Saturday, April 26, 2014

Second day of Easter: a walking, talking cross, the harrowing of hell and a communist


The harrowing of hell

The day after Easter, I’d just as soon take a well needed break. But soon enough, Danielle and I are hard at work putting the week into order.  Arranging our priorities, you might say.

David S checks in, just to see what maintenance work might need to be done.

Philip P from Revolution Books stops in  to see about setting up an  event. That name itself is no tip off to anything. From Occupy Wall Street to Jeremy Mage’s song Revolution Forever, well it’s just sort of in the air. The web site itself, well, pretty lefty but the books look interesting and the t-shirt and hat look cool.( Only later do I learn that the book store is connected to the Revolutionary Communist Party USA and it’s mercurial, possibly ,megalomaniacal or at least narcissistic chairman Bob Avakian, leader in exile waiting for the dictatorship of the proletariat in France. Well, this should be interesting……

A representative from an  unnamed theatre company comes in looking for rehearsal, possibly performance space.

                                                       * * * *

Tonight is our last study looking  at the resurrection through different eyes. We start with Paul. In 1 Corinthians 15: 1-15 we find the earliest witness to the resurrection found in the New Testament. Written as early as five years after the crucifixion and decade before the earliest gospel. Paul reports what he has received, saying that Jesus appeared to at least 500 people, many of whom are still alive. And finally to him, in verse 15, as one untimely born. The actual Greek comes out more like, to me, an abortion.

We talk about how Paul’s issues with self-loathing may impact his witness. But the basic point is, the earliest recorded witness to the resurrection argues that Paul experienced the risen Christ not in the flesh, but in the spirit,  the same way that we do. 

Then we look at the earliest gospel, Mark. While the actual gospel ends with an  empty grave but no actual sighting and the women left afraid, (16:8), recent scholars have argued that Mark’s resurrection story is in fact his transfiguration story in Mark 9: 1-9 where Jesus appears radiant with Elijah and Moses. One who died but whose grave is hidden (Moses) and one who never dies but is taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot. Their presence together says something about Jesus’ super natural quality we don’t see at the end. At the center of Mark it is like the ridge pole of the tent upon which everything else hangs.

Then we turn to the gospel of Peter  ( which brings us not only very familiar elements but also a walking, talking cross, two giant angels and a Christ who towers even above the angels. But several other things to note as well.

1.     Even though the risen Christ is the biggest, he needs the support of the other two.
with the two supporting the other one, and a cross following them, [40] and the head of the two reaching unto heaven, but that of the one being led out by a hand by them going beyond the heavens
In other words, even the tallest, the risen Christ needs help….
2.     It is in this gospel that we find the most explicit refernce to the harrowing of hell, only witnessed to with nuance in the epistle of 1 Peter.
1 Peter 3:19–20: (Jesus) "went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits—to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water...."
In the original Greek: "ἐν ᾧ καὶ τοῖς ἐν φυλακῇ πνεύμασιν πορευθεὶς ἐκήρυξεν, ἀπειθήσασίν ποτε ὅτε ἀπεξεδέχετο ἡ τοῦ θεοῦ μακροθυμία ἐν ἡμέραις Νῶε…."
1 Peter 4:6: "For this reason the gospel was preached also to those who are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit

In Peter’s non-canonical gospel, God directly asks the cross
41] And they were hearing a voice from the heavens saying, 'Have you made proclamation to the fallen-asleep?' [42] And an obeisance was heard from the cross, 'Yes.' [43]

And this becomes the most likely source of the line in the Apsotle’s creed, …he descended into hell….(And of course, Marsha from her Sunday school days was the only one to know the  creed by heart.)Known in tradition as the harrowing of hell..

3.    It’s clear the walking, talking cross was too much for the canon gatekeepers. But for us, it’s a lesson in the use of metaphor and poetry. From a book that may be as early as the earliest gospels. It reminds us that gospel writers are more interested in truth, than fact. That their concern is not did it happen but what does it mean. We have to let them speak to us in their own terms.
Finally, we turn to the gospel of Truth. ( in this gospel, humanity is in a fog, and Jesus comes to cut through that fog and deliver us from ignorance, from chaos, from error. And this infuriates error, who then has to see Jesus dead.
For this reason, error grew angry at him, persecuted him, was distressed at him, (and) was brought to naught. He was nailed to a tree (and) he became fruit of the knowledge of the Father. It did not, however, cause destruction because it was eaten, but to those who ate it, it gave (cause) to become glad in the discovery, and he discovered them in himself, and they discovered him in themselves.

Becoming one with Jesus on the cross, Jesus finds us in him, we find him in us.

Marsha finds herself strangely moved by the gospel of Truth . And in her reflections she sees the official gospels as being masculine and didactic in nature but something in this gospel that feels almost feminine (wisdom, Sophia)and invites in through poetic intuition not reasoned argument. I understand more and more how Hal Taussig at Union is right in arguing that the word gnostic is no longer appropriate. Or meaningful. These  are just different gospels.  Spoken with their own long accepted authority until they were thrown out or simply lost, all the while leaving their indelible marks on the faith. (viz. the apostles’ creed.)

At the end, Marsha of course asks the classic question, what difference does it make? If we have been beaten into submission and finally believe,what does it have to do with how we live? Anna has an affirmation of moral guidelines. For John, it’s faith to keep you going when things get tough. But I take us back to where  we were at the  ned of our study of Mark. If indeed Jesus’ job was to conquer death, IE, to remove from us the fear of death’s power, then we are finally set free to live. Not a future promise, but a set free now.
A short day after legal matters. Pat O comes in. We need to  review again, get clear on what needs  to happen next. Next steps clarified. Goals clear. Time to go to Newark to teach. And tomorrow, on to Louisville.

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