Afraid.Easter2C.2013

Easter 2C, 2013
John 20:19-31

A Liturgy is also available


AFRAID OF DEATH OR TERRIFIED OF LIVE!

The storyteller/theologian we call John, sets the scene.
It is the evening of the first day of the week, Sunday,
and the doors of the room are closed.
Locked.

Anxious and fearful disciples are shut tightly inside.
The suspicious world is shut tightly outside.
Then, all of a sudden, defying 
locked doors and
locked hearts, a dead faith is re-created.

A dead hope is born again.

I have always wondered…Were Jesus’ followers afraid of death or terrified of life?

oo0oo

This week we continue to journey into the season of Easter.
And all we have of what is called the ‘resurrection’, are the stories.
No logical, scientific proof of a ‘bodily’ resurrection.
No videotape of an empty tomb.
No seismograph of an Easter earthquake.
Just the stories.

While Jesus’ death mattered to all those early storytellers, his life mattered more.
So they spoke of his death in ways that affirmed his life.
And to be embraced by life, not scared of it.

Today’s biblical story from John,
probably written towards the end of the 1st century,
and certainly well after both Mark and Matthew,
but maybe not Luke’s second book, Acts (the 'date' debate continues),
presents us with a post-resurrection ‘appearance’ of Jesus.

And much of the interpretation around this story by John
has been to do with a bloke called Thomas—sometime called ‘doubting’ Thomas.
Here John says Thomas does not understand.
But in the Gospel of Thomas, Thomas is the hero, while
the other disciples “play the role of buffoons”
(Scott 2010:195).

Well, as I have said on several occasions both here
and in other places, I reckon Thomas needs to be given a bit of a break!
Because,
one, there is no word meaning ‘doubt’ in the story.
Two, ‘doubt’ is not the opposite of ‘belief’.
And three, the ‘doubt’ translation panders to a much later tradition.

Having just spent some time with Val Webb in Brisbane and Melbourne
at the launch of the expanded edition of her book,
In Defence of Doubt,
this subject is clearly on my mind.

Val writes:
“[
D]oubt is not the opposite of faith or belief.  The opposite of ‘faith’ is to be without the experience of ‘faith’; the opposite of ‘belief’ is ‘unbelief’… Doubts appear in religion… where there is a difference between what we are told to believe-taught as ‘truth’-and what we experience or intuit.  Doubts occur when the belief system does not line up with our experience” (Webb 1995:4).

While Brandon Scott says:
“John’s sense is more ‘Be not faithless, but faithful’”
(Scott 2010:196).

So instead of swallowing all the traditional stuff about Easter,
I reckon we need to try and understand the mind of the storyteller, John,
and why only he tells this story.

oo0oo

First, John claims, that our understanding and experience of God
has been forever changed, “by the sheer force of Jesus’ being” 
(Wink 1994. LookSmart web site).

Second, the experience call ‘resurrection’
did not happen in the temple or church,
but in the world, away from religious authorities.

Third, our storyteller seems to be making it fairly clear that
faith depends on accepting the witness of others,
not in securing a so-called ‘personal miracle’
(Jenks FFF web site, 2007).

And fourth, something happened to the disciples.
“What mattered was that his life continued through them, and through them his mission was advanced.  The disciples extended the domination- free order of God that Jesus had inaugurated”
(Wink 1994).

In make these suggestions, I am offering as my support,
the important witness and work of the ‘Q’ Collection.

The ‘Q’ Collection (from the German ‘Quelle’ meaning ‘source’)
is a very early collection of ‘sayings’ of Jesus,
used in common by Matthew and Luke.

Important, because this collection does not have certain things
said to be important about being a follower of Jesus.
“…their focus was not on the person of Jesus or his life and destiny.  They were engrossed with the social program that was called for by his teachings.  Thus their book was not a gospel of the Christian kind, namely a narrative of the life of Jesus as the Christ.  Rather it was a gospel of Jesus’ sayings, a ‘sayings gospel’”
(Mack 1993: 1).

