The acute discomfort of proclaiming the Resurrection - An Easter Sunday meditation


So here we are together once more on an Easter morn - a day that, for many people, remains utterly puzzling. To many others it is, of course, a day whose central theme is simply errant nonsense. It might be tempting to think that there was a time when such scepticism did not exists but this is not so and we must not forget that this was always the case. In Luke we read that, when told by Joanna and the two Marys of the empty tomb, even the apostles felt the "story appeared . . . as nonsense and they would not believe" (Luke 24:11). And, in Acts - also written by Luke, when Paul addresses the wise men of the Athenian Council at the Areopagus by telling them of the "raising of the dead" - i.e. of Jesus - we hear that some of them scoffed and said "We will hear you on this subject some other time" (Acts 17:32).

There were, of course, many good reasons why the philosophers of Athens and even Jesus disciples dismissed the Resurrection claim as nonsense and, today, given the way the world shows up to us, there are clearly even more.

However, I have to say that year after year I continue to find myself compelled towards taking the Resurrection claims seriously - especially as they are given to us by Paul - and publicly to declare their truth because I believe, along with Alain Badiou (himself a professed non-believer in Christian metaphysics), that it is possible "to draw upon [Paul's letters] freely, without devotion or repulsion" (Alain Badiou, St. Paul: The Foundations of Universalism, Stamford University Press 2003 p. 1) in order to help us shape a wholly new, creative, abundant and unsuperstitious way-of-being in the world.

But it has to be said that it remains unbelievably hard to proclaim that you take the Resurrection claims seriously and many of my liberal, scientific minded friends and acquaintances have said, and no doubt will continue to say, "But, come on, really, how can you?!" But I do even though it's a burden and a scandal to me and others.

A few years ago I would have responded very quickly to my friends' incredulity by saying, "Ah, but that depends on what you think the resurrection was" and I would have then gone on to say things like "the Resurrection was/is just spiritual"  or that the Resurrection is "a simply metaphor for such and such" - usually new life (Spring). In this view the spiritual truth to which Easter's metaphor points need not be attached to the Resurrection stories. I would have said these things because I felt lying behind the story was a graspable, provable, empirical, historic and scientific truth, namely, that Jesus the man was executed and was buried and that that, was that. Only a fool would lay claim to the truth of the Resurrection in any other way than this. I cannot deny that I continue to feel the full force of this position even as I feel the ever-present tug of another way of way of being-in-the-world, namely an Easter way. But this thought comes too soon in my address for I cannot yet *show* you what I mean.

During a life spent in one kind of ecumenical encounter or another I have noticed, oddly, that something similar goes on in more conservative, literalist circles. There, of course, the claim that the Resurrection was "just spiritual" or "a metaphor for such and such" is rejected roundly but, like liberals, it is believed that behind the stories (or better in this context, in *front* of the Biblical witnesses who are telling the stories) there is also a provable, empirical, graspable historic and scientific truth. Not, of course, that Jesus was dead and buried and that was that, but that he was truly and physically resurrected.

The particular point I want you to see here is that both liberal and conservative approaches feel there is an accessible empirical truth "out there" in the world to which they believe the Biblical writers pointed, either metaphorically or literally, and that this truth is capable of being grasped by us as sure knowledge.

This last point should alert us to the fact that both these approaches are ways of *mastering* the world through the acquisition, ownership of some kind of factum, that is to say hard knowledge. This also means that both are approaches to life which place their adherents at some considerable distance from the world. First of all there is you, the subject, then there is the object of knowledge somewhere out there in the world then, finally, there is you seeking and then grasping (owning) that object of knowledge which, in turn, gives you *the* truth. If at any point you feel you have failed (or are told you have failed) properly to grasp this object of knowledge then you do not have the truth and you are less than the full human you could be. So, if you do not (cannot) fully grasp scientific paradigm a, b, or c then you are fundamentally deluded and wrong about the world; if you do not (cannot) fully grasp the religious paradigm x, y, or z then you are also fundamentally deluded and wrong about the world. And, in both cases, there are plenty of experts and institutions about who are prepared to tell you how wrong or right you are.

As I say this I want to make it absolutely clear that there remains, of course, a real place for genuine empirical knowledge and for the need for genuine scientific or other technical experts in teasing out and handling it. There are more than a few in this congregation today in fields ranging from biology to nuclear physics, from mathematics to civil engineering, from history to philosophy and I wouldn't dream of claiming any expertise in these disciplines. Many of these subjects are beyond my grasp.

