God’s People, part 160: The Tomb

Read Mark 6:1-8

“Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where Jesus’ body was laid.”  (Mark 15:47, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us” to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

SONY DSCPart 160: Tomb. The English word for heresy comes from the Greek word, αἵρεσις. In Greek, it originally meant “choice” or “thing chosen”, but eventually came to be also seen as the “the party or school of a person’s choice.” In Christianity, it came to have an added meaning, especially in the 2nd century. This can be seen in the writings of the Church Fathers such as, Tertullian and Irenaeus. During that time heresy came to mean a school of thought or teachings that was contrary to the teachings of Christ and the orthodox doctrines of the church. Anyone who follows such schools of thought or teachings were considered to be heretics, and those who were responsible for first espousing them were considered heresiarchs.

The word, unfortunately but for good reason, has gotten a bad wrap as a result of some of the historical responses the Church had toward heretics. Initially, excommunication and exile were common responses; however, as the churches grew in power under Constantine and subsequent emperors and popes, the responses became more and more vile and unChristian. I need not go into detail here. We all have heard of the Witch trials and burnings in Europe, the witch trials and hangings in America, the Inquisition and other such horrific and evil historical events.

What’s more, not all of the supposed “heretics” were actually heretics, especially during the time of the Inquisition and the European/American “Witch Craze”; rather, some were more or less scapegoats. With that said, the church needs to reclaim the language all the while guarding itself against graceless responses to it. The reason I say this is that the church is threatened by people who would like to succumb to modern understandings over and above ancient wisdom. While the church must find graceful, loving, ways of defending the faith, it is imperative that we do so.

To be sure, we need to consider what heresy is and what it is not. It is NOT a difference of opinion on non-doctrinal and non-essential doctrinal matters. For instance, Calvinists hold to the doctrine of double-predestination and Wesleyans hold to the doctrine of free will; however, neither could be seen as heretical because they are not essential to what it means to be a Christian. They maybe essential to their prospective schools of thought, but not to the universal Church. Also, many conservative Christians believe that we should have traditional views on human sexuality, and many progressive Christians view the need for a change toward inclusion of the LGTBQ community. Neither view can be viewed as heretical because neither view is essentially definitive of what it means to be Christian.

Areas that are DEFINITIVE, however, iare doctrines such as the death, burial, and physical resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. From the beginning, orthodox (or traditional) Christians have affirmed the physical death, burial, resurrection and bodily ascension of Christ. In the early church, groups like the gnostics tried to deny such physicality. They tried to say that Jesus was merely a spirit and that the person who died on the cross was not actually Christ, because Christ’s spirit transferred into Simon of Cyrene. Thus, to the gnostics and others, the body on the cross was that of Jesus…but the spirit was NOT that of the CHRIST’s. Others tried to deny that Jesus was ever crucified and buried at all and that he was taken up to heaven much in the same way that Elijah was.

Such views were considered heretical because they directly opposed the earliest Christian witness of the apostles and the Church Fathers who followed them. Today, we face similar views because people see such beliefs as being in conflict with our scientific understanding. There is a fear that holding such views will shout to the world that Christians are ignorant.

Friends, we as Christians need to uphold the traditional, orthodox doctrines of the church for they best express the faithful witness of those closest to Jesus and his apostles. To do otherwise is to separate oneself from Christian thought and the true power of the risen, resurrected Christ. Jesus did die, he was buried in the tomb and his physical death was real and final. By final I mean that he truly died in the physical sense, his life ceased, as it does under such terrible abuse and torture. He stayed dead for two full days before rising on the third day. His resurrection was the power of God, bringing life to his dead body. While the church ought to cherish the beauty of diversity, it must also make the boundaries firm so that we are faithful to the Christian witness.

The tomb reminds us of the finality of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and it also witnesses to the absolute sovereignty and power of God over the created order. We should not choose the wisdom gathered from the created order over that of the Creator. Rather than try to explain the mystery of the tomb, let us embrace it, feeling both its despair, its finality and, on the other side, the hope found in it being EMPTY. Let us avoid the heresies of the past and let us avoid falling into new ones. Let us be guided by the witness of the earliest Christian Church that came before us. Christ is risen and, if we acknowledge what God has done, we too can rise up from the tomb into the LIFE God has set before us!

Jesus miraculously turned the water into wine. Let us not mistakenly turn the wine back into water.

Lord, help me to hold fast to the orthodox, early Christian witness and help me profess it in all that I do. Amen.

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