Every now and again we hear of someone finding the remainder of Jesus Christ’s body. The definitive discovery of Jesus remains would not change my faith in Christianity because the bodily resurrection of Jesus is a metaphorical parable about the meaning of Jesus’ life and death and not an historical account about the status of Jesus’ corpse and tomb.
First, the New Testament says that Jesus is seated (or standing) at the right hand of God. As a Christian I do not take that literally. I take it metaphorically as announcing that Jesus is the heir-apparent of God since — in ancient court protocol — the heir-apparent sits at the king’s right hand. In other words, God always comes to me through Jesus — yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
Second, the New Testament — at least in the Gospel according to Luke and (differently) in his Acts of the Apostles — describes Jesus ascending into heaven at a specific time and place and before a watching apostolic audience. I do not take that literally. I take it metaphorically as the necessary prelude to locate Jesus at God’s right hand.
Third, the New Testament speaks of the risen apparitions and empty tomb of Jesus. There were certainly visions of Jesus after his execution — and visions are literal facts. How one explains them is another question. Visions or apparitions are not hallucinations but are — like dreams — hard-wired options of the human mind in absolute grief over the sudden — and especially the horrible — death of a beloved person. The finding of the empty tomb is a fiction created by Mark in order to avoid ending his gospel with those earlier visions.
In other words, bodily resurrection by God, bodily ascension to God, and bodily location beside God are linked metaphors which insist that Jesus was executed by Rome but raised to God. The Heavenly Court overturned the decision of the Earthly Court (God as Activist Judge!). In other words, the resurrection of Jesus means that God was on a collision course with the Roman Empire — not because it was Roman but because it was Empire. Faith in Jesus’ resurrection is a declaration of Christian treason against any Empire — yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
Fourth, it took Paul the 58 verses of 1 Corinthians 15 to (try to) explain the exact status of Jesus’ body after his bodily resurrection. It did not seem as easy a question for him as for many contemporary Christians for whom Jesus simply exited the tomb to a new and never-again-to-die life. And, were you there, you would have seen that departure.
Finally, I imagine myself asking this question of Paul. We have found the remains of Jesus, Paul, so what about his bodily resurrection? Get a life, Dominic! A human person is always a combination of body and soul so — if the bones are in a tomb somewhere — God has given Jesus a new and Spirit-filled body. We can only speak of that new body, Dominic, metaphorically and never literally—like the seed that dies and lives again in absolute continuity and discontinuity with what went before (see 1 Corinthians 15:36-50).
Let me ask you one other question, Paul. What if we — definitively — found the remains of Jesus and we — definitively — found that he died of old age? What if, Paul, Jesus had not died by Roman execution? What if, Paul, there were no wounds? What if that Spirit-filled body seated beside God bore no wounds from imperial execution but only the scars of aged arthritis? Would that change everything, Paul? Yes, Dominic, it would.
Christian gospels, Christian artists, and Christian mystics have always borne witness that the wounds of imperial injustice never fade from the body of Jesus. The resurrection of Jesus is, therefore, a metaphorical or parabolical claim about the body — and not just the soul — of Jesus. My own Christian faith does not concern itself with the remains of Jesus — whether found or not found — but it concerns itself constitutively with the wounds of Jesus. Bodily resurrection is about imperial wounds and not about buried bones.
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