[Dialogue] 10/08/15, Spong: Creating Easter III: Where? The Location in which Easter Dawned

Ellie Stock via Dialogue dialogue at lists.wedgeblade.net
Thu Oct 8 06:30:01 PDT 2015




Re-Creating Easter III 
Where? The Location in which Easter Dawned
Revelation and insight do not occur in a vacuum. They always come through a person. They have the effect of expanding the being of the recipient by opening his or her eyes to a dimension of reality always present, but usually unperceived. They are not supernatural happenings, but are, as Paul Tillich says, “depth experiences of the Ground of Being.”
A person is specific not universal. The revelation may be of a universal reality, but the medium through which the revelation comes is always quite specific. The person who first perceives the insight or who recognizes the revelation is always located in time and space. Whatever Easter was in its original experience, it served to expand the human perception of what reality is. The Easter experience may well have been of a timeless universal truth, but the recipient of this Easter experience was a particular person, located in a particular place and bound by a particular and dateable moment in time. In the second column in this particular series I sought to demonstrate that all of the evidence points to the fact that whatever the resurrection was, a man named Simon Peter stood in the center of it. Something opened his eyes to see what he had never seen before. Then Peter helped to open the eyes of others to see what Peter believed he had seen and then together they stepped into the reality that had been opened by that vision. It was, I suggested, because of Peter’s importance in seeing the reality of Easter that the gospel writers portrayed him as the first among the disciples, the rock upon which the faith of the church rested and as the one to whom Jesus was quoted as having said: “Peter, when you are converted, strengthen the brethren.” That is also, I submit, why the conversion of Peter was told in the Epilogue of the Fourth Gospel, which resulted in the command of Jesus to Peter and thus to all future disciples to “Feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep.”
Today I want to look at the issue of place. Where was Peter when this revelation dawned? Did that place shape his understanding of Easter? Does that place really matter? To those questions we now turn as we seek to recreate the moment Easter dawned.
We are required to note first that the witness of the gospel tradition is not clear on this question. Two places vie for priority in the remembered story of Easter, Galilee and Jerusalem. We look quickly at the five major writers of what came to be called the New Testament to feel the scope of this spatial conflict. Paul, the earliest New Testament writer, never mentions a place when he talks about the resurrection. He is only quite sure of who it was to whom the raised Christ “appeared.” It was, he said, to Cephas (Peter) first, then to “the twelve,” then to a host of “500 brethren at once,” then to James, then to a group he calls “the apostles” and then he adds himself to this list. Never does he mention the place at which this seeing was said to have occurred, but his list points to Galilee for a number of reasons. First, Peter was a Galilean. Second, the twelve were Galileans. Third, Jesus in the gospels never engages a crowd except in Galilee. The synoptic tradition (that is Mark, Matthew and Luke) records that the majority of Jesus’ life was spent in Galilee. In these gospels the journey to Jerusalem is an event only in the last week of Jesus’ life. It was there in Galilee, the gospels say, that Jesus wrestled with temptations in the wilderness. It was in Galilee that he fed the multitude. It was in Galilee that it was said that he walked on water. It was in Galilee that we are told that he was transfigured with a luminosity that convinced them that he was of God. It was in Galilee, Matthew says, that he preached the Sermon on the Mount, and Luke says, that the sea yielded to the disciples their miraculous catch of fish. It was in Galilee that Peter, confronted by this presence of the holy, begged for Jesus to “depart from me O Lord for I am a sinful man.” It was in Galilee that Peter said to Jesus: “Lord to whom shall we go, thou hast the words of eternal life.” Finally, it was in Galilee that Peter made his confession to Jesus: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
In the memory of the early followers of Jesus, Galilee was the place of revelation. Jerusalem was the place of conflict. So when Paul relates that the Easter experience occurred first to Peter, then to the twelve and then to the crowd, he is, I believe, relating them and this ultimate revelatory event to Galilee.
That insight is confirmed in the first two gospels. Recall that Mark, the first gospel to be written, has no narrative of the risen Jesus appearing to anyone in any place. Mark only has a messenger, not quite yet an angel, who announces the Easter reality. Listen carefully to that messenger’s words: “He is not here. He has been raised. Go tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him as he told you” (Mark 16:7). This “as he told you” promise was recorded earlier in the corpus of Mark’s gospel: “When I am raised up I will go before you to Galilee” (Mark 14:28). Mark thus confirms that to which Paul only points. Whatever Easter was, it dawned in Galilee.
