There’s a lot on television about Jesus Christ and the gospels this easter season. I watched most of CNN’s series Finding Jesus Christ: Faith. Fact. Forgery; now I’m watching NBC’s AD: The Gospel Continues.
The two programs are very different. CNN’s Finding Jesus Christ. Faith. Fact. Forgery might have been better titled “Looking for Jesus Christ” because that what it does–it looks for proof that Jesus really existed and whether evidences of him, like the Shroud of Turin, stand up to scientific scrutiny.
NBC’s AD is sure he existed, died and rose from the dead and it wants to tell you more about what happened in the last crucial days of his life and afterwards.
I liked AD’s opening segments, in general, but questions arise. AD expands on what the New Testament says about Jesus’ last days. It does what artists, Christians teachers and mystics have been doing for centuries. You might call it a meditation, a speculation, on the life and times of Jesus and leave it at that.
I wonder, however, about the appearances of Jesus risen from the dead in the series, always a crucial question. AD pictures him as artists have long done–he’s the same as before, but now dressed in white. That doesn’t fit the way the scriptures picture him, however, or what we mean when we say “We believe in the “resurrection of the body and life everlasting.”
Jesus’ disciples have trouble recognizing him risen from the dead, the gospels say. Does that mean they’ve developed poor eyesight or that belief he’s living is too much for them? The Risen Jesus is unlike Lazarus who’s clearly recognized when he comes from the tomb and then dies again.
In the resurrection, Jesus enters a new way of existence and dies no more. He may still show his disciples the wounds in his hands and his feet; they recognize his voice; thy eat with him. But his resurrection begins a new creation, a new step forward. Paul calls Jesus “the first fruits” of a new era, and we follow him into a new life.
The mystery of the resurrection of Jesus and our participation in this mystery, then, goes beyond our imagination and experience. There’s a danger to thinking that heavenly existence is the same as our present human existence, that Heaven is life on earth, only better.
“Life is changed, not ended.” Our present world will not remain the same; we are not meant to “cling” to it. As N.T. Wright states in a previous blog:
“What is more, the meaning of his resurrection cannot be reduced to anything so comfortable as simple regarding him as ‘contemporary’ in the sense of a friend beside us, a smiling and comforting presence. Because he is raised from the dead, he is Lord of the world, sovereign over the whole cosmos, the one before whom we bow the knee, believing that in the end every creature will come to do so as well.”
I must admit I had that reaction to the “smiling and comforting presence” of the Risen Jesus in AD.
I have other, minor questions about AD’s historical perspective. I don’t think Pilate and his Roman legionnaires were as heavily involved in Jerusalem in Jesus’ day as they’re depicted. The Romans were more comfortable in their headquarters at Caesarea Maritima than in Jerusalem and left local rulers like Herod Antipas and the temple leaders in control of the city. But that would demand another story line from AD.
Some of the connections AD makes are interesting. I can see the Centurion Cornelius appearing again. I also wondered about Peter’s children. Nice to see his daughter following along. Peter’s mother in law was already a follower, according to Mark’s gospel.
All in all, though, AD can’t beat the gospel story-tellers. Last week, for example, Sunday’s gospel was from Luke’s account of the resurrection, with its fascinating portrayal of the role of women in the resurrection story. They believed; the men didn’t. I’m still thinking of the implications of that.