The resurrection of Jesus is a central dogma of Christianity: “Jesus Lives.” But how? Physically? John’s gospel has the Apostle Thomas putting his finger into the spear-made hole in his side; Luke has him walking to a nearby town with two disciples who don’t recognize him; Matthew has him appearing to Mary Magdalene and Mark; our first gospel, skips the whole thing, although somebody (who looks a lot like Luke) went back later and added it (Mark 16:9-20).
I think Paul, who wrote decades before Mark, got it right. Jesus rose, all right, Paul says, but not physically. Our three evangelists are using allegorical images to describe what Paul correctly calls a spiritual resurrection: “If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body” (1Cor. 15:44). The spirit of Jesus appeared to the apostles, and to the 500, and to Paul, and, in these last days of my life, to me.
I saw him on my TV screen pulling drowning people from the flooding waters in Houston and Miami; first responders were putting their own lives at stake to save Texans and Floridians who had lost their homes and their relatives and were about to lose their own lives. And suddenly, Jesus appeared. There is no doubt in their minds that Jesus Lives.
But then I saw him in the Forsyth Wal-Mart. An old crippled white man sat stranded at the cashier counter in his motorized shopping cart when his debit card bounced. (He had mistakenly left his correct card at home but that couldn’t help him now). His basket was full of groceries and at this moment he had no way of paying. The other customers began shuffling and mumbling. Suddenly, from the back of the line, Jesus appeared. He didn’t look like the bearded Galilean peasant we’ve all pictured. He was a beautiful young black woman.
This young black Jesus raced up to the front of the line, put her card in the machine, paid for the white man’s groceries, and without a word stepped back to her place in line. She had no idea who the white man was or whether he had enough money to repay her, and she didn’t even ask. If I had not stopped her, I would never have known her name is Ashley Patterson.
One of our grandson’s friends was sitting at our kitchen table last night after listening to CNN violently blast our president and she said, sadly, “There is so much hatred in the world.” And then she talked about the way many of her gay friends are treated, and her black friends as well. “Why do so many people hate?” she asked. “Can’t we ever get rid of hatred?”
“Yes” I said, “love gets rid of hatred.” And I told her the story of Ashley Patterson. Jews may call it the spirit of Yahweh and Muslims the spirit of Allah; I call it the spirit of Jesus, but it’s the same thing. It’s the spirit of love that rises inside of us and enables us to help people who desperately need the help.
This love is all over the world; we see it every day and feel its effects on our lives in many ways. But it’s also true we see the hatred. When First Baptist Church in Macon voted to allow same-sex marriages, we could see and feel the love of Jesus as he reached out to heal the woman all his fellow Jews hated (Matt.15:21), and when that group wrote its “Nashville statement” to condemn First Baptist and others followed suit with their “love the sinner; hate the sin,” we wondered about that hatred.
I don’t listen to all the theological wrangling over the “physical resurrection” of Jesus as if those three gospel stories must be taken literally. When Origen and the other Fathers of the Church tell us the scriptures speak in allegories, I believe them.
And when Paul says, “Jesus Lives.” I know her name is Ashley Patterson.
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