THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE
Wherever the Lord‘s power is spoken of, there the Lord is. (Didache IV.1)
To be possessed of the word of Jesus means that one can also hear his silence, and so be perfect, so that he acts through the things he says and is understood through his silence… Let us therefore do everything as though he were dwelling in us, that we may be his temples and he our god in us (Ignatius to the Ephesians XV.1-3 c.108CE)
Through the written words of the New Testament we can glimpse something of a historical person, a Jewish teacher and healer, Jesus of Nazareth. If we discount myth and miracle we do not learn very much about him. He died young and his public ministry was limited to the last two or three years of his life. He had few disciples and he committed nothing to writing. So it is astonishing that twenty centuries after his death he is still influencing millions of people in all parts of the world. We can even say that he changed the course of world history. For believers and non-believers alike this demands an explanation.
Our knowledge of Jesus begins with those who knew him in his earthly life. They could not forget him. Those who had known him personally had an experience of seeing him after his death. Others (and notably Saul of Tarsus whom we call Paul) had an overwhelming experience of recognising him in a light or a voice. For them Jesus was still alive and present. That is how Quaker Christians think of Jesus now when they call him Christ. We share the faith of Jesus as we follow in the Way he is still showing us. We do not just agree with what Jesus is supposed to have said long ago. As Paul puts it, “We have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor.2:16) and this empowers us to live with Jesus in a new way that is utterly transforming.
THE JESUS WE KNOW
The Jesus ‘of history’ said and did things that made some think he was the promised Jewish Messiah. But he also made it clear that he was not the kind of Messiah that many Jews were expecting and the apparent shame and defeat of his death made this painfully obvious. There was to be no “restoration of the kingdom of David”. He had indeed given hope for a manifestation of divine power that he referred to as “the Kingdom of God” but what actually happened was unexpected. A putative Jewish Messiah became the Christ of the Nations. The one who had been “Son of David” was shown to be “Son of God” (Rom.1:3/4). According to Paul, by triumphing over death Jesus has become “the first-born among many brothers and sisters” (Rom.8:29). It follows that we can all be sons and daughters of God as well (Gal.3:26/Rom.8:14-17). Jesus himself is recorded as saying “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven…You therefore must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt.5:45 & Luke 6:35). Jesus went to his death to show us the way to our rebirth. Theological doctrines about the divinity and uniqueness of Jesus Christ are a problem for many us but they point to what is intended for all of us. There is a spiritual death of the self and a spiritual rebirth (Col.3:1&3). A literal baptism is only a symbol of this” (Rom.6:3-5). Our new life as “adopted” sons and daughters of God begins here and now because God has placed in our hearts the spirit of his son. (Gal.4:5/6). This is a resurrection because we experience it in our body, but it is not just “flesh and blood.”
The “Jesus of history” is as remote and elusive as any other historical figure. The living presence of Christ Jesus is known by an inner and personal revelation (Gal.1:12 & 1:16). We can recognise this in one another and help to evoke it in another person. This experience gathers a new people linked together by a shared faith that goes beyond any distinctions of race, culture or social status (Col.3:11). In our new life we experience the “gospel” which is “the power of God for the liberation of all those who put their trust in it” (Rom.1:16). Our contemporary Jesus is Jesus the Christ or Son of God who is also Son of Man. We know him in our inner personal life and in the lives of his other disciples. You can never become a disciple of Jesus by the doctrines and teaching of others. People who look for him like that “do not know who Jesus is and are condemned by their religion never to find him” (Marcel Légaut). Nevertheless the word of another person may still awake a kind of memory or hidden feeling that is lodged somewhere in the spirit of the listener. So it is that from person to person and from century to century right to our own time a succession of disciples have re-lived and re-transmitted the experience of a presence – the presence of Christ. A Christian is someone who is aware of Christ taking form in him or her self and in all their brothers and sisters (Gal.4:19). According to Paul, we can here and now in our mortal bodies, have the life of Jesus (2, Cor. 4:10/11).