But in today's context - in this church at Easter - we are concerned with something other than empirical knowledge, namely, how to begin living a full and abundant life which is not about having a certain kind of mastery of certain kinds of empirical knowledge but rather, to cite the final verse of our reading today, so that we may have a sense of how "God may be all in all" (I Cor 15:28). In other words we are here to help us to create, embody and live out a universally accessible, radically egalitarian way of being-in-the-world in which all human-kind can be brought together as sons and daughters of God and in which we discover ourselves all to be "God's fellow workers . . . God's field, God's building" (I Corinthians 3:9). Here we are seeking a new life in which heaven has come down to earth and which has raised earth up to heaven; which has given divine life to the human and human life to the divine.

I hope it is clear that in this new way of being-in-the-world there can be no place for the mastery of one person over another for here even God is now seen to be with us sharing our joys and our suffering, our life and our death - even death upon a cross - and also, therefore, the Resurrection. The Resurrection is a new paradigm in which old knowledge is not precisely lost, but seen under a new light.

When Paul talks about the Resurrection it cannot - by definition *must* not - be understood as an *object* of empirical knowledge - some kind of analysable, studyable, knowable *thing*. No, Paul wants to speak of a world that cannot be mastered by us - i.e. owned, described, ordered, packaged and sold as truth or, and this amounts to the same thing, untruth. It is surely significant that in Paul's letters and in the Resurrection narratives found in the Gospels we are never shown the resurrection itself and we only ever hear about its affect upon people.

You see the Resurrection is not an 'it', a 'thing', but an *event* to be lived and experienced which, whenever we find can declare it to be true, at once it releases an energy which throws us into a completely new way of being-in-the-world - in this case a way of being which suddenly frees us from the old logics of mastery and which opens up before us the very possibility of the kind of truly egalitarian world which we saw embodied most clearly in the person of Jesus.

To declare and then to live out of this Resurrection *event* is, as Alain Badiou brilliantly sees, to be made a son or daughter of the event. We are sons and daughters of a radically new, reborn way of being-in-the-world.

But this way of being-in-the-world mustn't mistake itself as being some kind of third, alternative, way of mastery (as Christianity has often made it) because for it to remain powerful (in its own terms) it must remain, as Paul says elsewhere in I Corinthians, radically foolish and weak. Why, because it cannot be seen as proof of anything  - even Christianity as we have known it for centuries - because when the Resurrection *is* understood as a proof of anything we are immediately taken back into the realms of discourse that are about mastering some thing, some idea or someone. Our way of talking - of declaring the Resurrection - must, therefore, come from nowhere and must speak of nothing but itself and its nothing - i.e. the declaration of the truth of its nothing, its 'no-thing' - is what must remain central in our lives. For the Resurrection to be true - true in the fashion that Heidegger uses the word to mean an "unconcealment" - the Resurrection has to be understood as a pure *event* made visible (unconcealed) only by the individuals in community who embody it by living out of that way of foolishness and weakness which challenges the countless dysfunction and damaging ways humans continue to try to master, themselves, each other and the world.

But remember - and never, never forget - you cannot learn to swim without getting in the water and you *have* to do that and you have to do it despite all your fears, doubts and misgivings. As with swimming, so too with the Resurrection. One way by which you throw yourself into the Easter way of being-in-the-world is publicly to declare, as I have every Easter of my life, "Alleluia! Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!" I have never found this easy to proclaim - I agonise about it every year not least of all because this proclamation has continually been hijacked by groups who want to use it as proof of their own particular form of religion, their own mastery of the world, of me and of others.

But I remain compelled to proclaim it because it is the only way I have found to enter into the radically egalitarian society that we call the kingdom of heaven which knows no separation between God and us (cf above I Cor. 15:28 and also John 17:20-23) and, as Paul also said, knows no difference between Jew and Greek, slave and freeman, male and female' (Gal. 3:28) and, I would add, no separation between theist and atheist, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Jain or Zoroastrian. And that's why I'll conclude today, after a deep breath, "Alleluia! Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!"


Anonymous said…
I never thought it to be any other way. Why should proclaiming what is 'real' be so uncomfortable?
To Anon.,

Well, because a proclamation always takes place against a normative background and the background understanding of the word 'real' which I inherit (from my liberal Christian and also secular/non-religious environment) is not the way Paul (as understood by Badiou - if I have understood Badiou properly) uses it. Consequently, for me to proclaim the Resurrection as 'real' remains acutely discomforting because, even as I experience the shining reality of a new Easter way-of-being in the world I still feel nearly the full weight of my old understanding which is still telling me how foolish such a proclamation it is. It seems to me that something of the power of the Resurrection is lost the moment it becomes easy to say.

Connected with this point is that the 'truth' of the Resurrection is not like that which we talk about in the natural sciences - there we can and should talk with a certain ease and confidence about the truths we have discovered.

In a way your comment - for which I thank you for taking the time to make - reveals to me why I should remain acutely discomforted by my proclamation.

Happy Easter.