Today is Easter and hopefully most of you will spend some time today pondering, meditating and even celebrating the resurrection this weekend! As you do that I would like to throw out something to add to your musings.
One mistake that most Christians make in reading scripture is that we read it with our “post” glasses on. Meaning we read scripture through the lenses of our post-modern, post –enlightenment, post-industrial understanding. The reality is Scripture was just not written to people reading with those lenses on!
If we read scripture through those lenses we are sure to at the least miss some of the richness of the Bible and at the worst completely miss the point the authors intended for us to understand.
One such portion of scripture we may have been looking through the wrong lenses with is this ever-important story of Jesus death, burial and resurrection! I am not going to throw out that we have missed anything in this story that is central to our faith or theology but maybe something that caused us to miss the richness of what happened that day.
The gospels give account of Jesus being prepared for burial and placed in a tomb. They also give account of the day of resurrection when Mary discovered Jesus body missing at the tomb with some of the disciples coming to investigate this mystery as well.
This graveside scene seems to hold more in it than just the angelic visit and rolled away tombstone and folded clothes and it does!
It is important to realize that for Israelites (and many other ancient cultures) death was a lengthy process that only just began with someone’s actual passing. After the initial funeral, family and relatives would take great care to wrap and prepare the body for its next journey.
It was believed that the year after death while the flesh literally rotted off the bones of the deceased was a time for the dead to atone for and be cleansed of ones evil deeds. After this year long process of atonement, ones family would come into the tomb, reclaim the bones, prepare them again and have a second burial. The burial represented the end of a families mourning and a turn towards the hope of being reunited with them again in resurrection.
This practice was so entrenched in the culture that even the bones of executed criminals were to be returned to family for a burial. For when the flesh was gone, the sentence was complete, the debt was paid and the criminal’s bones were now eligible for resurrection. This process was so important that there have been written decrees found, from Caesar’s predating Jesus, that make any contamination of a gravesite illegal and punishable as a capital offense. This fact also makes it highly unlikely that Jesus’ hiding, fearful; less-than-courageous followers stole or did anything with his body.
These cultural trademarks provide us with the scandalous understanding of the resurrection that the first generation Christians would have operated with… Jesus was condemned by the Judean’s (leaders and crowd) He was legally tried and declared guilty. He was executed as a criminal by the Romans then taken by a Judean (Joseph), prepared for burial and placed in a tomb where he would begin to serve his sentence of decay to atone for his sins!
The resurrection flies in the face of all the worlds authorities and leaders and their judgments and decrees they had made! God had taken Jesus from last breath to resurrection with no rot because there was no guilt in his flesh! God had overturned the death sentence of the most powerful people on earth. Jesus resurrection was a statement the world would have understood… The world was wrong about Him and He was who He said He was!
Bruce Malina, one of the leading experts in ancient cultures, says this in his commentary, “The claim that Jesus is raised by God is a claim of divine vindication for the deeds and words of Jesus. His life has been that of the Word made flesh in Israel, and God preserves its fleshly record intact.”
What does all this mean? Taken in a cultural context the resurrection of Jesus means… His death was wrong and had been overturned by the Highest Judge! God’s Son was innocent and the fact that He resurrected before his flesh could even begin to rot was glaring proof for the world to see!
Some of you may already have drawn the line between this understanding of the resurrection and most modern day theology that says: Jesus’ death was right and necessary and even required by God “to take away the sins of the world”. This cultural interpretation would be sure to raise some debate in many theological circles.
Today however, I would like to use it not for debate but for a greater personal reflection on the resurrection. It appears at least for 1st generation Christians, the resurrection was a national and historic declaration that God had vindicated His Son because he was in fact the mediator of life!
All of this is great reason to dig a little deeper into the tomb this Easter.