead, we’re in absolutely NO position to say his teaching about the Kingdom (see: cheek, turning of) corresponds to any present or future reality.
If there’s no high Christology, there’s no intelligible ‘way’ of Jesus, and if there’s no Easter, there’s no Eschaton.