The faith we see in Jesus somehow transfers itself to us. We test the truth of this “gospel” by living it in what is often a hostile environment. For Jesus it involved his death, and in a sense it involves our death while still in the body, the death of what we think we are. When we let go of our idea of what we are, or want to be, and let in that of God the distinction between what is divine and what is earthly in us becomes blurred. The divine emerges in our lives as Christ: “I am crucified with Christ; and I no longer live as myself, but Christ lives in me” (Gal.2:20). The aspect of the Divine that we call the Son was in its earthly life a Jew descended from David and this could make him an earthly Jewish Messiah or Christ; but when he ‘rose from the dead’ he was “recognised as Son of God” (Rom.1:3). Clearly this eternal Christ who was present at the beginning of Creation cannot be identified in all respects with the Jesus who “died in the flesh” and yet he is still the same lord. We cannot give a satisfactory explanation of this in a purely intellectual way, so we just say, “Christ Jesus”. It is only as Christ that Jesus can be known everywhere and reveal himself in everyone. This is the only way we have of really knowing Jesus now. Paul draws the logical conclusion that as we resurrect in Christ and truly follow him we also become sons of God (Rom.8:23&29). That is the way the first Quakers saw it.
Quite illogically Christians usually combine the orthodox belief in a general simultaneous resurrection in the future with the thinking of ancient Greeks like Plato and Pythagoras. These philosophers saw the material body as a sort of container, or even as a prison, for an immortal soul. So when we die our bodies are completely discarded and our soul is set free to merge with the divine consciousness. Nevertheless we are assured that we shall still retain a sense of individual identity. Most Christians think of this as “salvation” and equate this with entering the “kingdom” promised by Jesus. Jesus however was thinking of the “Kingdom of the Son of Man” as prophesied in Daniel 7:13/14. This was to replace all the ‘beastly’ world empires by a universal order that was human and humane because it was from God. Jesus associated this with the New Covenant that would end the particularity of the Jews by making the essential covenant of Deuteronomy 30 a universal one:
“This commandment is not too hard for you neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up for us to heaven, and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us, and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you; it is in your mouth, in your heart, so that you can do it. I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil. If you obey… by walking in his ways… then you shall live… But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear… you shall perish… therefore choose life.” (Deut.30:11-20and Romans10:4-8)
Unlike John, Paul never lived to see the end of the old temple-based form of Judaism so he accepted that the old covenant form of worship was still in force for most Jews and some Christians. That is why he opposed the idea that the Kingdom had already come on earth. He still thought it would mean a general resurrection of all the dead and a Day of Judgement for them. Nevertheless when Paul uses phrases like “clothed in Christ” and “Christ who lives in me” he has already accepted the Kingdom as an inner reality. His words to the Corinthians, “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom” means (as George Fox pointed out) that some of them are not ready for this spiritual Kingdom. In contrast to the above Paul tells the church in Rome “You are not in the flesh, you are in the spirit, seeing that the spirit of God dwells in you … If Christ is in you then although the body is dead because of sin, yet the Spirit is your life because you have been made righteous… our old nature has no claims on us; we are not obliged to live in that way… Moreover, if the spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you then the God who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give new life to your mortal bodies through his indwelling spirit… For all who are led by the spirit of God are Sons of God” (Rom.8:14). Clearly to be “in the flesh” here refers to a state of mind and that is the way George Fox uses the expression, or else he uses the word “carnal”. Redemption of the physical body means its sanctification and not its rejection. A transformation of this sort is a kind of death and we emerge from it into a new life (John 3:3). If we know this resurrection while we are still in our mortal animal bodies why should we fear the physical dissolution of those bodies? “Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power” (Rev.20:6). It is those who are not truly alive who are afraid of death.
