Monday, March 24, 2008

The language of resurrection: He is risen indeed!

After not being able to say "Alleluia" for all of Lent, it was a great joy to be able to celebrate this weekend, "Christ is risen! Alleluia!"

It strikes me how significant resurrection language was in the life of the early church, and not only in explicit references. There are also all sorts of subtle references to Jesus' rising again, particularly in the vocabulary used in the Gospel narratives. For example, in the John 13 footwashing passage I preached on for Maundy Thursday, verse 4 says that Jesus "got up" (NIV, NRSV) from the meal. That verb could be rendered "rises" or "arose." I think that has to be significant. Jesus had descended and condescended to live and dwell with us, to break bread with us. But he rises from the table. He is one of us, but he is unlike any of us. He rises.

Similarly, in Matthew's account of the stilling of the storm, in Mt. 8:26, Jesus was asleep in the boat but then "got up" to rebuke the winds and the waves. Again, the verb choice there is intentional to evoke the resurrection. Jesus was asleep (as in death) but arises from his slumber to rescue the disciples from perishing. The entire story is a microcosm of the gospel, and the language is meant to foreshadow Jesus' death and resurrection. (I am indebted to my former New Testament professor, Chris Davis, for this insight. I also did a mini-exposition on this passage in chapter 4 of my book Grieving a Suicide.)

Tangent: All this makes me think that a current contemporary Christian song is wrongheaded in its choice of lyrics. The Casting Crowns song "East to West" is a great exploration of the nature of God's forgiveness, but I think they make a poor word choice in the chorus when they say, "I can't bear to see the man I've been / Come rising up in me again." I can't help but think the biblical writers would never use "rising" vocabulary in this instance, because it's referring to the "old man" being raised again (in a bad way), rather than a reference to either the resurrection of Jesus or our being raised to new life with him. I think Christians ought to reserve resurrection language for instances of true resurrection.

At any rate, I'm glad that we are now in a season of resurrection and new life. For all of the cultural dominance of Christmas, the true height of the Christian year is Eastertide. So let the alleluias ring! Christ is risen. He is risen indeed!


Unknown said...

My roommate was just baptized at an evangelical-leaning Episcopal church. She just started attending in January and comes home every week teaching me new things. One week that I was visiting with her, someone said "Alleluia," and I was particularly appalled! ;o) It is really neat how intentional Anglicans are about everything-- it's been a joy to observe Lent this year and be there for the Great Easter vigil!

I loved the drama built up by not saying "alleluia," but hadn't considered the use of other "resurrection language." I think you make a great point-- it would be interesting to know how greater intentionality in how we observe the Christian calendar (perhaps starting by observing it at all!) would transform evangelicalism

Anonymous said...

I am too so glad we are able to say Alleluia again. Or after being at Rez's Easter vigil, shout and scream Alleluia.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you whole heartedly about the Casting Crowns song. Right now at Kingdom Conversations we are going through all the songs of WOW 2008 and analyzing the theology behind them. We have found that much of the modern Christian music has a tendency to disregard theology for the sake of experience, and this is a dangerous road to go.

Thank for your insights on the resurrection.