Is Life Before Death Possible? Resurrection

by John K. Stoner (April 16, 2017)

  Millions of people have found a new life by choosing to be generous, forgiving, and bold in the practices of nonviolent struggle.  

Easter Sunday is the church’s celebration of the great human possibility of living by the principle and practice of love.

The resurrection of Jesus followed three years of difficult and often discouraging life in Galilee, according to the gospel accounts.  The relatively small group of people who followed Jesus were often frightened and overwhelmed by the painful human conditions where Jesus lived his daily life.  Choosing to live with poor, sick and socially marginalized people, Jesus loved people who were left alone, avoided and even despised by the recognized leaders of his community and the empire of Rome.  He lived in the ghetto, the rust belt, and the dust of rural poverty.

The conditions of life and future prospects of peasants in Galilee seemed hopeless.  No one who aspired to a position of public recognition and leadership in Israel went to Galilee to make their mark.  But Jesus did.  He took a big gamble, he challenged established leadership there, which operated by dominating and even homicidal power; and those at the center of that power, Jewish and Roman leadership in Jerusalem, finally killed him.  He seemed to have tried and failed .  

But to the amazement of his disciples, Jesus appeared alive in one way and another after his crucifixion!  Every resurrection account says that he will be seen in Galilee!  It was an incredible vindication of the way he had given new life and hope to people in Galilee.  This man, scapegoated for death by the supreme religious and political imperial authorities, did not stay dead after they executed him.  The way he had lived in Galilee, loving all including his enemies, was not squashed out by his death!  That way was continuing—it was going forward. 

Jesus had asserted his own authority in the synagogues of Galilee.  In space where established authorities forbade healing on the Sabbath with their traditional law, Jesus challenged them by boldly asking “Is it lawful on the sabbath to save life or to kill?” (Mark 3)  At that moment, all the synagogue worshippers remembered the challenge of Moses:  “I set before you this day life and death.  Therefore, choose life.”

And in Galilee Jesus had claimed the right to forgive sins, in face of the priestly establishment which held that only God and themselves as God’s representatives could forgive sins. (Mark 2). Going further, Jesus declared with radical boldness that people could and should forgive each other’s sins—without limit!  This was a totally unprecedented way of dealing with the perplexing human problem of sin.  (Matthew 18). 

In Galilee Jesus had looked with compassion on blind people who could not find their way through the morass of life, he came close to them, touched them and restored their sight.  And for those who could not hear his teaching, or make sense of his program of nonviolent love, he gave ears to hear.  (Mark 7,8).  

In Galilee he had singled out women for respect and attention, upsetting all the conventions of Jewish law and practice, speaking publicly even with a Samaritan, not a Jewish, woman.  He openly violated the dictates of gender and religious bias. (John 4). 
In Galilee he had sent out his disciples to proclaim a simple and earthshaking message:   “Peace to this house.”  (Luke 10).  At Pentecost it was Galileans who spoke the good news in many languages. (Acts 2)  Peace was the promise of the empire—a bold, gleaming and cruel lie by those whose way was death, execution, and war.  Peace on the lips of Jesus was the fulfillment of the Hebrew vision of “shalom”—a life in harmony with nature and neighbor.  

Galilee was, in short, the site and synonym for living the kingship of God, a new way of running the world embodied by Jesus of Nazareth.  

And one assertion is consistent in all of the resurrection accounts:  The living Jesus, in whom God dwells as God dwells  in us, will be seen in Galilee, the place where the hard choice between life and death is faced every day.  

The gospel of John tells the great parable of Lazarus—a man bound, like Everyman, by the fear and ignorance of the society in which he lived.  That man, addressed by the son of man, incarnating God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven, experienced genuine life before death.  That is the resurrection possibility for all of us.  But we do not have to choose it.  In the ironic words of W. Edwards Deming:  “It is not necessary to change.  Survival is not mandatory."
The Apostle Paul wrote:  “God made you alive together with him (Jesus).” (Colossians 2).  Present tense reality,  we have been resurrected with Jesus the Christ.  

We are indeed seeing something which not everyone sees, though all could choose to see it.  At one time only a few people perceived that the earth is round.

  There is strangeness in the resurrection appearances— sometimes he is not seen when he is there, and sometimes he is seen when he is not there.

A few summary thoughts:  Christians have no reason nor right to expect a life in the future which they refuse to embrace in the present.  If Jesus’ way is a bad idea here on the short term, it has got to be a worse idea for a somewhere future on the long term.  

The question always before us—will we bow to the powers, the fear and the lure of death?  Or will we say yes to life as Jesus said to life?  

Every claim that Jesus rose from the dead which is linked to policies of death and war is fraudulent and hypocritical.  

If you cannot see Jesus/God in your neighbor, you will not see Jesus in Galilee.  Not everyone will see Jesus in Galilee. 

If we cannot see Jesus, and in him God as well, in every person we ever meet (or do not meet), we do not believe in resurrection.  

Jesus’ resurrection, as his birth, like ours, is shrouded in mystery and miracle.  The miracle is, in the end, life itself.  Thanks be to God.  Yes be to life.  Now.