Notes on Lectures of the Florilegia Institute by Gil Bailie
Series: "The Gospel of John"
Tape #12; Re: John 20-21
At the heart of the Christian faith is the experience of the Resurrection.
As is clear from the road to Emmaus story, that experience of the resurrection
is the end result of a process -- a process that may have taken a great
deal longer than the few hours or several days as depicted in the gospel
accounts. And one which entailed pondering of the crucifixion in the light
of the Hebrew Scriptures. In the journey from the catastrophe of the cross
to the resurrection -- from disbelief to belief -- the empty tomb was a
very tentative, shaky first step, and not the end of the journey.
In Mark, for instance, it ends very abruptly: NAS Mark 16:8 "And the women
went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had gripped
them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid." That's not
exactly in the spirit of the resurrection.
In other words, the experience of the empty tomb, in the first instance,
was nothing but disconcerting. It was only in light of a later experience
of the resurrection that the fact of the empty tomb became significant
and became part of the Christian proclamation and the celebration of Easter.
In the NT we have accounts of the post-crucifixion that involve very few
details, very sketchy. The later versions are forms of interpretation but
also took the form of added factual detail.
Remember, however, that the business of the gospels is not journalistic;
it is kerygmatic. They were written to keep before the community the meaning
of Jesus' life and death. By embroidering the rudimentary narrative of
the most primitive tradition, the evangelists were not trying to revise
the past but rather to highlight its meaning. The central, irreducible
fact at the heart of the post-crucifixion narrative is not so much a factual
event, capable of being journalistically recorded, but rather it is an
experiential event, one that for all its factual elusiveness was still
be experienced by the evangelists and their communities, and which is still
being experienced today.
The challenge we face today, in fact, is how to make that experience available
to people, whether they are sitting in the pews, or stirring around in
the caldron of cultural and social confusion, or both.
Empty Tomb Story: John 20:1-10
v. 1: "early" and "still dark" -- a hint that the coming to the resurrection
experience was a gradual process; this is its pre-dawn version.
vv. 1-2 -- an open tomb story: Mary Magdalene does not go in but assumes
it's empty and that some one has taken the body. There is no assumption
for resurrection, another hint that the empty tomb experience was a troubling
one, the experience of those who went to the tomb to perform the ritual
mourning and anointing of the body, and it was not there.
vv. 3-9 -- a touch of humor, a bit of an 'Alphonse and Gaston' routine,
as Peter and the beloved disciple head to the tomb and look in. Peter has
been a foil for the beloved disciples, representing the leaders of the
two churches in question.
The whole episode summarizes the increasing lucidity, the increasing epistemology.
Similar to the Emmaus story, there is a gradual journey from crucifixion
There are three Greek words used for seeing in this story:
NRS John 20:5 "[The other disciple] bent down to look in and saw
the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in." Form: blepei.
This is the simplest sense of seeing with our eyes.
NRS John 20:6 "Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the
tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there." Form: theorei.
This is the cognate for our word "theory"; to comprehend in a bigger sense
than just to see.
NRS John 20:8 "Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also
went in, and he saw and believed." Form: eide. Often translated
as "Behold"; to see and experience the meaning.
So you go from a mild form of seeing, to a very profound form of seeing,
which goes with this added bit of information: (NRS John 20:9) "for as
yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead."
Clearly, the resurrection experience happened, so to speak, to people with
the Bible open in their hands.
Luke's version says: (NRS Luke 24:4) "While they were perplexed about this,
suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were
terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them,
'Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has
What kind of miracle is the empty tomb? Could one have the experience of
the empty tomb even with a corpse? It's likely that there was a corpse
in this case, because we have this story of people who were so troubled.
But what about the miracle of experiencing a dead corpse and still having
the experience that 'he is not here; he is alive.'
The appearance to Mary Magdalene, vv. 11-18
The word for "weeping" in vv. 11, 13, 15 are the same as in 11:31, 33,
that indicates a ritual form of wailing, a ritual response to death.
