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Catechesis by the letter # 7

Illustrated with William Blake’s sketch of Faithful’s fiery carriage up to heaven from his place of execution in Vanity, the Interpreter’s letter about principle 5 is on ‘Resurrection’. And I’m writing these reflections on the chapter just a few days after celebrating Easter Sunday.

The catechetical question and answer are:

Q: What is the hope of the resurrection for those who have been baptized in Christ?

A: Because I have been baptized, I am united with Christ in a death like his, and I hold to the hope that I will also share in a resurrection from the dead like his (Rom 6:5; 1 Cor 15:51-53). In life, in death, in life beyond death, I belong to my faithful Savior, and nothing can separate me from God’s love (Rom 8:31-39; 1 Cor 15:54-56).

Beginning with doubt expressed by former US president Jimmy Carter and then the apostle Thomas, the Interpreter points to resurrection as more than just ‘resuscitation’ of a body, or ‘escape of the soul’. Rather, although beyond the reach of mere words, Jesus’s passage from death to life opens up ‘an infinite set of relations that are sustained eternally in God’s life’. This is in contrast to the terror of death to life, such that ‘[d]eath threatens life because it also terminates all social interactions’(54). Baptism that marks Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection on the disciple’s body is about joining the social life of the church across place and time.

‘Evangelical Christians’ (54) stress conversion and being “born again”, we are told, ‘[h]owever, the Bible and Christian tradition point to the whole process of believing and being baptized as an appointed means for learning how to say and see the reconciling work of God in Jesus Christ.’ Incorporation into Christ’s death and life through baptism is ‘more then a turning point in our personal lives. It is the turning point of world history so that if anyone is in Christ, we see a completely new creation (2 Cor 5:17)’ (55). It did seem to me reading that writing of Evangelicals as ‘They’, ‘they’, ‘they’ is an exercise in ‘othering’ fellow believers, in contrast to the rhetorical pivot to the inclusive-excluding, “As we have discussed’ that leads to the ‘however’ statement. This use of ‘Evangelical Christians’ is unfortunate rhetorically, although certainly true. But given the Bible’s attestation to being born again in Jesus’ words of John 3:3, the scare quotes are unnecessary. Further, if the point is that some Christians only affirm the personal and individual (surely not limited to Evangelicals in an individualistic American culture) saying ‘Some Christians’ would be more charitable, given that many Evangelicals affirm the very process that the Interpreter suggests is a ‘however’ counter move. I recognize the concern and even how it is targeted at Evangelicals, but this is a catechetical letter affirming basic Christian teaching. It seems that the commendation of baptism might also be a warning against the less ‘traditioned’ ‘Evangelical Christians’ that the Interpreter supposes the soon to be baptized believer may have been influenced by. This may explain the context of the letter to one believer in the Interpreter's local church setting, and some of Freeman's concerns about some Christians in his US context. The affirmation of resurrection pointing the baptized to the wholeness of the newness of life into which they step is important, even if it could have been expressed more gently.

I like to tell my students that resurrection hope is not for New Zubbudada but rather for New Creation. That is, we have no way of knowing at all what Zubbudada is, but Creation is not unknown to us, bound as it is, even in newness to the one faithful God we meet in Christ by the Spirit. In the same mode, invoking Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Interpreter reminds his reader that ‘Believing in the resurrection is not a denial of this world’ (57) but that, still, discipleship does mean taking up one’s cross and following Jesus. The hope of resurrection animates the struggles of walking through troubles that will accompany life in Christ before the last day (58).

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