Episcopal Church in Minnesota

Environmental Stewardship Commission (MEESC) General Lectionary Reflection Year A, Easter Readings

Reflection on Resurrection and Easter by John Gibbs. PhD

When I told my last remaining uncle that I had just returned from a Church conference on ecology, he reacted strongly to the effect that the Church had no business getting into ecology. His idea is that there is more than enough to do if the Church sticks to saving souls.

Holy Week and Easter are occasions for re-examining the heart of Christian faith. In this week cross and resurrection are conjoined in "the Christ event." But what happened in that event? Our view of "what happened" in cross/resurrection influences the entire spectrum of our ethical decision-making, including environmental ethics. Here at Holy Week and Easter it becomes as clear as possible how far reaching are the effects of our theology, our Christology, and our hermeneutics.

If literalism is the only hermeneutic option, for instance, then one sees at the heart of Christian faith a freak event whereby dead corpuscles were resuscitated. Resurrection of the body means, for literalism, the return to life of flesh and bones that had died and had already begun to decay. Centuries ago John Donne, the great preacher-poet, laughed to scorn such a view by wondering out loud (in a sermon!) what a scramble it would be on the day of resurrection when all the bones that had been scattered about in wars would hastily be reassembling themselves into their former unitary bodies.

It is a strange worldview that on one hand insists on literal return to life of Jesusí physically dead body, as if that material body were the basis of the Churchís faith, but on the other hand disdains "this world" of things and objects and physical bodies, for only "the things that are above" (Colossians 3:1-2) are to be "sought." That line of thinking extols the Church invisible at the expense of the Church visible, honors the "spiritual" life at the expense of turning our physical "bodies" into "living sacrifices" (Romans 12:1), and does all this despite Paulís term "body" referring to the entire human "self" (Oxford Annotated NRSV note on Romans 12:1). That line of thinking confines the Church to "saving souls" at the expense of the Churchís mission to all of human life: the institutional no less than the individual, the social no less than the personal, the global no less than the local, the ecological no less than the ecumenical.

The resurrection, as presented in earliest Christian literature remains a mystery. Its meaning is not contained by literalism. True enough, the risen Jesus eats fish, but then he also goes through a closed door with no difficulty. There were wounds, but Thomasí faith did not depend on touching them, even though he was invited to do so (John 20:26-28).

Clearly no systematic treatment of Jesusí resurrection occurs in the New Testament. Instead there are descriptions that, taken together, point to a mystery whose reality lies beyond the reach of language, even metaphorical language Earliest Christians described the body of the risen Jesus in order that there be no mistaking Jesus for "a ghost" (Luke 24:37) nor some pure spirit. His appearances (Matt. 28:1-10) were not hallucinations, but objective realities both "out there" and "for us" in time and space, so far as they were concerned.

Jesusí resurrection does not catapult us out of this world into some remote spiritual realm. It catapults us instead directly into this world, for it is here within Godís creation that the power of the resurrection is at work not only among us but also throughout the whole creation (Romans 8:18-39). The One who died and was raised (Rom. 1:4) not only "intercedes for us" (Rom. 8:34), but also permeates the cosmos with "the love of God" (8:39) -- so much so, that separation from Godís love has become impossible for all creatures in all time everywhere.

Christian environmental ethics is not a dispensable extracurricular activity for "saved" Christians. To the contrary, the manner in which we live among fellow creatures is fateful for them no less than for ourselves. How we live within the environment determines whether we are set upon a dead-end via dolorosa (road of tears, Romans 8:18a), or upon a pilgrimage through suffering, to be sure, but under resurrection power (Romans 1:4) toward "glory" (8:18, 30) that includes the creation (8:19-21).

Freedom from bondage to decay is not a private Christian possession, but a public process that is at work throughout the cosmos, including the Church: "Öthe creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God" (Romans 8:21). "What happened" at the crucifixion and at the first Easter was cosmic in scope. "The Christ event" binds us to the creation within which, and for which, it took place.

John Gibbs, PhD, is a retired theologian who attends Trinity Episcopal Church, Park Rapids, MN. He originally wrote this reflection in 1999. He and we welcome your comments. Please address your comments or additional reflections to John Gibbs or any MEESC member, or mail them to:
MEESC c/o C. Morello 4451 Lakeside Drive Eveleth, MN 55743-4400 USA

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