by Thom Fiet
This is the moment when most Westerners raised on scientific and historical methods wave their collective hands and ask to be excused, having had their sensibilities insulted. There are two questions that capture the imagination of the West: How and When. Unfortunately, the scriptures rarely hold up under the scrutiny of these two inquisitors. The Easter story is dead silent with the former and suspect on the latter. With all due respect, the Word of God is lousy at science and incompetent at history. The scriptures lean on two other questions: Who and Why, that is, matters of identity and purpose, most of it delivered through kerygma and narrative. The focus on How and When poses tremendous problems for the Western mind regarding narrative-based religions in general and the resurrection of Jesus in particular.
Happy Easter, by the way.
For those few Westerners who do loiter around the Easter narrative they might want to offer psychological explanations about this encounter between Mary and the so-called resurrected Jesus. They might want to offer an insight regarding wish-fulfillment on the part of Mary, predictably experiencing her first Easter sunrise with a cocktail of grief, love, and fantasy. It wouldn’t be the first time someone has had such an experience. So let’s chalk this resurrection account up to hysteria and a gal who has just a little sniff of borderline personality to boot. The media thrives on this sort of titillating stuff; making possible yet another reality series, inspiring something like Housewives and Lovers of Greater Palestine.
So we are left believing a truth that operates beyond the scope of strict science and history; a second class truth. Or is it? Perhaps what is offered is of a higher order of truth than science or history can manage; or perhaps it is a lower, more foundational truth—something organic in our bones resonating with the news of the resurrection, something in us that is primordial, as true as the revelation behind the Higgs boson particle theory: dark, subtle, massive, omnipresent—revealing the hand of God—a chaoticizing, integrating wonder.
In the end, could it be said that the ancient witnesses committed themselves to a hermeneutic of wonder, employing an ancient approach of narrative to bear it? With their limited knowledge, slanted points of view and their emerging devotion to write religious propaganda—still is the impulse behind their writing and preaching a dumfounding sense of wonder? They saw and encountered something and a Someone that ties the universe together. Indeed, how would any of us articulate such a thing? Would your average boilerplate Michigander do any better? Not this one.
We rightly ask if human language is sufficient to the task of beholding a truth like the resurrection or any other transformational truth. Or is our best bet a mathematical formula? What language can carry our sense of wonder and excitement as we begin to behold and enter the truths of the universe and the One who is behind it? Perhaps the key to rapprochement for the West and the Church will be found in forming a growing sense of community around the human experience of wonder, whether arrived at with a Who, When, How, or Why. Whether expressed through story or formula it seems that a humanity with our mouths agape is a good intermediate goal.
Thom Fiet is pastor at Lyall Memorial Federated Church, located in Millbrook, New York.