All that we really know about resurrection is what we experience of it in this life with Christ Jesus and we can only explain it in those terms. Beyond that, says Paul, there is “hope for things unseen.” So any claims to factual knowledge are idle speculation. In 1Thessalonians and 1Corinthians Paul dutifully repeats the official line as given by the Twelve in the Didache (and later in Mark13, Luke and Matthew) but the literal interpretations of it by his converts caused problems. He tries to correct their simplistic ideas in 2 Thessalonians and in all his later letters. For Jesus his physical death was also a baptism into a new life and it was one his disciples could share with him (Matt. 20:22-23/ Mark 10:38-39/ Luke 12:50). Paul develops this idea in Romans 6:3-11. If we can experience a spiritual baptism like that of Jesus in this life then we can die to ourselves while still in this body and be resurrected into a new life here and now. So there is a resurrection that takes place for all Christians here on earth. Each one of us has more than one kind of “end” depending on whom, when and where we are. There is an inevitable end when we die biologically but we can also end an inadequate and insufficiently human existence by taking on a new one that we share with Christ. Jesus can still be with us but in a different and universal way than can only be put in words as poetry: “God brought us to life together with Christ and raised us up with him and seated us in the heavenly realm in Christ Jesus” (Eph.2:4-6). Note that Paul does not use a Future Tense here. This can be our present experience.
Some Gnostic teachers quoted Paul and claimed him as their authority. Like him they emphasised the different spiritual composition of the resurrected body after death and advanced the idea that Christians who are truly baptised or anointed in the spirit already enjoy a form of resurrection. This is also the theological stance of Quakers. Sharing the death and resurrection of Jesus in this way means that the teaching of Christ in us governs the way we understand any written scripture. I must emphasise however that for the Gnostics creation was a disastrous mistake, perpetrated by the inferior deity worshipped by Jews. Unlike Paul they did not believe that Christ had come to redeem and restore creation. They said that Christ was an “emanation” from a higher realm who had come to rescue those few who still had a spark of the true God in them. Only a small number of “knowing ones” would be able to enjoy this salvation from the evils of created matter… I see no resemblance here with either Paul or the Quakers. Unfortunately in his edition of Fox’s Journal John Nickalls has changed Fox’s exhortations to be “crucified to the world” to “crucified from the world”, thus completely changing the meaning. Fox is asking us not to spare ourselves in confronting the world in order to save it.
CHRIST HAS COME TO TEACH HIS PEOPLE HIMSELF
One at least of the original disciples, John, lived to see the end of the Temple and of any dreams of a purely Jewish and national restoration of the Kingdom of David. In Revelation he shows us how all worldly kingdoms (“Babylon”) are doomed to perish, The Old Covenant has given way to the New Covenant, established forever by Jesus, the New Passover Lamb. John had a vision of a Christ who has come with ‘words for his churches’ – relevant words for a contemporary situation. The gospel book that also bears John’s name develops this theme by its references to a new birth and a more inward and mystical understanding of the Kingdom. The same is true of John’s first Epistle:
“Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” (1 John 3:2-3).
What we can know and experience now suffices for what we are now. That however includes hearing what we must do and doing it. We are not alone in this for we are in the unseen presence of all the faithful children of God who have gone before us:
“What you have come to is Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem where the millions of angels have gathered for the festival, with the whole church in which everyone is a ‘first-born son’ and a citizen of heaven. You have come to God himself, the supreme judge, and been placed with the spirits of the saints who have been made perfect; and to Jesus the mediator who brings a new covenant and a blood for purification which pleads more insistently than Abel’s. Make sure that you never refuse to listen when he speaks” (Hebrews 12:22-25).
There are many similar passages in early Quaker writing. Perhaps the best known is from Francis Howgill in Quaker Faith and Practice 1994, §19.08: “The Kingdom of Heaven did catch us and gather us all as in a net….. And we came to know a place to stand in…”
Shortly before his death Jesus said, of the coming Kingdom. “… and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake to bear testimony before them for gospel must first be preached to all nations” (Mark 13:9/10). This is repeated in one of the most quoted passages in the New Testament. Matthew 28:18-20
“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority on heaven and earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit teaching them to observe all that I commanded you. And, see! I am with you every day until the completion of this age.”
