A VERY SHORT PHILOSOPHICAL DISCOURSE
Easter is not the worst day to give up the quest for the historical Jesus. It is a search, after all, bound to disappoint. Easter is the day on which the historical Jesus ended. Women and then men went early in the morning to the place where they thought he was interred but the tomb was empty. After that the stories all end in disappearances. There was no more historical Jesus. From then on those who want to hold onto Jesus have to cling to his legacy and deal with paradigm shifts.
Beginning with Easter all we have are stories and metaphors. The narratives of Jesus are what have been put together to create a semblance of Jesus for those untimely born, like us, who are curious about what Jesus was like. Those accounts leave a lot of room for imagination (and film-makers) to fill in blanks. A good metaphor is more astonishing. A satisfactory metaphor is the product of intense concentration.
One of the first profound imaginative shifts had to do with finding aspects and episodes in the Jesus stories that resonate with older sacred stories as well as with current events and conditions. According to this model, Jesus stories are rooted in stories of Isaiah and Moses and are also entwined with the very things we are concerned about. Our connection with Jesus is through narrative. Paul was particularly deft at doing that. He used a mode of reflection that has never been abandoned by Christian followers and is the basis for all Christian sermons. We might call this the paradigm of the never-ending story.
The second paradigm shift was to re-imagine divine-human encounters as sacramental events wherein people need not go to Jesus, but he comes to them. Sacred space is hollowed out of (or hallowed into) everyday space, at the corner of a busy city intersection, say, and Jesus meets them there. This could be called the paradigm of the holy encounter.
The third shift of context was even further away from the literal-historical into the metaphorical-philosophical realm where universals congregate. God-Father, Jesus-Savior, and Holy Spirit overlap and deal with such other universals as life-death, evil and eternity. This theological maneuver universalizes not only the way Jesus deals with human conditions such as sin and salvation in general, but also how he connects with specific personal conditions such as yours and mine. We could call this a paradigm of cognitive transformation.
So anxiety that periodically arises about the historical facts and localities of Jesus’ life is avoidable. Just don’t worry about whether Jesus was born in this place or that, actually said something or didn’t, or was buried here or there. Or what he looked like. Easter is liberation from such tedious concerns. We are not connected to Jesus by a long historical chain. Easter disconnects us from the need to establish a historical thread.
Easter is also a connecting link. If we are to any extent Christian there must be a thread or chain connecting us to Jesus. Since we live at the beginning of the third millennium after Jesus our connection extends across 2000 years. Because of Easter and the disappearance of Jesus we are connected to Jesus by one or more of the three paradigms. Each of those paradigms has its own illustrious advocates and shining episodes. All of them may be aspects of any person’s relationship to Jesus. Either we have internalized the narrative thread, been engaged through a sacramental connection, or undergone transformation of our belief system. His story is linked to our story, his mystery attracts our wonder, and/or his reality transforms our own.
Notes on Easter paintings: “The Resurrection” by Carl Bloch, ca 1873, represents the high Romantic Age linked closely to attempts to imaginatively re-capture the historical Jesus for a particular ethnic-cultural context; in Bloch’s case the context was Scandinavian. The picture is from “Jesus: the Son of Man” published by Scandinavia Publishing House, 1982, p. 72. “Resurrection” by Andre Kamba Luesa, the Congo/Zaire, 1992; the print is Post-Modern Impressionist; meaning and message dominate and are especially for a specific time and people. The print is taken from a collection in the book “Christ for All People” edited by Ron O’Grady, published by the Asian Christian Art Association, 2001, p. 143.
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Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.