Monday, October 26, 2009

Resurrection and Hope

The road to despair is wide and runs downhill for many of those who find themselves on the doorstep of The Salvation Army. The ‘Our Homeless Children’ report included this short quote that is unfortunately indicative of the thoughts of too many people: “What do I most hope for? That I die pretty quick”.

One might rightly wonder why anyone would want to work against such dire circumstances on a daily basis? For me, the answer is that, despite so many contrary indications, not only is there real hope, but to be a bearer of hope is a deeply meaningful role. There is something almost counter-cultural about spreading hope today. In a review of the Oasis movie, Captain Paul Moulds was described as a ‘delusional optimist’ – the kind of description I would proudly share. Hope may be unexpected, but it is a crucial component of Salvation Army social ministries. Liberation theologian, Jon Sobrino, says this:
Those who have a radical hope for the victims of this word, who are not convinced that resignation is the last word…can include in their experience a hope analogous to that with which Jesus’ resurrection was first grasped and can direct their lives to taking the victims down from the cross. Furthermore, those who, in the midst of this history of crucifixion, celebrate what there is of fullness and have the freedom to give their own lives will, perhaps, not see history as nonsensical… but as the promise of a ‘more’ that touches us and draws us despite ourselves.
If, as the apostle Paul claimed, resurrection is the central affirmation of Christianity, then this deep symbol of hope should still be a vital, life-giving metaphor for us today. In a similar vein, Jewish people celebrate the story of the Exodus, the liberation of an entire people from slavery and the beginnings of new life, new opportunities in the Promised Land. Both are powerful stories of hope grounded in the historical memory of people of faith. Yet to leave them entrapped in history is to rob them of much their power to continue to inspire us today.

If our message is to transcend the barriers of the faith community, we may need to learn to find ways of talking about resurrection beyond the category of history – for this indeed has become a stumbling block to many of our current generations. In Alice in Wonderland, when Alice tells the Queen that one can’t believe impossible things she gets the reply: "I daresay you haven't had much practice. When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why sometimes I believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast!" This has become the all-too-common picture of a Christian, someone who is able to twist their brain into a doctrine-conforming pretzel – and who can no longer speak sensibly to a post-modern world.

It is important, then, for us to remember that resurrection is firstly a theological proclamation. It says something about the nature of God. God is on the side of life! God cannot be defeated by death. When we experience suffering and death, this God is not absent but is actively sowing the seeds of new life.

The real challenge of resurrection is not about belief, but about experience. It challenges us to place deeds before creeds, to live resurrection before we can begin to preach resurrection. Here the message of Leonardo Boff resonates powerfully with the mission of The Salvation Army:
Wherever people seek good, justice, humanitarian love, solidarity, communion and understanding between people, wherever they dedicate themselves to overcoming their own egoism, making this world more human and fraternal and opening themselves to the normative Transcendent for their lives, there we can say, with all certainty, that the resurrected one is present, because the cause for which he lived, suffered, was tried and executed is being carried forward.
There is only one appropriate response to the reality of resurrection experience:to seek out and work towards creating resurrection experiences and opportunities for new life in the lives of others. The Salvation Army is continually finding ways to impart hope into people’s lives. Surely this is something we want to multiply, so that every corps, every social centre can function as a community of resurrection possibility.

May the source of our hope never fail. May we always impart hope with generosity. May we know the experience of resurrection, of new life, of new hope, in our own lives and in the lives of those whom we serve.


Anonymous said...

Perhaps you should be joining me at the tattoo place on Friday.
May hope guide us!

JDK said...

I think I have enough for the moment, but I'll keep that in mind...

Anonymous said...

Like the 'Rob Bell' benediction ;-)

David said...

"Don't mention the resurrection. I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it..."

Well written piece, Jason.

Some people, nevertheless, are under the delusion that the resurrection was a real, historical event. Not sure, if St. Paul is amongst these.

Do you think the resurrection was an actual historical event, Jason? And why does it matter?

JDK said...

Thanks for your comments David. For me, history is not the primary category within which I understand the meaning of resurrection - just as 'food' might not be my first category with which I associate 'bugs'. Resurrection is firstly a theological concept, that is it says something about the nature of God, and secondly an existential idea, that is it says something about the inherently hopeful possibility for positive change in human lives.

Having said that, I do think that something related to these two key interpretations was central to the revitalisation of the early Christians after Jesus' death. I can't say much conclusively about the nature of this because even the gospels differ on the details - some are concerned to demonstrate Jesus' physicality (eg. picturing him eating), others seem unconcerned with this (eg. so that he can appear/disappear/walk through closed doors). The doctrines of The Salvation Army do not specifically refer to Jesus' resurrection, though the last doctrine does refer in general terms to the 'resurrection of the body', referring to a hope for all people rather than one specific instance (though I'm sure many will argue the relationship between these).

Hope this helps clarify my position.

Regards, JDK

David said...

"It is the final proof of God's omnipotence that he need not exist in order to save us"

Refer to 'The Evolution of Confusion' by Dan Denett at

Anonymous said...

A re-read makes me say go for it, send it in, and may hope guide you!