The End and the Beginning (Christianity)

Reference: Christianity
Reference: The World’s Religions by Huston Smith

[NOTE: In color are Vinaire’s comments.]

The resurrection reversed the cosmic position in which the cross had placed Jesus’ goodness. Instead of being fragile, the compassion the disciples had encountered in him was victorious over even death itself.

The way that Jesus’ earthly ministry ended is known to everyone. After mingling with his people and teaching them for a number of months, he was crucified. 

Jesus was crucified very soon after mingling with his people and teaching them.

That might well have been the end of the story. History abounds with visionaries who proposed schemes, died, and that is the last that is heard of them. In this case, however, it was just the beginning. Within a short time his followers were preaching the gospel of their Risen Lord. 

But Jesus was resurrected. Within a short time his followers were preaching the gospel of their Risen Lord. 

We are given too few details to know exactly what happened after the crucifixion; virtually all that is certain is that his followers were convinced that death had not held him. They reported that beginning on Easter Sunday he “appeared to them” as the same person they had known during his ministry but in a new way. It is not possible to determine exactly what that new way was; certain accounts suggest corporeality—eating, and Thomas’s touching the wound in his side—while others are more visionary, reporting him as passing through closed doors. Fidelity to the reports, all of which were entered by disciples who were convinced of Jesus’ resurrection, make clear that he did not simply resume his former physical body; resurrection was not resuscitation. Instead, it was entry into another mode of being, a mode that was sometimes visible but usually was not. What is clear is that Jesus’ followers began to experience him in a new way, namely as having the qualities of God. He could now be known anywhere, not just in physical proximity.

The disciples were convinced of Jesus’ resurrection. For them, it was entry into another mode of being, a mode that was sometimes visible but usually was not. Jesus’ followers began to experience him as having the qualities of God.

Faith in Jesus’ resurrection produced the Church and its Christology. To grasp the power of the belief, we must see that it did not merely concern the fate of a worthy man. Its claim extended ultimately to the status of goodness in the universe, contending that it was all-powerful. If Golgotha’s cross had been the end, the goodness Jesus embodied would have been beautiful, but how significant? A fragile blossom afloat on a torrential stream, soon to be dashed—how relevant is goodness if it has no purchase on reality, no power at its disposal? The resurrection reversed the cosmic position in which the cross had placed Jesus’ goodness. Instead of being fragile, the compassion the disciples had encountered in him was powerful; victorious over everything, even the seeming end of everything, death itself. “Grave, where is your victory? Death, where is your sting?” 

The resurrection reversed the cosmic position in which the cross had placed Jesus’ goodness. Instead of being fragile, the compassion the disciples had encountered in him was victorious over even death itself.

The way this message moved into, and eventually took over, the Mediterranean world is our next concern.

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