Jesus is unrecognizable in his risen form in many of the post-resurrection
The story begins with a critique of wailing and ends with a critique of
clinging, and they represent the same thing. In other words, Mary goes
to the tomb to hang on in some way to the historical Jesus; which is
a barrier to the experience of the risen Christ. So she must let him
go. The Lazarus story ends by Jesus telling them to untie him and let him
go. The same thing is going on here.
Commentary on the significance of the empty tomb stories--how astonishing
it is that the Christian scriptures have as a salient feature the empty
To shift from a theological to anthropological entre into the gospels is
called for in our time -- without diminishing their spiritual implications.
And it is remarkable in the extreme that the resurrection story insist
on the empty tomb stories as being an entre into their significance.
Anthropologically, ritual mourning has sacrificial efficacy (as pointed
out in the treatment of the Lazarus story). Ritual mourning turns death,
even a natural or accidental death, into a cathartic experience. In other
words, it exploits death for ritual purposes, for the generation of a cathartic
experience. It has the effect of invoking the psychodynamics of ritual
sacrifice, even though none has taken place, and thereby it helps to reconvene
the culture along sacrificial lines and reorients the psychology of the
wailer, or ritual lamenter, along those same sacrificial lines. And the
tomb is at the center of this ritual, either physically or symbolically.
Here's what Girard says (Things Hidden, page 83; see also "The Metaphor
of the Tomb," pages 163-67): "...culture always develops as a tomb.
The tomb is nothing but the first human monument to be raised over the
surrogate victim, the first most elemental and fundamental matrix of meaning.
There is no culture without a tomb and no tomb without a culture; in the
end the tomb is the first and only cultural symbol." (Example: ancient
altars of stone were often the site of a stoning, the body of the victim
lying beneath the very altar; the Egyptian pyramids are the most spectacular
form of such tombs.)
What is being revealed in the NT empty tomb stories? If there is no tomb,
then there is no place to go to re-generate conventional culture. If we
live in the light of the resurrection, then we must live without the tomb
at the center of our cultural lives. Can we do so? Can we live without
having to periodically invoke the primitive sacred, an invocation that
so often happens at the site of the tomb, literally or symbolically.
Jesus says to the scribes and Pharisees in Luke's gospel, for instance:
(NRS Luke 11:47-48) "Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets
whom your ancestors killed. So you are witnesses and approve of the deeds
of your ancestors; for they killed them, and you build their tombs." You
incur their guilt. Killing and building the tombs are part and parcel of
the same phenomena. In this case, those he is speaking to are symbolically
building the tombs by saying they are better than their fathers. Trying
to exonerate yourselves only proves your complicity with the murderer.
What does it mean to be able to live without the tomb? Why have we not
been able to do that very well? What's the results of that? Three stories
of illustration. (These are grotesque stories; but, as Flannery O'Connor
said, our time is so befuddled and lost that, unless you depict its lostness
in the most grotesque terms, nobody will recognize it. Most people are
so accommodated to the absurdity that they won't get it otherwise.)
The Crusades of the 11th century, launched by Urban II.
One account: "Issuing from the church in its full canonicals, surrounded
by his cardinals and bishops in all the splendor of Romanist ecclesiastical
costume, the pope stood before the populace on a high scaffolding erected
for the occasion and covered with scarlet cloth. A brilliant array of bishops
and cardinals surrounded him. And among them -- humbler in rank, but more
important in the world's eye -- was Hermit Peter [the monk who had preached
the Crusade throughout Europe]. As the pope lifted up his hands to ensure
attention, every voice immediately became still. He began by detailing
the miseries endured by their brethren in the Holy Land. [Reference back
to several weeks ago on the Paraclete casting out the Paraclete, the flipside
to Satan casting out Satan: to defend the victims in such a way that one
becomes a victimizer.] That is to say, to begin to talk about the plight
of these victims and the heinous crimes of the victimizers and thereby
to whip up an appetite for raining violence down on the victimizers, and
becoming thereby their moral successors. Here you have exactly that. What
is remarkable about these stories that have the empty tomb at their center
is that they tend to be perfect replicas, perfect anthropological analogs,
for the whole human problem.] How Christian wives and daughters were defiled
by pagan lust. How the altars of the true God were desecrated, the relics
of the saints trodden underfoot. 'You,' continued the eloquent pontiff,
'I call upon you to wipe off these impurities from the face of the earth.
