This is a tricky one. I find myself not really wanting to write this post, and knowing – because of that – that this topic is an important one. Quakers don’t talk about resurrection very much (not any more). Resurrection – the resurrection – is at the heart of Christianity, and it pushes us to look at hard questions which risk bringing disagreements into the open. Because showing disagreement is often treated as if it’s the same as creating disagreement, people are unwilling to do that.
What are we to make, now, of this claim that a man, Jesus, was killed and then, on the third day, resurrected?
Well, maybe he was only mostly dead (which is, as Miracle Max would tell you, slightly alive), or maybe they put the wrong man on the cross, or maybe the man seen alive afterwards was a lookalike, or his brother, or a mass hallucination. As far as I can tell, any of these things could be historically true – but I think they negate, as sometimes they are intended to, the emotional truth of the story.
Maybe the story is a metaphor about the cycle of life, or a reworking of an older tale about another deity, or an attempt to turn a defeat into a victory by adding a miraculous coda. It seems to me that all of these things are true – the story does have metaphorical levels and some things in common with other stories, and it does turn a seeming defeat into a victory – but I think it would be a mistake to assume that the story of the resurrection can be reduced to just any one of these things.
So what is this bigger deeper truth that the story might hold? On some tellings, it comes out sounding like it’s God Can Do Miraculous Shit or God the Father is a Zombie Master. Sometimes it comes out like Don’t Be Afraid of Romans, or Don’t Be Scared of Death, both of which seem a bit more useful but still not quite there. For me, I think the big one is more like: You Don’t Know Where You’re Being Led.
In the story, I think we’re clear that Jesus is, in Quaker terms, being led. He prays: “not as I will, but as you will”, and then goes ahead and does what, we take it, he’s been asked to do. The Gospels don’t give us Jesus’s first person perspective, so we don’t know how much he knew about what was going to happen (I could argue it both ways…) – but if we come at them pretending to be a first-time reader or an ordinary follower at the time, the disappearance/reappearance on the third day comes as a surprise. Some of that surprise does appear in the story.
That’s the bit which I can relate to – a bit I’d put under question 3, Truth, if we were doing Friendly Bible Study with a relevant extract. Resurrection is a genuine surprise, so surprising that it’s beyond belief, and it needs to be because anything less strange would be a relatively predictable twist to the tale. Because it’s something I know I wouldn’t have expected, it reminds me not to try and predict or second-guess the results when I feel that I’m being led – although I confess I still expect events today to be within the realms of the physically possible!