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Paul’s Resurrection Theology Part Two:
Death has been Swallowed Up in Victory
7th Sunday After the Epiphany (Transfiguration Sunday)
Exodus 34:29-35; 1st Cor. 15:35-58; 2nd Cor. 3:12-4:2; Luke 9:28-36
The Common Lectionary provides for 10 Sundays between Epiphany and Ash Wednesday. This last Sunday before Ash Wednesday is designated “Transfiguration Sunday.” Luke continues his proof that Jesus is more than the old Moses, the original law-giver, more than the old Elijah, the first to be bodily taken up into heaven. In the Exodus passage, Moses’ face shines with the light of God so that he has to wear a veil when he delivers the law to the people. Jesus whole body, including his clothing, shines with a great white light, and the awed disciples share a vision of Moses and Elijah, the two most important prophets in Jewish tradition, talking with Jesus about what he is planning to accomplish in Jerusalem.
Perhaps for the sake of dogma, the Drunken Elves who put together the readings for Epiphany into Lent leave off Paul’s discourse on how the dead are raised and what is the nature of the transformed body (unless there are a minimum of eight Sundays before Ash Wednesday). Instead we are treated to a veiled insult to the Jerusalem establishment, who “to this very day, whenever Moses [the law] is read, a veil lies over their minds; but when one turns to the Lord the veil is removed” (2nd Cor. 3:15-16).
In Paul’s view, the general resurrection had begun with Jesus’s resurrection. The transformation of human life on earth from the laws of Empire to the distributive justice-compassion of God’s Kingdom had begun, and the process would be complete within Paul’s lifetime. So in 1st Cor. 15:50, he sets up his discussion of what the spiritual body might be like when the process is complete. “What I am saying . . . is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God . . .[but] Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye . . .”
Can Paul’s argument stand in a post-modern world? “. . . [N]o Jesus resurrection, no general resurrection; no general resurrection, no Jesus resurrection” (Crossan): only in the sense that if Jesus had not died in defiance of the Roman Empire, and if Paul had not interpreted that death as a counter to the divinity of Cesar, who would stand against the normalcy of civilization? Just as Jesus said, the Kingdom of God is here, now, within you, if you will only open your eyes and ears and look and listen, the trumpet sounds, and we realize that we can choose to live and participate in that Kingdom, which has nothing to do with Cesar’s empire, and everything to do with non-violent distributive justice.
So what? What is non-violence? What is distributive justice-compassion? The more useful question may be what is violence, and what is empire? Violence is anything that results in the invalidation of life. Empire is what keeps that invalidation in place. Whenever a child is prevented from asking questions, or pursuing her natural talent, because of governmental or social rules about what is necessary to be mastered in a classroom, empire prevails. Whenever another life form – whether an intimate family member or a portion of an ecosystem – is used or abused for a purpose other than its own, it is subjected to violence. All human systems are prone to violent empire. That is the struggle. That is what is meant in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians – who apparently did not get it the first time around – when Paul says, “We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word . . . And even if our gospel is veiled [it is because] the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
Who is the god of this world? Not so-called “Satan,” and certainly and unequivocally not “the Jews” – which is inferred by orthodox tradition – but commercial and social normalcy: Meister Eckhart’s “merchant mentality,” which cannot participate in the Kingdom because justice-compassion is bad for business and a detriment to political power. To sin is to not participate in God’s justice-compassion, and therefore to be dead to God’s Kingdom, and it is not physical death, but the law of Empire that cuts us off from justice-compassion. “The sting of death is sin,” writes Paul, “and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”