The sepulcher of Christ is possessed by the heathen, and the sacred places
are dishonored by their vileness.'"
The invocation of the sacred and the tomb in the same sentence. What might
have happened if someone in the back row would have raised their hand and
said, "But the tomb is empty!" What might have happened is that we might
not have had a Europe. Because it is very difficult to imagine Europe as
we know it today, becoming what it became, had it not had this collected
sacrificial ritual we call the Crusades to unite it. History is a pretty
bumpy road. It's easy for us to look back on people living in the 11th
century and wag our heads and say, 'Too bad they were morally inferior
to us.' They weren't. We, now, who are products of an extra1000 years of
the Paraclete's work on the human social and psychological order, we can
see things they simply could not see. The Crusades represent the most conspicuous
and glaring instance of Christian sacred violence, the one is symbolically
central and paradigmatic for all Christian sacred violence. And at the
heart of it was the determination to reclaim and to re-enshrine the tomb
Aside: Keep in mind this link between the resurrection and forgiveness,
when we come to the end of this session. Because the kind of history that
was created as a result of the exhortations of Urban II is the kind of
history that is created by unforgiven people. And, if we'd like to have
some other kind of history emerge on this planet, we'd better get serious
about the business of forgiveness.
Historian's account continued: "'Go, then,' the pope added, 'in expiation
of your sins.' And at this the enthusiasm was no longer to be restrained,
and loud shouts interrupted the speaker, the people exclaiming as if with
one voice. With great presence of mind, Urban took advantage of the outburst;
and, as soon as silence was obtained, he continued, 'Dear Brethren, today
is shone forth in you that which the Lord has said by his evangelist, When
two or three are gathered together in my name, there will I be in the midst
of them to bless them. If the Lord God had not been in your souls, you
would not have pronounced the same words. Or rather God himself pronounced
them by your lips, for it was he that put them in your heart. Be they then
your war cry in combat for those words came forth from God. [Aside: vox
populi vox dei - "the voice of the people is the voice of God" is the
recipe for the primitive sacred.] Let the army of the Lord, when it rushes
upon its enemies, shout but that one cry: "God wants it." And let him who
is ready to begin his march place the holy emblem [i.e., the cross] on
his shoulder in memory of that precept of our savior: 'He who does not
take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.'" Comment: The empty
tomb has been turned into a sacred shrine and the center of a cause that
will unleash sacred violence against the so-called enemies of Christ.
John MacKenzie: "We all want to give up war, but we don't want to give
up the fruits of war" -- which goes to this question of European civilization
and the role of the Crusades in engendering the spirit that became Europe.
The same historian as above recounts how the Crusading zeal led to peace
made in Europe because the violence was organized and directed outside
of Europe, which is exactly what the scapegoating ritual does for society.
"All minor passions disappeared before the grand passion of crusading."
That is a recipe for the sacrificial scenario. "The feudal chief ceased
to oppress, the robber to plunder, the people to complain; but one idea
was in all hearts, and there seemed to be no room for any other." It gave
rise to Europe, and we are the beneficiaries of Europe, which should keep
us from becoming sanctimonious.
