1. James Alison, The
Joy of Being Wrong, the chapter entitled "Hope and
Concupiscence." Alison shows how the Resurrection breaks down many
former dualities. Chief among them is the social duality such as
that between Jew and Gentile. Acts 10 is an example of the gradual
process: Peter has to be pushed by God into entering Cornelius'
house and then has an "Aha!" moment. One theme for preaching might
be that the Resurrection provides a new basis for human sociality
that does not depend on having a common enemy, that does not pit
some against others.
2. James Alison, On Being Liked, the Introduction makes
ample use of this passage, pages vii-xi; and then again on pages
3. Tom Truby, a member of Theology & Peace, used Girardian insights to offer a sermon in 2015, titled "The Resurrection of Inclusion."
Reflections and Questions
1. "They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day." Here is the heart of the matter: Humankind declares Jesus guilty and executes him; God declares Jesus innocent and raises him. One thing I've wondered about in these typical sermons of Acts, however, is that they never quite get to universalizing what happens to Jesus. When Peter speaks to Jews at the outset, he tells them that "you" killed Jesus. Here, in addressing Gentiles, he says that "they" killed him. When does the revelation of the cross as universal get to the point of saying "we" killed Jesus? St. Paul takes this latter tactic due to his personal experience of having persecuted Christ; he is able to identify himself as a persecutor. But this is in his own letters. Luke's accounts of Paul's first sermon in Acts follows the same pattern of blaming the Jewish leaders (13:27-28). It begins to change a bit with his sermon in Athens (Acts 17).
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
1. I'm not aware of direct references to 1 Cor. 15 in Girardian works, but I will lift up several references to what I consider the theme of 1 Cor. 15: the necessity and importance of belief in the resurrection. Most importantly, the first three of James Alison's books begin with the Resurrection as the starting point for both the Christian faith and theology. Knowing Jesus is a great example of beginning with the Resurrection as the basis for theology. His other two books follow in the same pattern. The Joy of Being Wrong also uses a polemic against Eric Gans' Science and Faith. Gans is correct, he says, in using an a posteriori methodology that constructs a theory from a given starting point. But he goes on to say:
I differ somewhat from Gans. Gans posits the moment of the constitution of human monogenesis [i.e., at the birth of human culture] as, in itself, a moment of revelation. By this he means the birth, through a particular event, of an entirely new form of awareness. It seems to me that he is right about the birth of the new form of awareness, but wrong to call that a revelation. A revelation implies that something that had been covered, hidden, is now dis-covered, unhidden. However, in the moment of the constitution of a properly human consciousness there was nothing previously human to be uncovered. By definition, what led up to, and permitted, the forming of the human representational awareness was not, itself, human. The constitutive event itself is not dis-covered, or revealed in the birth of the new human awareness. Rather, it is exactly this event that is hidden, or covered, in the structure of the awareness which it has made possible. (p. 66)Alison is differing from Gans on their accounts of the birth of human culture, which is itself the point of hominization, the point at which those primates who were not yet human took the step of becoming human. For Girard, that point of hominization is founded in the real events of collective murders that give rise to feelings of awe at the peace created, and begin to spawn religion of the Sacred. And one of keys to Sacred religion is to hide the human reponsibility for the violence behind a veil of the Sacred. The gods are given credit for the violence, the birth of the idolatry at the heart of all religion. The birth of human awareness, then, includes the covering over, the veiling, of the nature of its genesis in violence. In Alison's terms, as opposed to Gans', there is a veiling, not an unveiling, or revelation. It is only in the cross and resurrection of Christ that we begin to dis-cover or unveil the truth of our origins. The resurrection thus becomes the starting point for the revealing of all truth, both about who we are and about who God is.
2. Gil Bailie, "The
John," tape 11. Before unpacking John's story of the
crucifixion, Bailie begins by emphasizing that the resurrection
actually comes first, in the sense that we cannot come to
understand the meaning of the cross without the resurrection.
Otherwise, the cross is simply another tragic scapegoating. He
cites 1 Cor. 15: Paul experienced resurrection as conversion.
Similarly in Luke, on the road to Emmaus: the risen Jesus explains
the events of the cross by pondering Scripture in light of these
events. The resurrection experience seems to be a gradual process
of coming to understand the crucifixion. The early apostles came
to understand the crucifixion as at the heart of the meaning of
Jesus' life, not the destroyer of it. It was the event of full
3. Robert Hamerton-Kelly, sermon from April 20, 2003 (Woodside Village Church), sermon from April 16, 2006 (Society of St. John at St. Mark's Chapel, Palo Alto).
Reflections and Questions
1. St. Paul speaks even more directly in the verses immediately following, vs. 12-19. The Christian faith without the resurrection is quite simply in vain. I think that the Girardian emphasis on the revelation of the cross and resurrection helps make sense of St. Paul's insistence in this matter. As we said of Alison's argument above, it is in the nature of human consciousness to be conceived in a process of delusion. Only a radical intervention on God's part could break us free of those delusions. That act of intervention was the resurrection, God's bold declaration of innocence upon one whom we had tried once again to reconstitute our human solidarity through collective murder.
