Friday, June 06, 2014

In: Metaphorolatry.

Do you remember the one about how the Resurrection can be explained by the fact that the Apostles so wanted Jesus and His teachings to remain alive that they all convinced themselves that He had risen from the dead (doesn’t explain Paul but never mind)?  In a recent sermon at Trinity-Wall Street, Jon Meacham takes that idea to the next level:

History and theology are not as easily distinguished from one another as we might at first think. History is what happened in time and space. Theology is what a people think history means. History is horizontal, theology vertical, and their intersection is the motive force behind our religious, national, and personal imaginations. Because of evidence from the past, we have, in other words, faith in the proposition that there is an unseen yet undeniably real truth at work in the world.

So it was with the Passion, the Resurrection, and the Ascension two millennia ago. The Ascension essentially closes the drama that began in what we call Holy Week. And the main point I would like to make is that the Ascension stories we have heard do not require you to believe that a group of largely marginalized first-century Jews had surprising access to a Star Trek-like transporter system. Read carefully — and we are always instructed to use our minds as well as our hearts in interpreting scripture; light can never enter into nor emanate from a closed mind — and we can see that the accounts in both the Gospel of Luke and in the Acts of the apostles use terms that suggest things rather different from a literal orbital launch. Acts uses the term “lifted up” (1:9), but the word is “epairo,” which describes how one raises one’s voice, raises one’s eyes, or raises one’s head — it is to amplify, to enlarge one’s perspective, to assert dignity. And St. Luke writes that Jesus “was carried up into heaven” (Luke 24:53) but “carried up” is the same verb used to describe when someone “sits up” into power and authority — not a literal elevation through the clouds. (I am grateful to the Reverend Christopher Bowhay, of St. George’s Church, Nashville, for his guidance on this exegesis.) Understood in this light, the Ascension is less an improbable supernatural event and more of an assertion of the centrality of the role and meaning of Jesus by devout and sincere chroniclers of a new and endangered faith. He had ascended at once to the pinnacle and to the heart of a new and transfigured history.

Jon?  You do know that when I tell you that I’m going to come to your house and “kick your ass,” I’m not going to go to your house and viciously kick any donkey you might own.  Because that would just be cruel, Jon.

Paul?  A word?

And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!

Let me bottom-line it for you, Jon.  If Jesus didn’t actually die on that Cross, actually rise to life again,actually walk out of His tomb three days later, actually appear to His disciples, actually ascend into heaven in full view of those disciples and actually appear to Paul later on, then why do you waste your time attending church at all?

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