In the early 90s, I lived in Santa Barbara, Calif., and attended a dynamic, renewing, spiritually vital liberal congregation, Trinity Episcopal Church. There, I was fortunate enough to meet the Rt. Rev. Daniel Corrigan, an aged Episcopal bishop who was also the first bishop to ordain women to the priesthood. Dan Corrigan was a unique breed: one of those mid-20th century liberal princes of the pulpit, a Protestant minister whose stirring preaching and passionate commitment to social justice pushed Christians to enact God’s shalom toward the oppressed and the outcast. He was both pastor and prophet. Even at the end of his life, Dan Corrigan wore the Holy Spirit like a mantle around his shoulders, always ready to speak for God.
One year, as Easter approached, I overheard an exchange between this octogenarian liberal lion and a fellow parishioner. “Bishop Corrigan,” the person asked, “Do you believe in the resurrection?” Frankly, I could not wait to hear the answer – like most of his generation, there was no way that Bishop Corrigan believed in a literal resurrection. He looked at the questioner and said firmly, without pause, “Yes. I believe in the resurrection. I’ve seen it too many times not to.”
Progressive Christians often stumble on the resurrection. Many will sit in churches this Easter Sunday, silently doubting or questioning the minister’s sermon. They may like the music, appreciate the tradition and liturgy, and delight in the feelings of joy – but they will not really believe the resurrection. One of the great theological problems of old-style Protestant liberalism was the doctrine of the resurrection – it defied logic, reason, and human experience that a man would be raised from the dead. Having rejected the idea of the miraculous, the liberal tradition turned resurrection into an allegory or a spiritual metaphor.
As a writer, I happen to appreciate the power of allegory and metaphor. And I thought that was the theological tack Bishop Corrigan would take with the parishioner. However, he did not. Instead, Bishop Corrigan headed right for the dicey territory of historical witness: I’ve seen it too many times not to.
The problem with trying to prove – or disprove, for that matter – the resurrection is that actual historical evidence of the event 2,000 years ago does not exist one way or the other. In his popular book, Evidence That Demands a Verdict, Josh McDowell goes through a torturous process of picking and choosing facts to establish a legal case that proves the resurrection. On the other side of the theological ledger, the recent book, The Jesus Family Tomb, likewise picks and chooses from meager data to intellectually establish that Jesus died and stayed dead. Both sides of this street are an intellectual and historical dead-end, an argument with no solution – only overheated opinions.
Bishop Corrigan’s comment – a comment upon which I have mediated for some dozen years – points to a different way of embracing, of believing, the resurrection. His answer both defies the conventional approach to the resurrection (as a scientifically verifiable event), and maintains the truthfulness (the credibility) of the resurrection as historically viable and real. The resurrection is not an intellectual puzzle. Rather, it is a living theological reality, a distant event with continuing spiritual, human, and social consequences. The evidence for the resurrection is all around us. Not in some ancient text, Jesus bones, or a DNA sample. Rather, the historical evidence for the resurrection is Jesus living in us; it is the transformative power of the Holy Spirit, bringing back to life that which was dead. We are the evidence.
There is a woman in my church in Washington, D.C., who was homeless for 15 years. Several years ago, she came to Epiphany Church and was welcomed by the congregation’s ministry to homeless people. “It was the first time,” she told me, “that I came into a church and no one looked at me as if I was going to steal something.” Epiphany’s people respected her humanity, fed her, listened to her, and helped her – all in the name and power of Jesus. Eventually, she moved off the street into Section 8 housing, secured both work and support, and pulled her life together. An active member of Epiphany, she helps run the homeless ministry, serves as a Sunday reader, and usher.
When I see her on Sunday, she is a living, breathing, historical witness that the resurrection is true.
Like Bishop Corrigan, I, too, can say that I believe the resurrection. I’ve seen it too many times not to.
This Easter Sunday, consider all the resurrections you have seen. If you are anything like me, those resurrections are not only stories of homeless people who find a home in Christ. They will be stories of your own life, of your myriad deaths and rebirths – of all the times you thought God had deserted you only to discover that God was finding you anew. The resurrection cannot be intellectually proved; it goes well beyond allegory and myth. It is the continuing, transforming power of God to bring back from death all that was lost – that ever-renewing love at work changing ourselves, our communities, and our world. Go ahead: believe.
Diana Butler Bass (http://www.dianabutlerbass.com/) is the author of Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church is Transforming the Faith (Harper San Francisco), recently chosen as Book of the Year by the Academy of Parish Clergy.