By Marcus Borg
The choice between understanding the resurrection of Jesus as "physical/bodily" or as "spiritual/mystical" was included in the invitation to write this essay. The distinction is helpful; it makes clear that Christians have understood the meanings of Easter in different ways. But for more than one reason, including the common meanings of these words in modern English, I don't like either option.
I begin with the positive, with what we can say with certainty about the meaning of Easter in the gospels and the New Testament. It is twofold: Jesus lives and Jesus is Lord.
Both convictions are grounded in experience. Some of Jesus' followers experienced him after his death as a figure of the present, not just of the past. And they experienced him as a divine reality, now "one with God" and "at the right hand of God."
Many of these experiences were visions. Paul's experience of the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus, described three times in Acts 9, 22, and 26, and referred to by Paul in Galatians 1, was clearly a vision. It happened a few years—three to five—after the death of Jesus.
In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul refers to his experience as belonging in a list of other visions of Jesus—to Peter, the twelve disciples (though obviously not to Judas), James, and five hundred people at the same time.
Visions are about "seeing," as the word implies. Often visions involve seeing and hearing a person in bodily form and can even include tactility, a sense of touching or being embraced.
But visions do not always include seeing a bodily form. As Acts describes Paul's vision of the risen Christ, Paul saw a brilliant light, but not a bodily form. Then a voice identified the brilliant light as Jesus. Yet Paul can say, as he does 1 Corinthians 9:1, "I have seen the Lord."
Read the rest of this article at Patheos here.
Marcus J. Borg is professor emeritus in the philosophy department at Oregon State University, where he held the Hundere Chair in Religion and Culture, and author of the New York Times bestselling Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, The Heart of Christianity, The Last Week, and Jesus. His new book, Speaking Christian, has just been released by HarperOne.