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?