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Beyond the bones of Jesus


Robin Meyers March 15th, 2007

In case there is anyone out there who hasn't heard yet, filmmaker James Cameron, who gave us such believable movies as "Titanic," has made a new documentary called "The Lost Tomb of Jesus." In it, he ...

In case there is anyone out there who hasn't heard yet, filmmaker James Cameron, who gave us such believable movies as "Titanic," has made a new documentary called "The Lost Tomb of Jesus." In it, he claims that several "ossuaries" or limestone tombs unearthed by construction workers in Jerusalem in 1980 once contained the bones of Jesus, Mary, members of Jesus' family, and his son Judah by Mary Magdalene, who had a tomb of her own.
 
If true, this would contradict the claim that Jesus was bodily resurrected, as most Christians believe " and that, therefore, Easter is a myth and Christianity is a lie. In the post-"Da Vinci Code" world, there is big money to be made in the myth-busting business.
 
The only problem is, the validity of these claims notwithstanding, Cameron's project will produce what the media always gives us when it practices theology without a license: all heat and no light. Those who base their faith on a physical Resurrection will condemn it, and those who don't, or who are hostile to all religion, will use it to cast doubt on what they have already judged to be ancient superstition. Are you with us, or against us?
 
Not long ago it was the Shroud of Turin that was reputed to be the burial cloth of Jesus, his visage imprinted on the cloth as he was raised from the dead. Millions claimed that this was finally "proof" of the Resurrection, until the cloth was carbon-dated and found to be from the 11th or 12th century. The faithful regrouped, and the nonbelievers scoffed.
 
Now comes the latest effort to disprove the Resurrection by the discovery of tombs inscribed with what were common names in first-century Palestine, but whose appearance together is said to be against great odds. The "discovery" of the tomb reputed to be that of Mary Magdalene is the weakest link, but if you are making a movie, this is irresistible.
 
What Cameron and his ilk don't realize is that Christians are not a bipolar monolith consumed by endless arguments over "dueling artifacts." Some of us understand Easter as a spiritual phenomenon, not a physical one, and we wouldn't care if someone found the entire skeleton of Jesus " we would still believe that Easter is real and that God raised Jesus from the dead.
 
We are not interested in magic, or in special effects, or in the disassembling and reassembling of molecules " as if Easter were some first-century version of "Beam me up, Scotty!" Instead, we are heirs to the story of how ordinary, clueless, even cowardly disciples experienced the mysterious presence of Jesus after his execution, and it transformed them into new human beings. In response to this mystery, they formed communities that welcomed everyone, and dared to say that he was the Son of God, not Caesar. They ceased all animal sacrifice, believing that God no longer needed to be bargained with, and ultimately gave their lives in service to an alternative community where the only creed was "Jesus Christ is Lord."
 
What, I ask, is a box of bones compared to that? Perhaps if we could stop confusing faith with magic for just a moment, we might turn our attention to something more important than miracles as the suspension of natural law " like the Sermon on the Mount, or nonviolence, or peace and justice.
 
Then, every time we act like true disciples in the world, the Resurrection becomes present tense, not past tense. And every time the church acts like the body of Christ in the world, it becomes self-evident that he lives.
 
Meyers is minister of Mayflower Congregational Church in Oklahoma City and professor of rhetoric in the philosophy department at Oklahoma City University.
 
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