As an option for the Gospel in all three years of the lectionary, I have put together a separate page for John 20:1-18.
The biggest decision exegetically is whether you believe Mark
16:8 is the original end of the Gospel. I don't see many scholars
claiming one of the alternate endings, from less reliable
manuscripts, as original. Scholars such as N. T. Wright are arguing in
favor of an original ending that was lost, based on Mark's story
needing another ending (see, e.g., How God Became King, p.
121, or his interpretation of Mark 16:1-8 in Mark for Everyone). But
I disagree with Wright, for the following (non-all-inclusive)
Then Jesus said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to
you while I was still with you -- that everything written about
me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be
fulfilled." Then he opened their minds to understand the
scriptures, and he said to them, "Thus it is written, that the
Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third
day..." -- Luke 24:44-46
1. Robert Hamerton-Kelly, The Gospel and the Sacred, pp. 57-59. A good snippet: "The announcement is not, 'Here he is!' but rather, 'He is not here!' (16:6). What the resurrection symbolizes is not simply part of the present order, but something that belongs to the future." Hamerton-Kelly also begins the next chapter explaining how Mark's gospel is circular, the sudden ending bringing the reader back to the beginning.
2. James Alison, Raising Abel, ch. 8, entitled "Hope: Where Boldness Blossoms out of Fear." Alison frames this whole chapter with the fear of the women running from the tomb in Mark 16:8, a fear out of which hope is born. I highly recommend reading this chapter before preaching on this passage.
3. Robert R. Beck, Nonviolent Story, pp. 48-50. Beck's most general outline of Mark's Gospel is to divide it in two: rising action into increasing tension and conflict, Mark 1-13, and the falling action of conflict resolution, Mark 14-16. What distinguishes Mark's Gospel from other conventional stories is its nonviolent conflict resolution.
Both halves of Mark's story use his favorite device, bracketing. Mark 1-13 is bracketed by cleansing episodes: Jesus' initial act of ministry in 1:21-28 is the cleansing of a man with an unclean spirit in the synagogue; and the climactic act of Jesus' ministry, especially in terms of heightening conflict, is the so-called cleansing of the Temple in 11:15-19. The second half is bracketed by anointings: 14:3-9 and 16:1. They both are mis-timed:
The Bethany anointing (14:3-9) is sandwiched between a pair of passages that some critics see as originally forming one unit (14:1-2, 10-11). It has to do with the council's conspiracy against Jesus and Judas's instrumental role in that conspiracy. The anointing is identified by Jesus as a burial anointing, by anticipation (14:8). Like the burial anointing at the end of the Gospel, it is untimely. This is too early; the later anointing is too late. This effort succeeds in anointing Jesus' body, though his body is not dead; the later anointing fails because his body is gone from the tomb: although he has died, he is apparently not dead. Together the two anointing attempts work to make a whole. At opposite ends of the passion account, prior and subsequent to the appropriate moment, they strive to supply the necessary ritual of burial. Neither succeeds since they are shut off from access to the body of Jesus during the crucial time of his death and burial, by the Sabbath prohibition and by the hostile forces that have crucified him. They can only do homage from the edges of the arena of narrative action. (pp. 48-49)Both anointings carried out by women, we should not miss the political dimension. These ritual actions are more than ritual show:
Like the cleansings of the holy places characterizing Jesus' initiative in the rising action, the anointings of his body provide a powerful symbolism for the falling action of the fallen hero. Like cleansing, anointing is a ritual action we still use. At Bethany it is Jesus' head that is anointed (14:3), which signals that Jesus dies as Messiah, as D. E. Nineham recognizes (Saint Mark [London: Penguin, 1963] 372-73). "Messiah" literally means "Anointed One" and refers to the practice of anointing the head of a new king.4. Robert R. Beck, Nonviolent Story, pp. 127-129. Here, Beck more directly discusses Mark 16:1-8 and its apparently open ending. The bracketing by anointing actions speaks for Mark's intentionality in leaving the ending hanging. Beck writes:
The political dimension of the symbol speaks to the agon -- Jesus dies as Messiah, the anticipated king, the threat to the usurpers in present control (like Herod, in Matthew’s infancy narrative [Mt 2:1-11]). Jesus' claims, backed by his actions, have resulted in his execution. Furthermore, the only anointing given the Anointed One is burial anointing. The meanings of "Messiah" are condensed in this narrative symbol. And while it brings to mind ideas of the "suffering Messiah," the phrase is not to be confused with certain pious extrapolations of this theme. We ought not put aside its narrative context. We do not have here an "innocent victim" ambushed by the unprovoked malice of wicked enemies unable to stomach the prospect of sharing the planet with virtuous persons. Rather Jesus is experiencing the consequences of his deliberate, sustained challenge to the standing social arrangement through the first thirteen chapters of the Gospel. Any piety here is political and confrontational. (p. 49-50)
Like the anointing that signals it, the closure of the narrative is declared by returning to the opening event, but it does not manage to be quite complete. Its unfinished quality is intended. It is both closed and unclosed. It moves into its sequel, as was seen in chapter 13, where Jesus looked ahead to the future of the disciples and the present of the reader. That is to say, the Gospel story explicitly makes reference to the yet-to-come story of the disciples. It addresses the reader and says, "This is to be your story."
