It was sad to read the public comments of the Episcopal Bishop of Washington denying the importance, or need for the Bodily Resurrection of Jesus from the dead, going so far as to imply this teaching was “outlandish. ” More on that in a moment, but first some background.
Some time ago I brought a former Episcopalian into the Catholic Church who, after the Rite of Reception gave a great sigh of relief and said, “I know the Catholic Church is not without problems, but at least I know the Bishops actually hold the Christian faith. It is such a relief to be in the harbor of truth.”
I remember at the time wondering with him if that wasn’t a bit of an exaggeration of how bad things were in the Episcopalian denomination (this was about 1990). But he showed me a scrapbook of article after article of dozens of Episcopal “Bishops” denying quite publicly the divinity of Christ, the Virgin birth, the miracles of Jesus, that there was any inherent conflict between Christianity and Unitarianism, etc., not to mention a plethora aberrant moral stances.
Most notable among them, but not at all alone, is now retired Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong who still freely roams the halls of Episcopal parishes and openly calling the Nicene Creed “a radical distortion of the Gospel of John” and declaring that Jesus Christ did not die to redeem humanity from its sins, even going so far to say that we are not sinners at all [*], in outright contradiction to Scripture (e.g. 1 John 1:10) and, frankly, common sense.
The scrapbook was quite thick with painful articles of Episcopal bishops and clergy saying and doing the most incredible things, outright denying basic dogmas. Indeed, when a Christian leader publicly denies the divinity of Christ, or the Trinity, of the redemptive power of Jesus’ death he/she is no longer a Christian at all.
All these memories came back to me when a priest-friend sent me a link to the “Easter” Statement of the Episcopal Bishop of Washington, Mariann Budde, who quite plainly states that it wouldn’t bother her a bit if the tomb with the bones of Jesus were found.
Well, pardon me for being a bit old fashioned and “stuck” in biblical categories, But Rev. Budde, it darn well ought to bother you. And further, even to brook the notion that such a tomb could be found and then add it wouldn’t bother you is a pretty explicit denial of the faith . Here is what the bishop says in her own words, (pardon a few Red remarks from me). These are excerpts, the full remarks of Bishop Budde are here: Bishop Mariann’s blog
To say that resurrection is essential doesn’t mean that if someone were to discover a tomb with Jesus’ remains in it that the entire enterprise would come crashing down. The truth is that we don’t know what happened to Jesus after his death, [But we DO know what happened!] anymore than we can know what will happen to us [Here too I am puzzled, Scripture is actually quite clear as to what will happen after we die: death, judgement, heaven or hell, (likely a pit stop for some purgation for the saved)]. What we do know from the stories handed down is how Jesus’ followers experienced his resurrection. What we know is how we experience resurrection ourselves. [So their “experience wasn’t necessarily real? Then what was it? And if nothing necessarily or actually happened, then how do we “experience” a non-event or a dubious one? What is there to experience?]
That experience is the beginning of faith, not in the sense of intellectual acceptance of an outlandish proposition, but of being touched by something so powerful that it changes you, or so gentle that it gives you courage to persevere when life is crushingly hard…… [Ok, so, the most fundamental Christian dogma, the Resurrection of Jesus, is and “outlandish proposition” which apparently requires no “intellectual acceptance.” Yet despite this, it somehow has the power somehow to change our life. The logic is as mystifying as the denial of the faith is deep].
Well, it doesn’t get much worse than this. In fact, let us call this what it is, a total loss.
For one who denies the Bodily resurrection of Christ (and there is no kind of resurrection other than a bodily resurrection) such a person really even qualify for the charge of heresy, one has to be a Christian to be a heretic.
Of a great tragic loss of faith like this, St. Paul says,
If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead….And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is in vain; you are still in your sins….[and] we are of all people most to be pitied. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep! 1 Cor 15:12-20
Of the historicity of the Bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ the Catholic Catechism has this to say:
The faith of the first community of believers is based on the witness of concrete men known to the Christians and for the most part still living among them. Peter and the Twelve are the primary “witnesses to his Resurrection”, but they are not the only ones – Paul speaks clearly of more than five hundred persons to whom Jesus appeared on a single occasion and also of James and of all the apostles (1 Cor 15:5).
Given all these testimonies, Christ’s Resurrection cannot be interpreted as something outside the physical order, and it is impossible not to acknowledge it as an historical fact.
It is clear from the facts that the disciples’ faith was drastically put to the test by their master’s Passion and death on the cross, which he had foretold. The shock provoked by the Passion was so great that at least some of the disciples did not at once believe in the news of the Resurrection. Far from showing us a community seized by a mystical exaltation, the Gospels present us with disciples demoralized (“looking sad”) and frightened. For they had not believed the holy women returning from the tomb and had regarded their words as an “idle tale”. When Jesus reveals himself to the Eleven on Easter evening, “he upbraided them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen.”
Even when faced with the reality of the risen Jesus the disciples are still doubtful, so impossible did the thing seem: they thought they were seeing a ghost. “In their joy they were still disbelieving and still wondering.” Thomas will also experience the test of doubt and St. Matthew relates that during the risen Lord’s last appearance in Galilee “some doubted.”
Therefore the hypothesis that the Resurrection was produced by the apostles’ faith (or credulity) will not hold up. On the contrary their faith in the Resurrection was born, under the action of divine grace, from their direct experience of the reality of the risen Jesus.
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 642-643).
Thanks be to God for the pure water of faith as expressed by Scripture and the Catechism. Indeed, as my convert friend from years ago said, it is such a relief to be in the harbor of truth.
Do pray for the kindly episcopal bishop of Washington. Pray too for good Episcopalians of Washington. May the truth one day reunite us all that there may be according to Christ’s will, one flock and one shepherd (John 10:16).
Careful with the comments. This is a great sadness, a tragedy really. Pray before submitting comments.