There is no resurrection without death.
And by death, I mean the total, unmitigated release of everything we are and think we have. The body quits. We do not have a soul or consciousness that lives on in what is known as the “afterlife” – that is a Platonic concept handily appropriated by the early Christian thinkers. It has infected Christian thinking for millennia.
We no longer have any control whatsoever over who we are, what others think we are or have been, or the circumstances our dead body finds itself in. No one and nothing is looking down, or up at us.
We are dead. About as much life as a package of ground meat.
Whatever shape that death takes - cessation of life, relationship, physical ability, occupation; whatever cause whether by self, disease, others’ actions, or accident – we lose.
We don’t like losing. We don’t like letting go of this bag of blood, viscera, and bones that hold our dreams and loves and hates together. Our success-oriented, positive perseverance, grit-focused, and stiff-upper-lip society forbids it.
So when it happens, when this shell we live in collapses, when the values and actions that our consciousness cherishes fall away into shards of meaninglessness, there is nothing left.
When Jesus died, he died as any other human being did. Like any other human being does.
The striking thing about the resurrection stories in the Gospels, as different from each other as they are, is that not only were the appearances unexpected, they were unrecognizable. Whether, as some claim, they are historical accounts in the sense that they “actually happened”, or metaphorical symbols, as far as the narratives are concerned the witnesses were totally unprepared for the appearance of a recently crucified and quite dead teacher in their midst. There was nothing in their experience they could compare it to.
There was no sense of “coming back to life” here. There was amazement, terror, fear, and disbelief.
So what to make of Easter? Is this a parable, a metaphor, a popular contemporary way of thinking that in spite of bad things happening everything’s gonna be all right? Shall we always look on the bright side of life? Is this an expression of the human consciousness rebelling against death and its inevitable finality?
The desire to believe in an afterlife is phenomenally strong and historically and culturally pervasive. As humans, we stand appalled at the thought of nothingness, of the Néant, of oblivion.
However, the afterlife does not solve the problem of death, as if death were a challenge to overcome. Indeed, the concept of an existence transcending death is the greatest death denial of all.
The only thing that remains is the mystery of memory, should we be so fortunate as to have people remember us.
So then as the Christian calendar moves toward Easter and its attendant mysteries, this dance of death and resurrection takes an interesting turn for a humanist and non-believer like myself.
The central assumption of the resurrection in Christian dogma is the action of the deity expressed like this:
“God raised Jesus from the dead”
This, in my view, is the ultimate Deus ex Machina – God pulls the rabbit out of the hat. God did it. It’s a kind of theological McGuffin.
The execution of a teacher for calling out abuse and fraud in contemporary religion, culture, and politics makes for an interesting plotline. Good grief, it makes for a news story. You do not need a prophecy to know these things. Look what happened to journalists opposing the Russian oligarchy or the house of Saud.
Furthermore, that plot takes a more fascinating turn when what was supposed to be the predictable result of radical political opposition turns into a theological and cosmological reach through an interpretation that hinges on the reconciliation of what was perceived to be a split in the Divine/Human relationship.
For that, we can thank Paul of Tarsus, a brilliant, crusty, and judgmental asshole if there ever was one.
The rest is church history, in all its more than two millennia’s worth of fissiparous existence.
Nevertheless, the question for many remains unanswered: what happens when someone or something dies? Where do they go? Where are they now?
I suggest we change the subject of that question: what happens to us who are left behind when someone or something dies? Where do we go? Where are we now?
What happens when we grieve, and experience loss, regret, remorse, and shame?
Jamie Anderson wrote, “Grief is love with no place to go.”
The dead have no use for us. The wound their death leaves in our lives and hearts and consciousness may or may not heal. Whether it’s a loved one or a hated one, whether our feelings are secure or ambivalent or damaged, whatever follows is irrevocably changed into something unfamiliar, unexpected, and alien.
You see, we the living are the ones who have to learn how to live again.
The resurrection is not for the person or relationship or way of life that dies. That entity no longer exists, except in our memory. There is no life for the dead after death.
The resurrection, this strange, unfamiliar, alien, terrifying exile of transformation in our existence, happens to us who remain.