Matthew, the second gospel to be written, builds on this Marcan tradition. In Matthew the messenger, now an angel, once more directs the disciples to Galilee with the promise that their eyes will only see him in resurrected glory there. Then he describes the Easter experience of the disciples, who in Matthew’s version are now only eleven in number. The Galilean setting is on the top of a mountain. We read this Matthew appearance story carefully and discover that the eleven have to make their way up that Galilean mountain with some physical effort. Jesus, however, appears effortlessly out of the sky, that is, out of the dwelling place of God, with whom he is now uniquely identified. In this narrative Jesus is no longer just a human being; he is transformed. He is clothed in all of the images attached to the “Son of Man” in the book of Daniel. He possesses “all power in heaven and earth.” His task is to commission the disciples to “Go into all the world,” that is to go beyond the boundaries of their fears and insecurities; to go to those deemed to be unclean, unsaved, uncircumcised or unbaptized; to go to the rejected of the world and to proclaim to that audience that the love of God is universal and that it embraces them also. They are told that these outcasts are in God’s eyes of infinite worth and yes, that Judaism is destined to become an inclusive community of all people. Matthew asserts that this startling revelation came to them in Galilee and it was part of what resurrection meant.
Note that in almost all of these Galilean appearances the raised Christ is not a resuscitated, physical body. He represents rather a transformed, new dimension of life. No one examines his wounds. He does not do such things as eat, drink, walk or interpret scripture. The Galilean tradition is thus mystical, visionary, fresh, and it is clearly primary.
The originality of the Galilean setting for the resurrection turns rather dramatically, however, when one comes to Luke, the third gospel to be written. In this work the angelic messengers, now two in number, do not direct Jesus’ disciples to return to Galilee at all. Indeed, they are later told quite specifically to stay in the city of Jerusalem until they “are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:9). Starting with Luke, the risen Christ becomes overwhelmingly physical. He asks for food. He offers his body to be touched and handled. “A ghost,” he says, “does not have flesh and bones” as he does. He interprets the Hebrew Scriptures showing just how it was that these scriptures pointed to him. The appearance to Peter, while not narrated, has clearly been moved to Jerusalem. The mission of the church flows relentlessly forward in Luke. It never returns to its origins in Galilee, it is rather destined to move from Galilee to Jerusalem to Rome and then to the uttermost parts of the world. We need to remember that the book of Acts is volume two of Luke’s gospel and there the movement to Rome is described in detail.
When we turn to John, we find this later developing Jerusalem tradition confirmed anew. Easter is a Jerusalem event for the Fourth Gospel, first at the tomb itself and then in an upper room in Jerusalem over a period of eight days. That is not, however, where John’s gospel concludes. The original Galilean location for Easter was too strong for it to be wiped from the Christian memory. So an unknown editor added an epilogue to the Fourth Gospel that returns the scene of the Easter moment to Galilee. Peter is made to be the voice of this return. “I am going fishing,” he announces as chapter 21 opens. One does not fish in Jerusalem. The Sea of Galilee is the only location for that activity. “We will go with you,” the others say. So in this epilogue Galilee once more is made the focal point of the revelation we call Easter. Jesus then appears on the shore of the lake. Unrecognized, he directs the disciples to cast their nets on the other side of the boat. It is a familiar story. It had been told earlier in Luke as part of Jesus’ Galilean ministry. The disciples comply; a great catch of fish, 153 of them to be exact, is ensnared in their nets. Only then they recognize that “it is the Lord.” They go ashore, they eat together. Jesus is the host, presiding over the meal. Peter is then restored. Galilee is affirmed.
The flow of Jewish history is always from Galilee first and to Jerusalem second. That appears to be the way it was with the Easter experience. The images in the Galilean Easter stories are primitive and non-physical. The Jerusalem images seem to be more developed, more concrete and less mysterious. In Jerusalem only is there a tomb that is empty; a body that is a physical being, able to be examined. Whatever Easter was, the cumulative evidence affirms that it clearly dawned in Galilee. That becomes our second conclusion. We file it now to come back to later. A pattern is forming.
~John Shelby Spong
Read the essay online here.
Question & Answer
Jennie Hanzlik  from Ohio State University writes:

What does it actually mean to you to be a Christian? Given the choice, why do you choose to “be” Christian versus not?

