Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been reflecting on wisdom shared by John Dominic Crossan at the CAC’s Universal Christ conference. Today I want to continue my Eastertide series by exploring further an idea he shared in his most recent book, which I mentioned two weeks ago. Resurrecting Easter talks about two very different understandings of Jesus’ resurrection: the individual and the communal.
The earliest surviving images of the resurrection aren’t of the resurrection itself, but of an empty tomb and either sleeping or watching guards. Later, Jesus is shown sitting up in the grave, or standing in it. Still later, and only in the Eastern church (not in the Roman Catholic West), Jesus is shown rising from the grave and reaching out to take others with him, most notably Adam and Eve, with David and Solomon looking on (and presumably also benefiting).
That communal, or “universal,” resurrection is not something I’d pondered much before, but it’s described in Matthew’s gospel. The tradition became more real to me when we visited Jerusalem, where the sides of the Kidron Valley are filled with graves, of Jews who want to be first to greet the Messiah when he comes (above the buses in the image above), of Christians who want to be first to greet the Messiah when he returns (below the buses), and of Muslims on the other side of the valley who want to prevent anyone from entering Jerusalem when the Messiah comes.
As I’ve pondered this concept of a communal resurrection, I wonder why the West didn’t embrace the idea. Were the seeds of our rampant individualism already influencing an us vs. them mentality—that only some people would benefit from God’s abundant grace—or did all those images of Christ rising alone influence the individualism that now so heavily influences the capitalist West? As I view images in Crossan’s book of Jesus reaching out to lift others up, I wonder which came first….
I will say this. I do not believe that Christ would condone our modern Western individualism. When he healed people, he told them to go home and spread the good news. He fed groups of thousands, not lucky individuals. He sent his disciples, and then many more followers, out two by two—to minister to others. We are not meant to think, or act, only for ourselves.
Therefore, as we engage in resurrection, in uprising, it can’t just be for us alone. We need to reach out and bring others with us as we rise.
How might you advance Jesus’ revolutionary message of communal resurrection by reaching out to those who need to be lifted up today?
Wonderful writing and new thoughts. As to Jesus ministering to groups, that’s true. But there are also many stories of Him caring/healing individuals and telling them to go tell others. He especially did this for women which has given me so much strength over the years. It has helped me realize I’m not alone even when I am physically (I feel like I’ve spent the majority of my life totally alone especially these last 14 years). But American individualism is hard on the church overall and I too don’t think Jesus condones it. So, this dual way of seeing the resurrection makes me think too…
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Hi, Nila! I’m so glad you appreciate my thoughts. I agree about Jesus caring for individuals and instructing them to tell others. I’m so glad that these stories have strengthened you. We are never alone spiritually, even when we are alone physically—and I bet Jesus would say that we shouldn’t be alone physically, either. Our modern culture has done a terribly effective job of isolating us, in so many ways. So I’m glad you feel connected through this blog and I pray you feel my love through these words….
Why do you think Jesus thinks like you do? He might find American individualism (whatever that might be) disdainful. Then again, maybe not. At least we are all free to seek Him. The government does not control His Church, as it does in China.
Don’t get me wrong, if you hate Americ a, or any part if it fine. Just don’t think Jesus came to validate your prejudices, however valid or justifiable your prejudices may be.
Well, David, I would say that American government doesn’t control the church (which is not one church, but a myriad of individual groups with differing interpretations of Jesus’ message), but our government does support some manifestations of the church more than others. We are all free to seek Jesus. We all also tend to think that Jesus thinks like we do, at least to some extent. That’s why we need to talk with each other: to build out and expand upon our understanding of God in Christ. I don’t think Jesus came to validate my ideas, or yours either. 🙂
As a very visual learner this makes me want to see the pictures in Crossan’s book. In my own minds eye I can see Jesus reaching out… as he does so often to pull us up, push us forward, turn us around. Thanks for inspiring words and the challenge to be the uplifting hand.
You’re welcome, Joyce. The pictures are definitely interesting, and varied…clearly our understanding of resurrection has changed over the centuries. I’m glad my words are inspiring and challenge you to act as Christ in the world.