Note well that the second saying is not attributed to Jesus, the mortal man, but to Jesus the risen Christ. And there is one significant addition, “I am with you every day until the completion of this age.” These words are the basis of the Quaker phrase in this subheading. If all authority is now his, why, Quakers ask, should we give it to human priests and church officials? We are not limited to the words of a long-dead teacher and neither do we have to depend on interpretations by self-appointed leaders and experts. The commands of the living Christ are too all-embracing ever to be obeyed in our own strength but if Christ is with us every day, why should we need human substitutes to guide us and keep us in the Way?
Whereas “baptising in the name of Jesus” has become an innocuous traditional formula, the correct translation “baptising into the Name” has real force. Name stands for the power and glory of what cannot be named in ordinary human language and to be baptised into it is an awe-inspiring concept that cannot be reduced to a ceremony with water. The earliest recorded Christian prayer (after the Lord’s Prayer) is the Eucharist prayer from “The teaching of the twelve apostles” or Didache 10.2-10.5 (my Italics):
“We give thanks to you holy Father for your holy Name which you have made to dwell in our hearts and for the knowledge, faith and immortality which you have revealed to us through Jesus your servant. To you be glory forever. You Lord Almighty have created everything for the sake of your Name; you have given humanity food and drink to partake with enjoyment so that they might give thanks; but to us you have given the grace of spiritual food and drink and of eternal life through Jesus your servant. Above all we give you thanks because you are mighty. To you be glory forever. Remember Lord your church, to preserve it from evil and to make it perfect in your love. Sanctify it and gather it into your kingdom which you have prepared for it.”
If George Fox had known of this prayer he could have used it as evidence to support his understanding of the Christian gospel.
Paul tells us that he is the servant of a gospel “that has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven” (Col.1:23). John says the same in Revelation 14:6 and the prologue to the gospel book written in John’s name puts it in yet another way. For Paul and John Christ is the self-expression of God in all creation from the beginning of time. This is what John means by calling Christ the Word of God. Other Christians speak very movingly of this with reference to the Holy Spirit
“that has always been quietly anonymously at work within every human life… drawing your attention to this, to that, opening your eyes, always making you aware, awakening all that is truly human in you, all that is most real… more than the occasional prompting… a more permanent aliveness…” (John V. Taylor A Matter of Life and Death pp.11/12).
Originally the Quakers avoided any hard and fast distinction between the Holy Spirit as the Divine Presence and the Christ we know as Son of God. They rejected any idea of a resurrected but absent Jesus who will not be seen again until a future Day of Judgement. They protested that Christ had come and was still coming to all those willing to receive him. In Fox’s words, “The Father of life drew me to his Son by his Spirit” (Journal. Ni.p.11/Works 8.247).
The Day of the Lord and the coming of Christ is for all of us in this life and it is of crucial importance that we be ready for it. The Quakers emphasised the centrality of Christ as their only present teacher and orderer. Wherever they were they lived in New Jerusalem. Fox taught that salvation begins now with the power that comes from Christ. This enables us to live on earth in accordance with God’s will for us. When we come alive in our complete humanity other people are going to notice the difference. They may not welcome this and it may indeed be the case that we enter the Kingdom by way of the Cross. Although we may also say that the Kingdom is in us we are also part of it. The Church of this “City of God” does not simply exist in the world for its own sake, and neither do the local church communities or meetings which are supposed to be a visible manifestation of the “new and living way“ that Christ “has opened for us” (Heb.10:20). Just as we find freedom from self in this world by serving one another so must we seek the good of all God’s creatures and the freedom of all his children in the world as it is. George Fox wrote:
“…stir abroad while the door is open, and the light shines; and so go on in that which lets you see the world, to comprehend it, and to see what is imprisoned by it and suffers by it.” (Epistle 135)
When Paul says that the gospel has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven that must include whatever idea people may have of the abode of the dead. In 1 Peter 3:19 those who lived and died without conscious knowledge of Christ are called “the spirits in prison”, and a Jew would naturally think of the Patriarchs and of all the faithful Israelites who died before his time. Christ, in the spirit, sets them free just as he does for us. This never excluded Gentiles who had no knowledge of the Scriptures but who recognised the Law of God in their hearts and followed it (Rom.2:12-15). As Eva Pinthus has pointed out in her paper (April 2006) this is the neglected message of Easter Saturday. It is of crucial importance to most Africans and many others who will not accept any offer of resurrection that does not include their ancestors. Jesus did not die to save a few individuals but to restore humanity. There are some very moving Greek icons that show Jesus releasing Adam and Eve from their subterranean prison. Peter knew what it was to be a basically good man trapped in a spiritual prison, and so did George Fox. When I was in a deep and terrible pit myself I found that Jesus was standing next to me.