Are the doctrines/creeds of Christianity important to you? If so, which ones? And why? How much can you “not believe” and still “be” Christian? Is there anything that is essential to believe to maintain the integrity of the religion?

If you could create an entirely new religion right now – a brand new faith with new scripture, new traditions, new practices that reflected the totality of your consciousness, your hopes for the world, your understanding of God, your understanding of humanity, your realization of Love, what is the most essential to you in life, etc. – would this religion look different from Christianity? In what ways would it be the same? In what ways would it differ?

Dear Jennie,

Your questions are good ones, but they do not lend themselves to anything but the briefest of answers in the format of the Question and Answer feature of my column. Why did I choose to be a Christian, for example, is something I addressed when I wrote my autobiography, which was published under the title, Here I Stand: My Struggle for a Christianity of Integrity, Love and Equality. I was born into a version of Christianity that was rigid, lifeless and authoritarian. I have evolved into a very different understanding of my faith and countless numbers of times I have decided anew to remain inside the Christian tradition. I see Christianity as always growing, evolving and stretching beyond any limits that human beings try to impose on it.

Second, the creeds are important to me, but not as a “girdle into which I must seek to enclose my flabby faith,” but as a marker in the developing Christian story. I see Christianity as a journey, not as something contained in a prescribed body of official revelations. I addressed this question much more thoroughly in my book, Why Christianity Must Change or Die and its sequel, A New Christianity for a New World. The only essential aspect of Christianity is its call to love beyond all of our security boundaries. That is what the Christ figure means and that alone cannot be compromised. Creeds and doctrines are secondary. They have over the centuries come into existence primarily to give context and form to address that one essential requirement.

I have no interest in creating a new religion. It has taken me a lifetime of study to plumb the depths of the one in which I live. I literalize none of the artifacts of my faith journey-- not the Bible, not the Creeds, not the doctrines and dogmas and not the worship forms. God to me is a mystery into which I walk. God is not a noun that I am called on to define; God is a verb that I am privileged to live out constantly.

The questions you ask indicate a hunger for truth; I admire that. The answers you imply as possible to be given in response to your questions, reveal a lack of understanding about what the Christian life is. I hope you will keep exploring.

John Shelby Spong
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Essay Archive List View excerpts

7 October 2015: Re-Creating Easter III: Where? The Location in which Easter Dawned

1 October 2015: An Open Letter To the Moderator of the United Church of Canada: The Rt. Rev. Jordan Cantwell

24 September 2015: Re-Creating Easter II: Who Stood in the Center of the Easter Moment?

17 September 2015: Re-Creating Easter Part I: The Background

10 September 2015: A Wedding that Changed a Community

3 September 2015: Windsor, England – A Confrontation Over the Meaning of Resurrection

27 August 2015: Engaging the Established Presbyterian Church of Scotland

20 August 2015: Paris in the Spring – Part II, The Book Launch

13 August 2015: Paris in the Late Spring: Part I, A Publication

6 August 2015: Understanding Ireland’s Vote Approving Same-Sex Marriage

30 July 2015: Thoughts on Baptizing Chapman Thomas Brinegar

23 July 2015: Resurrection: Pious Dream or Reality? Part XI, Conclusion

16 July 2015: The Charleston Murders: The Final Battle in the Civil War?

9 July 2015: Resurrection: A Reality or a Pious Dream? Part X The Story of the Ascension

2 July 2015: An Open Letter to My Readers

25 June 2015: Resurrection: A Reality or a Pious Dream, Part IX Luke: Physical, Non-Physical or Both?

18 June 2015: Resurrection: A Reality or a Pious Dream, Part VIII: Luke – Mystery Recedes – Literalism Grows

11 June 2015: Resurrection: A Reality or A Pious Dream, Part VII: Matthew Interprets and Expands Mark

4 June 2015: Resurrection: A Reality or A Pious Dream? Part VI: Matthew’s Story of the Galilean Appearances

28 May 2015: The Graduation Season 2015

21 May 2015: Resurrection – A Reality or a Pious Dream? Part V Matthew’s Story of Easter

14 May 2015: Resurrection – A Reality or a Pious Dream? Part IV: The Surprise Found in Mark, the Earliest Biblical Narrative of Easter

7 May 2015: Resurrection – A Reality or a Pious Dream? Part III The Witness of Paul, Continued

30 April 2015: Resurrection – Myth or Reality, Part II: The Witness of Paul

23 April 2015: “Resurrection” A Reality or a Pious Dream? Part I



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