Elias Canetti, from his book Crowds and Power, pp. 158-165, two
eye-witness accounts of religious ceremonies that took place at the Church
of the Holy Sepulcher in 1834 and 1853. Both within Greek Orthodox liturgies
on Easter Eve. At a certain moment, near the sepulcher, fire is made to
rush out from which everyone lights their candles. "Fire coming out from
the grave of the Redeemer" -- missing again the fact that there is an empty
The event in 1853: a great crowd pressed in around the sepulcher with a
procession route between two rows of Turkish soldiers. Wild rituals of
circling it so that the fire will come, with a leader from whom everyone
takes their mimetic cue. Wild cries about the tomb of Jesus Christ. A procession
emerges of total frenzy, and the Turks are driven out of the church. With
that, the bishop goes into the sepulcher as the crowd roars in anticipation
of the flame, the light that they all believe is lit by God himself by
descending upon the tomb. The rational element is decommissioned in the
presence of the primitive sacred.
In 1834: it became more violent. The English observer remarks that there
was no other liturgy than the procession of fire. And it went a bit out
of control. People fought over getting their candles lit, and them burned
themselves for purity. Panic to get out turned into a battle with the Turkish
soldiers outside. "They seemed more intent on the desire to destroy one
another than to save themselves." What begins as a battle of us against
them to an all-against-all and back into an us-against-them again. The
Church of the Holy Sepulcher had become a battlefield, the resurrection
its opposite. The sacrificial system is a way of economizing violence,
draining it away towards a limited number of victims. If the Christian
revelation makes the sacrificial solution to social problems impossible,
it makes this kind of scenario inevitable, unless we find another way of
convening our social lives, of organizing our psychological lives, and
of experiencing forgiveness. The gospels tell us that none of the social
differentiations have any ultimate meaning. And the crucifixion has revealed
the whole sacrificial scenario. So, if we can't create those social differentiations,
then its either all-against-all, or we become brothers and sisters. There's
simply no other choice. As Girard puts it, 'it's either the kingdom or
The appearance story: John 20:19-31
There is an emphasis in both this story and the "doubting Thomas" story
to follow on Jesus showing them his hands and his side. At the time of
this Gospel we know of a drift toward gnosticism, or docetism, the tendency
to say that Jesus just seemed to be human. This emphasis on the
hands and side is a way of saying that the crucifixion was a real death
of a real human being. Jesus wasn't just shadow-playing. The disbelief
in the Thomas story is more of a disbelief in the crucifixion than the
resurrection, from this standpoint of answering gnosticism. It is the scandal
of the crucifixion which makes the resurrection difficult for gnostics
In these verses, the emphasis is on "Peace be with you. As the Father sends
me..." This sums up the resurrection, which is the experience of suddenly
being impelled to do what he did. My life is no longer my own. He lives
in me. The experience of the resurrection is twofold. First part: The Christic
impulse is in me. I feel compelled to do what he did.
The second part: "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any,
they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."
The Holy Spirit is synonymous with the Paraclete. The Paraclete is the
defender of victims. How do we defend victims? Urban II had a way of defending
victims: go and slaughter the victimizers [a reference back to the discussion
of the Crusades earlier in this lecture]. We know where that leads. How
does the Paraclete defend victims? Forgiveness, even forgiveness of the
victimizers. From our sacrificial point of view, we read this as a stern
God who says, 'You get to go out there and decide who's going to go to
hell and who's not.' Rather, the part about retaining sins is an urging
to the disciples to get out there and get busy forgiving people's sins,
because if they don't do it, it won't get done. Unless people experience
forgiveness from them, they won't be forgiven. If they don't experience
forgiveness at the hands of the Jesus' disciples, then they will go on
generating the kinds of rituals by which they will feel expiated. It's
not some pious thing that says, 'Ah, you're O.K.' It's tremendously dynamic
- and hard to pull off. People today will pay hundreds of dollars an hour
trying to be forgiven.
Rowen Williams wrote: "There is no hope of understanding the Resurrection
outside the process of renewing humanity in forgiveness. We are all agreed
that the empty tomb proves nothing. We need to add that no amount of apparitions,
however well authenticated, would mean anything either, apart from the
testimony of forgiven lives communicating forgiveness." The resurrection
was an experience of forgiveness. The disciples had all abandoned Jesus,
becoming complicit with his murderers. The fact that the resurrection was
happening to them was an experience of forgiveness for them.
