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July 25, 2012

We have no eyewitness accounts of Jesus from the immediate time of his life, his ministry, or even of the months following his death. The writings we do have – from Paul and the gospel writers – were written much later. I have long tried to describe for myself what those early experiences of resurrection must have been like, and I have found most helpful Bishop Spong’s following discussion of what might be said about the disciples’ experience of Jesus.  [From Eternal life: A New Vision by John Shelby Spong  (2009)  pp.174ff]

“The gospel writers were trying to say something that ordinary human language was not equipped to say, so they stretched that language beyond its normal limits. Surely these gospel writers were quite aware that they were using words and images this way to describe . . . an internal, profoundly real and reorienting psychic and mystical experience that had altered human consciousness and, therefore, human history forever.”  [p. 177]

“What was it that these gospel writers were trying to convey? What did “experiencing Jesus alive” mean to them? We know that something happened to their understanding of God. We know that something happened to their understanding of Jesus. We know that something happened to their understanding of themselves. These changes were the things that were objective and real and that had distinct and recognizable consequences. Their experience of the raised Jesus, if not the raised Jesus himself, was an event that did occur in time and in history and that demands an accounting even if we are reduced to using words like “an experience of phychic consciousness.” Jesus had been raised, but into what? Was he raised into their understanding of God so that nothing was able ever to be the same? Skeptics might well call that mass hallucination, because they regard anything that is not objective, or that does not occur in space and time, as unreal. Yet the reality of this shift in consciousness was measurable, undeniable ; and quite easy to document. The meaning of God was forever altered, because Jesus, by the shear force of his being, had imprinted his humanity onto the definition of divine. The external God had been discovered at the heart of the human. God was now “experienced through the filter of Jesus.” [Walter Wink’s phrase, Spong suggests.] Resurrection was an event of inner history at the levels of consciousness where fundamental shifts occur. The disciples who had localized the God-experience in Jesus, found in his death that this God-experience was no longer localized. The presence of the holy that they had found in Jesus they now discovered in themselves. It was as if they saw that what it was that they had met in Jesus had now taken up residence in their lives and hearts. This is what John was trying to say when he had the raised Jesus breathe on the disciples in the evening of the first Easter so that they were later filled with what later Christians would call the Holy Spirit (John 20:22), but which I believe was originally known as the spirit of Jesus, himself. . . .”  [pp 182-183].

“The Jesus experience, which I believe was an empowering call to live, to love, and to be, and which had seemed to be unique to Jesus, was now located at the center of their own being. The power of Jesus had entered them, they began to say, just as Jesus had in his resurrection entered into the very being of God. Jesus had in his death stepped aside to let the meaning of self-consciousness, which was at its deepest and fullest in him, expand their consciousness and become both the dominating force and the obvious power of their lives. The spirit that was present in Jesus was the power of his life calling them into a newly expanded consciousness, which expressed itself in the fuller humanity that was now working in them. Jesus had forced them to move away from the fear of life and need to be dominated by an external God, to recognize that the divine and the human were not separate, but that the human was the vessel in which the divine lived.”  [pp 183-184]

“Jesus the man, the fully human one, had not been able to loose his spirit until he died. It was only when the Jesus spirit entered the disciples that the world was turned upside down. In Jesus the values born in our quest for security, values that so deeply shape human religion, were reversed. If the truly human, which was experienced in Jesus, is the content of what we mean by the word, “divine” and is met not beyond life but at the heart of life, then the pathway into eternity is to accept death as natural and to go so deeply into life that all limits are transcended and both timelessness and God are entered. The human quest for life after death is thus not based in any sense on the claim that my life or anyone else’s is immortal; it is based on a new awareness that self-conscious human life shares in the eternity of God and that, to the degree that I am in communion with that ever-expanding life force, that life-enhancing power of love and that inexhaustible Ground of Being, I will live, love, and be a part of who God is, bound not by my mortality but by God’s eternity.”  [pp 184-185]

“It is not enough to know the truth of this mystical path; it is essential that we actually begin to walk it. . . The ascension of Jesus into God is thus not a spatial idea that must be believed or embraced; it is rather a pathway that each of us must undertake to walk. . . . The task of religion is not to turn us into proper believers; it is to deepen the personal within us, to embrace the power of life, to expand our consciousness, in order that we might see things our eyes do not normally see. It is to seek a humanity that is not governed by the need for security, but is expressed in the ability to give ourselves away. It is to live not frightened by death, but rather called by the reality of death to go into our humanity so deeply and so passionately that even death is transcended. That is the call of the fully human one, the Jesus of the transformed consciousness.”  [pp 185-186]

Loren Bullock

June 27, 2012

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