4. Am I saying that the resurrection was not an historical event? That depends. If your understanding of “historical” is based on the famous criteria of Ernst Troeltsch – probability, relativity, and analogy – then, no, it was not an historical event. But why, asks Wolfhart Pannenberg, accept these criteria? Why accept a definition of history that rules out, ab initio, the singular and unique (and its presupposition of an ontology incarcerated in immanence)? Why, pace Bultmann (who here follows Troeltsch), indeed. Yet Pannenberg also maintains that the conventions of modern historiography, including its procedures of proof, can successfully be applied to the appearances of the risen Jesus, such that we can infer the resurrection from the evidence. And this is where I part company with Pannenberg and join Barth. The resurrection is historical – i.e. it happened in space and time – but it is not historically demonstrable. The resurrection is, in principle, historically falsifiable, but not historically verifiable. With Moltmann, its verification can only be eschatological.
Here is where the issue becomes difficult for we moderns. But the resurrection leads to mission and to the eschaton!
6. Was the tomb empty? Of course! Not least because “no Jew would have used the word ‘resurrection’ to describe an afterlife in which the physical body was left to the grave” (George Caird). The (liberal) notion of a “spiritual” resurrection is irredeemably docetic. It is the perishable, corruptible physical body that must put on immortality (I Cor. 15:53). Nor should we miss the gnostic understanding of creation – and the new creation – that is implicit in a Jesus who is risen only in our hearts – or, for that matter, in the kerygma (Bultmann). “Let us not mock God with metaphor”:
Make no mistake: if He rose at all it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall. (John Updike, “Seven Stanzas at Easter”)
9. The risen Christ meets no one without calling them to witness and service. The meaning is in the mission. In fact, the resurrection of Jesus leads to two missions. Did you ever notice that, according to Matthew (28:11), it is the soldiers, professional killers, who first bring news of the events at the tomb to Jerusalem – to the chief priests, who then bribe them and commission them to spread a lie about what had happened (28:12-15)? By contrast, in the closing verses (28:16-20), Jesus commissions the disciples to make more disciples, teaching them what they had learned from Jesus (in particular, Ulrich Luz suggests, the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount). Lies and violence, very lucrative – that is the one mission. Truth and peace, very costly – that is the other mission. On this mission, the risen Christ said, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
10. Finally eschatology (of course!) – or doxology. “Jesus,” says Robert Jenson, “is risen into the future that God has for his creatures. What certain persons saw after his death was a reality of that future.” Which is another way of saying that Jesus is risen into the glory of God. The resurrection is, as it were, the coming attractions of the Coming Attraction, the human being fully alive who is the glory of God (Irenaeus).In a flash, at a trumpet crash, I am all at once what Christ is,since he was what I am, andThis Jack, joke, poor potsherd, patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,Is immortal diamond.(Gerard Manley Hopkins, “That Nature Is a Heraclitean Fire”)