Schillebeeckx wrote: "In the theology of the New Testament, there is a
recognizable association of resurrection with forgiveness of sins. The
forgiveness of sins is a gracious Easter gift. After their Easter experiences,
the disciples preached the forgiveness of sins."
H.J. Richards wrote: "Every time I know the forgiveness of others, or know
that others are forgiven, I know that life has overcome death."
The Fourth Evangelist emphasizes one sin above others: the sin of disbelief.
How do we forgive that sin? William Hubbin(?), summarizing Kierkegaard's
Christian existentialism, wrote: "The opposite of sin is not virtue, but
faith." To forgive the sin of disbelief, we have to somehow put skepticism
and doubt in the service of faith. The kind of skepticism and doubt born
in the Western experience is a product of the biblical revelation, which
is demythologizing the traditional viewpoints and thus giving rise to doubt.
Doubt is not an enemy of faith; it is a product of it and can be brought
in alliance with it.
The disciples are fishing on the Sea of Tiberius at night, and they catch
nothing. It's dark, they are without Jesus, and their work is fruitless.
Verse 4: "Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples
did not know that it was Jesus." Same story. Jesus is unrecognizable. Read
vs. 5-11, then verse 12: "Jesus said to them, 'Come and have breakfast.'
Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, 'Who are you?' because they
knew it was the Lord." If they knew quite well that it was the Lord, then
why is "Who are you?" on the tips of their tongues? How well did they know
it was the Lord? This is quite a revealing sentence about the meaning of
the resurrection. We've said [about John 20:19-31] that the resurrection
is about having the experience of Jesus living in us, of feeling compelled
to do what he did. What did he do? Forgive. The next part of the resurrection
experience is to see Christ in the Other -- not just good folks, but all
others -- perhaps even more so in the least expected person. Here, the
disciples know it's the Lord, but it's still a reach for them to see him
in the Crucified One.
The only thing left is the rehearsal of forgiveness -- which is the next
part of the story. After breakfast there is this exchange between Jesus
and Peter: "Jesus said to Simon Peter, 'Simon son of John, do you love
me more than these?' He said to him, 'Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.'
Jesus said to him, 'Feed my lambs.'" Repeated twice. Peter had denied Jesus
three times. Jesus allows this to be undone. Peter is forgiven.
The forgiveness is even deeper when we see the Greek behind the text. The
first two times Jesus asks if Peter loves him using agape, and Peter
answers using philio. Peter will finally get it right the third
time, right? Instead, Jesus changes to Peter's word! expresses it in Peter's
terms of philio. Unbelievable! Forgiveness is also accepting the
person where he or she is at. Jesus awakens his love at the level he is
A reference to Peter's death. Verse 18: "Very truly, I tell you, when you
were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished.
But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else
will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go."
It's also a story about Christian conversion: you discover that Christ
is living in you and in others, and that your life is really not your own,
and it becomes an exciting life.
Summary comments. In John's Gospel there's two charcoal fires: one at the
high priest's house around which the servants and Peter to ward off the
cold of night; and the one on the beach with Jesus cooking breakfast and
extending to his disciples the generosity of a meal, the experience of
forgiveness, and an invitation to discover that one's life does not belong
to oneself alone. In Luke's Gospel, Jesus says: "I came to bring fire to
the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!" (Luke 12:49) T.S. Eliot
in "Little Giddings" said that we will be consumed by either fire or fire.
The two charcoals fires in John show us the two fires: the sacrificial
fires, or the fire of the Spirit of reconciliation and forgiveness, which
is the Spirit of the resurrection. One is the fire of the Apocalypse, and
the other is the fire of the Kingdom coming.
The aim of Gil's work is to highlight the anthropological singularity of
the Gospel, in order to awaken anew to its sweeping historical and cultural
significance. The Fall series of lectures will focus on the Gospel's understanding
of the self and it psychological implications. [This has also been the
pattern of Gil's books.]