The resurrection of Jesus is still going on both as a personal encounter with Jesus as lord (master-teacher) and as a coming to life on the part of those who experience this. There can be no final and satisfactory way of saying in words how Jesus becomes the universal Christ who is part of what we mean by “God”. Clearly we cannot follow Christ now in exactly the same way as his disciples followed Jesus then. People could only be disciples of the human Jesus in his mortal lifetime. Quakers do not claim to imitate Jesus but can join others in the “Imitation of Christ”. As we come out of bondage and alienation and find an inner peace, so we are drawn together to form our little communities that express this freedom in the way they organise themselves and the way they live. That is the “Church”, God’s free men and women. When it comes to the way we order our corporate affairs we Quakers have something of real value to say to other Christians but only if we can link it to “Christ has come to teach his people himself.” Without that we have nothing new or helpful to say to people of any other faith.
SOPHIA PERENNIS – THE PERRENNIAL WISDOM
This Christian way of understanding resurrection need not prevent us from learning from other faith traditions. Hindu thinking distinguishes between three kinds of rebirth. First there is the transmission of hereditary traits from one generation to another; this is what we now associate with genes and DNA. Secondly they speak of a transformation or transition of our conscious selves while we are still in this life; this may be compared with John 3~3, Romans 6:3-5 and Ephesians 4:23. Finally there is the way the Spirit transfers itself from a deceased body-and-soul to a newly formed one. That is often called “reincarnation” but, in what I have read, there is no transfer of individual consciousness and it is not the same person in a different body. It is like filling a container with water from the sea, emptying it back into the sea and then refilling it. It is the same water and yet not the same. A wave has a brief individual existence before being reabsorbed by the sea. Christian mystics also are not so sure about the survival of our self-conscious identity after death. Meister Eckhart says, “The soul must relinquish her existence” and William Blake:
“I will go down into Annihilation and Eternal Death, lest the Last Judgement come and find me unannihilated, and I be seized and giv’n into the hands of my own selfhood.”
In other words the usual idea of an individual immortal soul or psyche is questionable. In John 12:25 Jesus says: “He who loves his soul (psyche) loses it, and he who hates the world will keep it for life (zoe) eternal.” When Jesus “breathed his last” on the cross his breath or spirit merged with the divine spirit and took on eternal life in God. Many English translations confuse the Greek words psyche and zoe and translate both as “life”. We can relate to the living spirit of Christ because we can live in the same spirit during our mortal existence. Teachers of other world faiths would agree with this while offering an alternative way of naming and explaining it. The first really important point to understand is that whatever form the teaching takes it requires single-minded attention and life-long practice and is in that sense exclusive. The second point is that we can only do this together, as a community that has its own order or discipline. Early Friends were well aware of the truths that might be found in other faiths but they were very clear on those two essentials
Martin Buber gives us the Jewish perspective on this: “As Yahweh’s suffering servant Israel becomes God’s visible presence in the world, enduring suffering for the freedom of humanity.” He gives us this advice:
“The true solution can only issue from the life of a community which begins to carry out the will of God, often without being aware of doing so, without believing that God exists and that this is his will. It may issue from the life of the community, if believing people support it who neither direct nor demand, neither urge nor preach, but who share the common life, who help, wait and are ready for the moment when it will be their turn to give the true answer to the inquirers”
(Israel and the world by Martin Buber. III p.230).
