Bishop Spong on the First Easter   1 comment

“There is no question in my mind that had there not been some transforming experience that happened to the disciples after the death of Jesus that convinced them that he had conquered the boundary of human death there would be no Christianity.  But what people don’t understand is that the idea that that experience meant the resuscitation of a body that could walk physically out of a tomb on the third day after crucifixion is a very late developing tradition.  You will not find it in Paul; you will not find it in Mark.  Most people are surprised to know that in the first gospel, Mark, written in the early seventies, that no where does the risen Christ ever appear in Mark to anybody!  It’s only in the late gospels that he not only appears but offers his flesh to be inspected and eats and walks and talks and interprets scripture; it’s a very late development in the tradition.  There is a powerful Easter experience that starts the whole Christian faith, transforms the disciples, changes them from cowards who had forsaken him and fled and brought them back into being heroic followers of this Jesus —  changed the way they understood God so that whatever that Easter experience was they could never again think of God without seeing Jesus as part of that definition.  They could never again see Jesus without feeling that God was part of that definition.  Something incredibly powerful happened but it had nothing to do with the resuscitation of the body.”

— Bishop John Shelby Spong in Saving Jesus Redux (available at

NLS_Spong6_Jan27_03The retired Bishop of Newark, New Jersey, John Shelby Spong is one of the featured contributors in several Living the Questions series. He is a columnist and author of over sixteen books including Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism and Why Christianity Must Change or Die. Lecturer at Harvard, Humanist of the Year, and a guest on numerous national television broadcasts including The Today Show, Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher, and Larry King Live, Bishop Spong continues to write and lecture around the world. His newest book is The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic. 

One response to “Bishop Spong on the First Easter

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  1. Easter is about resurrection and transformation – today. Easter is not about the torture and execution and resurrection of Jesus. Easter is not about an event that happened one time to one person a long time ago. Easter is not about a 16th-century theology of “penal substitution” or “substitutionary sacrifice.” Easter is not about 12th-century theology of sacrifice that supports, empowers, and maintains a feudal society of lords and serfs under the dominion of the Church. Easter is not about a 4th-century theology of “original sin.” Easter is not about a sadistic abusive murderous blood-thirsty God. Easter is not about a narcissistic mercenary capricious God whose love and grace are so shallow and tenuous and inadequate that the favor or forgiveness of God can only be earned or purchased. Easter is not about useless promises of an eternal post-mortal utopian ethereal existence. Easter is not about the sharing the Good News being used as a form of conquest. Easter is not about hate.

    Easter is about the life and message and path of Jesus. Easter is about us living the life and message and path of Jesus. Easter is about the resurrection of the disciples – all of us who follow Jesus. Easter is about disciples living and being – here and now – the Kingdom of God, on Earth as it is in heaven. Easter is about disciples working together as the living body of Christ. Easter is about the Good News.

    What difference would it make if an ossuary was found that undeniably contained the bones of Jesus?

    To the message of Jesus – that God is personal and present and immediate and available and is characterized by love and grace, whose passion for us is to provide justice and compassion and generosity and hospitality and service, and who invites us and welcomes us and includes us and embraces us without exception or conditions – that message would not in any way be changed or diminished.

    Something happened on Easter morning. Until that morning, the disciples still saw the message of Jesus as an unassembled upside-down puzzle with no idea as to what image would be revealed by the completed puzzle.

    What happened on Easter was a transformative epiphany. The women had it first – a profound comprehensive epiphany. It was the best of epiphanies. When the women shared their insight with the others, the others had the same epiphany, the same transformation. Regardless of whether a body was in the tomb, Jesus was not there. Jesus was resurrected – Jesus was in the world: in gardens, in locked rooms, walking dusty roads, sharing meals, listening and teaching. That is possible only if Jesus is transformed into a presence that is familiar and both transcendent and tangible.

    It was as if every piece of the puzzle had been turned upside-right and sufficiently assembled that the picture could be easily discerned. After all the questions that had only received Jesus’ annoying and unsatisfying answers and after repeatedly hearing the puzzling parables and confounding aphorisms of Jesus, compounded by the grief and depression and repressive fear of the preceding weekend, the impact of this epiphany had to have been earth shaking. It was such a powerful experience that it felt like an earthquake strong enough to roll away massive tombstones. It was so revealing, it was as if the curtain covering the Holy of Holies had been ripped asunder and the presence of God could be plainly seen by anyone who had the courage to look. It was so personal that it was as if Jesus was alive. The life and message and path of Jesus did not die on the cross and was not buried in a tomb. The life and message and path of Jesus lives like a fire that hovers over us and smolders within us and breathes as powerfully and disturbingly as a noisy rampaging wind storm. The life and message and path of Jesus can be heard by anyone at any time and regardless of where they were born or what language they speak.

    In those first few years, this same epiphany happened to Paul and hundreds of others. Repeatedly, it was such a powerful experience that people were transformed. The isolation and desperation and fatalism of day-to-day living in an oppressive empire supported and legitimized by imperial dominionist theology was replaced by the dual realization that the character of the one true God is:

    * unrestrained love and unconditional grace – always present and accessible to anyone anywhere anytime, and

    * that life does not require participation in the empire – not its political activities, not its cultural domination practices, not its imperial civic theology, not its militaristic attitudes and activities, and not its greedy and isolating economics.

    This same profound epiphany, this same earth-shaking resurrection, this same life-as-if-from-death transformation is still happening today as Jesus returns again and again and again and…

    The Good News has 3 inseparable messages:

    1) What is Divine is unrestrained boundless Love and unconditional Grace that has no exceptions and no restrictions; and

    2) We are Divinely called to be a community that offers, promotes, and provokes a feeding quenching clothing healing housing visiting welcoming Compassion and a reparative rehabilitating restorative reconciling Justice; and

    3) We are Divinely called to be individuals who abundantly offer inclusive Hospitality and joyous Generosity and healthy Service without being condescending and without placing expectations on the recipient.

    This is resurrection and transformation! This is the Good News! This is Easter! Alleluia!

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