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Resurrection: Beyond Ghosts and Ghouls
by Arthur Paul Patterson

MORE THAN A fact or doctrine, the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth embodies personal and historical hope. While reading a variety of viewpoints on the resurrection I have been alternatively confused, comforted, restored and unexpectedly devastated by this theme. Internally and subjectively the resurrection is an encounter with the epicenter of meaning and significance. Without a living encounter and reliance on the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth spirituality amounts to little more than armchair speculation. This strikes at the root of my fears because my intellect hesitates to believe that a person whose bodily functions had ceased, whose tether to the organ of consciousness, the brain, had snapped could ever become not only animated but, miraculously, to exemplify all vitality. Resurrection has to be a reverie too optimistic to be factual.

I recall a dream I had when I was about six years old:

I was at Aunt Naomi’s cottage at Winnipeg Beach when I dreamt that my dad had died and returned from the dead several years later. The mechanism by which he managed this was totally unknown; he walked into my mother’s and my life after a five-year hiatus. Instead of being elated at his resurrection, I was horrified by its abnormality. When I encountered my returned father, I recognized all the familiar benchmarks of Donald Morley Patterson: his wavy red-brown hair was the same, and his skin gave off that smoky fireman’s smell that lingered even when he was off shift. He was friendly and approachable, in fact, more himself than ever.

My natural instinct to enthusiastically welcome Dad back was replaced by a repellant fear. Somehow something was profoundly wrong; as far as I was concerned the only dead that came back to life were the zombies who ambled across my black-and-white TV screen late at night or the pod people who were only soggy imitations of their former selves. As much as I loved my dad, and it was my fondest dream that he had never died, I could not get used to the idea of a reconstituted dad — the idea left me trembling.

Trembling may not be an odd response when meeting a resurrected being. The mere possibility of resurrection was enough to leave Jesus of Nazareth’s first disciples scared and running for their lives. Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid (Mark 16:8). Time would be needed to adjust to this utterly unprecedented event of eschatological proportions. Their imaginations would need to be finely honed to avoid the inevitable suggestion of ghosts and ghouls.

Ignoring the resurrection isn’t an option; early Christian communities and Paul the Apostle assert that our personal and cosmic destiny depends upon Jesus of Nazareth’s resurrection. If Christ is not risen then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain (1 Corinthians 15:14). How is it possible for me to believe, to trust in, and live out of the energy of the resurrection?

popup textQuickened imagination and serious reflection are needed to make sense of the resurrection. Childish images of re-animated corpses and the philosophical prejudices of scientism pose as twin dragons waiting to swallow up any meaningful understanding of the pivotal Christ event. The first step to avoid being scorched by literalism or scientism is to ask, “What is it that we are asked to believe: a historical event, an existential hope, a shared life or a new cosmology?”
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