Quakers who now say that it is no longer meaningful or necessary to speak of Jesus as Christ are effectively denying the main experience that gives Quakers a valid reason for their continued existence as a church or community: “For amongst us Christ is King… we look not at persons, but at the power of God; and know the reign of Christ amongst us.” (Fox. Works III.31),
We cannot know Jesus directly as the man who lived and died two thousand years ago but we can experience the divine creative energy that revealed itself in him. Jesus, in order to release its full potential in all men and women was prepared to share death with the meanest and weakest of us. This gives a new universal meaning to the community of heaven on earth promised by the Hebrew prophets. Ever since then some people have witnessed to a presence among them and within them that makes this possible. The death of Jesus is a historical fact but the mystery of his resurrection is only true for those who know Jesus in and for them selves. Then he becomes our own personal experience. “Christianity” is all too often just another religion made up of theological definitions and cultic practices. It makes Jesus the object of certain beliefs. As opposed to this the faith of a Quaker Christian is the knowledge of a Presence that can be traced in his disciples from age to age as it comes to light in them. Anyone “in Christ” is a “new creation” (2 Cor.5:17). “The gospel” says Fox, “is what brings a man to be a man.” The humanising presence of the eternal Christ can make us in our turn divine. Ancient and modern theologians agree on this:
“The glory of God is the living man. And the life of man is the vision of God” (Irenaeus). “Once humanity comes into being God will appear as the infinite where our freedom has room to breathe.” (Maurice Zundel)
A matter of life and death by John V.Taylor. SCM 1986
Can these dry bones live? by Frances Young. SCM 1992
Treatise on the Resurrection and Gospel of Philip
from The Nag Hammadi Library. Harper Collins 1990
The Didache from Early Christian Writings Penguin Classics 1968 1981
or from The Apostolic Fathers I. Loeb Classical Library 1977
Jesus, Revolutionary for Peace by Mark Bredin. Paternoster Press 2003
What is Civilisation? (6.The coming to birth of the spirit)
by Ananda K. Coomaraswamy. Golgonooza Press 1989
City of God by Augustine of Hippo: Chapter XX.
Israel and the world by Martn Buber 1948
Catholic Quakerism by Lewis Benson, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting 1983.
Conversations with death by Marjorie Agoston (typescript only).
Apocalypse and Apostasy; a commentary on the Book of Revelation
by Michael Langford (typescript only).
I would like to give the last word to a Quaker poet:
There is God and there is man.
Man does not know that he is God,
But God knows that he is man.
If a man thinks that he is God he is insane.
Yet man is God and does not know it.
Man is God as a wave is the sea.
Rolling for ever across the oceans,
breaking on the shores of time.
Man plays hide and seek with God.
Using all his cunning to never find him.
He searches in every imaginable way,
in every imaginable place.
Yet never looks into the depths of his heart.
The game is over when the last trumpet sounds
the dying breath of reunion, realisation and peace.
Man cannot seek God because he is God.
All seeking hides the wisdom
that knows that this is so.
How can we desire to have no desire?
In being, just being, we reawaken as God.
How many words does it take to feel the silence of God?
reprinted with permission from Quaker Monthly February 2007.
 to me is an incorrect translation
 The use of upper case letters in translations from the Greek of the New Testament is entirely a matter of later interpretation. When applied to Jesus lord means teacher or master of disciples.
 In Greek plurals like apostles, brothers, disciples and sons are both feminine and masculine. So in George Fox we get the translation “sons and daughters”.
 Note the correct translation as known to Robert Barclay and George Fox.