Or if you like: they lived with Jesus’ teachings ringing in their ears (Mack 1993:1)
Then their ‘voice’ was lost.

Now I invite you to listen carefully as I say some of that again:
their focus is not on Jesus as the Christ, but on
his mission,
his sayings,
his doings.

However, the church made the mythical ‘Christ’, second person of the Trinity,
rather than Jesus’ teachings, the message, largely abandoning the human Jesus.
The gospel writers to a certain extent, but especially the early
Church Councils, took the imperial garments of Caesar
“and inadvertently, if not intentionally, slipped them over Jesus”
(Galston 2012:14).

So instead of a wandering peasant wisdom teacher who spoke street-language,
what we have is the person and language of Caesar Augustus:
Almighty Lord, Saviour of the World, Son of God, King.

Christianity ended up with Jesus Caesar, and in need of a demotion!

oo0oo

Jesus’ death mattered to those early storytellers, that is true.
But his life mattered more.
So they spoke of his death in ways that affirmed his life.
And to be embraced by life, not scared of it.

“The resurrection is not a fact to be believed”, suggests Walter Wink, “but an experience to be shared… [It] is not a contract for a time-share apartment in heaven.  It is the spirit of Jesus present in people who continue his struggle against domination in all its forms, here, now, on this good earth” (Wink 1994).

John tells us a story of anxious and fearful disciples, shut tightly inside.
The suspicious world is shut tightly outside.
And I continue to wonder:
Are Jesus’ followers afraid of death or terrified of life?

Whatever conclusion one might come to about Jesus,
that conclusion must offer a possible Jesus
and not an incredible one
.

So a couple of suggestions for you to ponder further…
(i) The resurrection stories, begun with the story
of when the stone is removed from the tomb,
are not complete until they are echoed and re-echoed
in the lives of everyday people, today
(Nancarrow. P&F web site, 2007).

As they… as we, seek to live in community on this good earth,
practicing belonging,
practicing hospitality,
practicing respect,
practicing humility,
practicing conversation and disagreement
(Bessler-Northcutt 2004).

(ii) The point of ‘wisdom’ is lifestyle, not veneration:
a lifestyle consistent with a vision of the world, this world,
as it could be in the present, rather than the future.
“The trouble with resurrection”, writes Brandon Scott, “is that we have literalized it, narrowed and constricted it, turned it into a creedal belief and in the process have forfeited its great claim and hope”
(Scott 2010:243).

(iii) As I will be saying on Monday night at the ACT launch of my ‘progressive’ handbook Why Weren’t We Told?:
check out things for yourself,
• make sure you interpret things correctly, and
• learn for yourself.

After all the study and all the talk such study usually invokes,
how might living in our contemporary situation be shaped?

Canadian David Galston’s comments are helpful, I reckon:
“Once this credible ‘authentic Jesus tradition’ is identified, the point will be to carry forward into the contemporary world the
momentum of the Jesus movement: grasping the style of the teacher, capturing the spirit of his words, and living out the implications of these words in our own time with our own creativity” (Galston 2012:53).


Notes:
Bessler-Northcutt, J. 2004. “Learning to See God: Prayer and Practice in the wake of the Jesus Seminar” in R. W. Hoover. (ed). The Historical Jesus Goes to Church. Santa Rosa: Polebridge Press.
Galston, D. 2012. Embracing the Human Jesus. A Wisdom Path for Contemporary Christianity. Salem: Polebridge Press.
Mack, B. 1993.
The Lost Gospel. The Book of Q and Christian Origins. New York: HarperCollins.
Scott, B. B. 2010.
The Trouble with Resurrection. From Paul to the Fourth Gospel. Salem: Polebridge Press.
Webb, V. 1995.
In Defence of Doubt. An Invitation to Adventure. St. Louis: Chalice Press.

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