When the women come to the tomb, they find the man in white who tells them, "He has been raised; he is not here." The tomb is the wrong place to look for him. Where instead ought they look? "Go and say to his disciples and to Peter: 'He is going ahead of you into Galilee: there you will see him as he told you.'" In terms of the narrative, as we have been reading it, this advises a return to the starting point of the narrative. The disciples are invited to begin their own enactment of the story. If the portrait of Jesus in this narrative is located in the plot, the reenactment of the narrative action of the lives of the disciples is testimony to Jesus' continued presence and the continuation of that presence. The story will not die.
In the more traditional terms of resurrection, terms that we find more satisfying because they are more familiar and not because they are less astonishing, Jesus lives. Despite the claims of cultural reality, his path through these events has been toward life. The assurance given is not unlike that offered by the story in 2 Maccabees 7, where a mother loses her seven sons to the persecuting zeal of an emperor. The brothers are able to persist in their nonviolent resistance to the very end by drawing on a tangible faith in resurrected life. They will be vindicated, not the emperor. Similarly, in Mark's Gospel, Jesus lives. God vindicates him, not the emperor.
And so, in the final chapter of the Gospel, the narrator reaffirms the order of "reality" conspicuous in the irony of the passion account but implied from the very first verse. Appearances are deceiving. In the power struggle portrayed by the narrative plot, the apparent victors have lost. Violence, as seen concentrated in its most representative moment, that of killing, does not prevail. In its irony the narrative finds a way out of the mythic contradiction that would hold that violence redresses, or cures, or civilizes -- the cultural trap that would claim that violence can be relieved by adding more of the same. (pp. 128-129)
5. Tom Truby, a member
of Theology &
Peace, used Girardian insights to offer a sermon in 2012, titled "The Tomb Is Empty and the
6. Andrew Marr, Abbot of St. Gregory's Abbey (Three Rivers, MI) is a long-time reader and writer on Mimetic Theory and in his blog, "Imaginary Visions of True Peace," made these reflections on this passage in 2015, "Running Away from the Resurrected Life."
Reflections and Questions
1. In 2015 my personal life impacted Holy Week in an
important way: my father died on the Friday before Passion
Saturday (March 27), and because it came in such close proximity
to Holy Week, our family decided to set the funeral for the
Saturday after Holy Week (April 11). The Three Days came right in
the middle between his death and funeral. The resulting sermon was
more personal than usual, because I found myself asking how the
Easter message played out for me at my own time of grief. I spoke
more personally about how it is a message of comfort and hope for
me. And the bottom line came with a theme from Nadia Bolz-Weber
(see above) for the sermon "The Continuing of the Gospel of
3. In 2012 I again began with a query about the sudden
ending, but this time I use the theme developed above in the
exegetical notes: the women run away afraid because of the
suffering involved in following this Messiah. Luke's Gospel has
Jesus tell the disciples how slow of heart they are to understand
that the Messiah must suffer. Mark shows their slowness of heart
by having them initially run away afraid. They are slow to follow
Jesus to Galilee. See the sermon
"Slow to Follow a Suffering
4. The young man says to the women, "But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you." Why is Peter singled out? Compare this with the picture of Peter throughout Mark's gospel. I think that Mary Ann Tolbert presents a good case in Sowing the Gospel, that the Parable of the Sower has Peter and the disciples in mind for the rocky soil, which "when they hear the word, they immediately receive it with joy. But they have no root, and endure only for a while; then, when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away" (Mark 4:16-17). Simon is even nicknamed Peter, the Rock. In Mark's Gospel, I don't think this is meant in flattering terms. He's not the rock of Matthew's Gospel on which the Church is built. He's the rock who exemplifies the disciples' constant denseness to the Gospel, and who denied Jesus at his hour of trial. Yet he's the same Peter that the young man singles out in his promise that the Risen Jesus will meet them in Galilee. Mark's Jesus does not speak words of forgiveness from the Cross, but he promises to go before "his disciples and Peter" as their Risen Lord. Apparently, God's forgiveness can begin to break apart even the rocky soil. Link to a sermon using these themes entitled "Much More than a Moral Victory."
5. This reference to Peter, and the promise to go before him,
also recalls the sermon a several weeks ago (Lent 2B)
that I shared, about God the Chooser and Satan the Accuser. Part
of the dynamic of that passage is Peter being in the wrong place,
seemingly trying to lead Jesus. Jesus tells him, "Get behind me,
Satan!" Here, there is a more gentle reminder that Jesus goes out
ahead of them.
6. The preacher might consider using Mark 16:8 as a starting point for a sermon, posing it as a brief break from our celebration of the resurrection in order to consider why someone would be afraid of it. In fact, the gospel accounts primarily show ambiguous reactions to the resurrection on the part of the first witnesses, Mark's account being the most dramatically anticlimactic. Are we ready to have Jesus intrude on our lives with the light of who we really are? Generally not, I think. But he comes anyway, and we are relieved to find out that it is as our forgiving Savior. From the word of forgiveness, new life can begin.
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