Jurgen Moltmann’s newest book, Sun of Righteousness Arise!, he spends six chapters examining the resurrection and its role in Christian theology. His general observation is this, in light of the numerous crises that the world faces (ex. ecological crisis, nuclear threat) the human species has come to see itself as mortal. This calls the church to ‘believe in the power of the resurrection, and to prepare the way for the kingdom of God in the context of today’s apocalyptic horizon’ (39). Moltmann develops a particular logic of resurrection that connects the event, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, to the promise of God’s hope for universal cosmic redemption. So he says that ‘with the raising of Jesus, God’s own ‘arising’ has begun, and will bring about justice for all the wretched and for the whole earth. With the raising of Jesus, God himself has arisen, to fulfill his promises to all those he has created. The hope for the resurrection of the dead is not an answer to the human yearning for immortality; it is a response to the hunger for righteousness and justice‘ (41).
For Moltmann the event of the resurrection is inextricably tied to Jesus for very particular theological reasons. The cross-dead Jesus must also be the resurrected Christ if the resurrection is to be a truly transformative event for all the world. He points out that when Jesus was crucified the hope the disciples had in the kingdom of God preached and made present in Jesus also died. Jesus was not the only forsaken one, so too were all those who heard the Good News as proclaimed by Jesus. If, as Moltmann’s silent opponents suppose, the cross-dead Jesus is only the conceptual backdrop for the resurrected ‘Christ event’ then the Good News being preached is less comprehensive, less radical, less just, and less revolutionary than that of Jesus’, because it is through the event of cross-dead-yet-resurrected Christ that the disciples’ hope is reborn, death is given an expiration date, and the violent alienating power of humanity is embraced and transformed. So Moltmann says:
I do not believe that a transfigured Easter body took the place of Jesus’ mortal body of ‘flesh and blood,’ so that we have to make a distinction between the two. It must be the same pre-Easter, crucified, dead and buried body of Jesus which has been raised, has ascended to God and is transfigured in the glory of God. Without the identity of Jesus’ bodily existence, his resurrection cannot be conceived. (51)
Belief in the resurrection, when set in the Apocalyptic & pentecostal framework of Moltmann, the issue is not ‘registering a historical fact and saying ‘oh really?’ without drawing any conclusions from it. It means being seized by the life-giving Spirit of the resurrection and rising up ourselves…it is not the empty tomb that is evidence for the resurrection. It is the message of the resurrection that is evidence for the empty tomb’ (53).
The implicit criticism throughout these chapters is a theology of the resurrection in which the horizon of Easter doesn’t move beyond the self. If what is raised is something less than the cross-dead bringer of God’s kingdom then what is being affirmed is impoverished compared to the hope of Israel and testimony of the early church. Moltmann states that, ‘Jesus’ death on the cross was solitary, and exclusively his death, but his raising from the dead is inclusive, open to the world, and embraces the universe, an event not merely human and historical but cosmic too; the beginning of the new creation of all things’ (55). What he seems to be pressing here and develops in the following chapters is how it is precisely through a robust understanding of the resurrection, God’s redemptive apocalyptic work, that we can address our apocalyptic situation today.
BTW, you should listen to Tony Jones and I interview Moltmann over at the Emergent Village podcast!!!
Ohh, for my philosopher friends I imagine you might enjoy his philosophical account of the resurrection:
Nonbeing has been annihilated, death has been abolished, sin, the separation from God, has been overcome, and hell destroyed. These negations of the negative are the presupposition for a positive position which is indestructible. Out of the surmounting of nonbeing by being, new being emerges (57).
Barry Ballard, a friend of HBC, Moltmann, and scholar, has a series of mini-lectures on Moltmann’s theology if you are interested.