Monday, April 22, 2013

My sabbatical begins

Dear friends,

I am beginning a three month sabbatical by traveling to the Duncan Gray retreat center in Canton, Mississippi for a CREDO conference.  I will be there for the next week.

The Episcopal Church likes to take its clergy away every few years for a little brushing up on basics and a reminder of why we got into this calling in the first place. I did one of these CREDO conferences a year before I came to St. Paul's, so it is definitely time to go again.

I won't be posting much on Fiat Lux in the next few months. The blog will be on sabbatical, too. When I get a chance I will set up a new blog just for the sabbatical to let you know what I am up to. I will post the link on this blog.

For now, let me leave you with this photo that Leslie Middleton and Pat Punch (that's him in the picture) sent me. Says it all.



Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Wednesday Funnies

I think we all could use a good laugh this week. Here is a new cartoon by Dave Walker...

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Come stand with us in this darkness

My friend, Steven Charleston, the retired bishop of Alaska and former dean of our seminary in Boston, wrote this on his Facebook this morning, and he says this better than I could:

Why? Why the pointless cruelty, O God? Why the premeditated evil that comes to bring death, pain and sorrow to innocent lives and leaves us stunned to imagine a heart so cold it could conceive such an act? We cannot understand it, God, we cannot make sense of the senseless. And how should we respond even if we did understand? Tooth for tooth, eye for eye, would it end the madness or return the lost to live again? Come, Spirit of God, come stand with us in this darkness. Hold the fallen in your arms. Heal the injured. Comfort the broken-hearted. And if you cannot tell us why we do this to ourselves, show us how to love more deeply, that such pain will never be the final word, but rather mercy that needs no explanation.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Monday Funnies

My friend Gregg Fishman passed along this story, with apologies (and thanks to Lori for finding the cartoon from ECF Vital Practices)...

+ + +

Hans Grapje was raised in a Catholic orphanage in The Hague and, as a young man, aspired to become a priest when he immigrated to the U.S., but was drafted into the Army during WWII and spent two years co-piloting B17s until his aircraft was shot down in 1943 and he lost his left arm.

Captain Grapje spent the rest of the war as a chaplain, giving spiritual aid to soldiers, both Allied and enemy. After the war, he became a priest, serving as a missionary in Africa , piloting his own plane (in spite of his handicap) to villages across the continent.

In 1997, Father Grapje was serving in Zimbabwe when an explosion in a silver mine caused a cave-in. Grapje went down into the mine to administer last rights to those too severely injured to move. Another shaft collapsed, and he was buried for three days, suffering multiple injuries, including the loss of his right eye. The high silver content in the mine’s air gave him purpura, a life-long condition characterized by purplish skin blotches.

Grapje is now a cardinal, having devoted his life to the service of God as a scholar, mentor and holy man. However, commentators and analysts completely discounted him in the recent conclave.

The Church was simply not ready for a one-eyed, one-armed, flying purple Papal leader.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Gone fishing

Today’s sermon is based on:   John 21:1-19.

+ + +

If I had spent a month looking for it, I could not have picked a better lesson than this one assigned for today from the Gospel of John.

Let’s recap: After Jesus dies, the disciples go fishing, and when they get back to shore, a stranger cooks them breakfast on the beach.

They don’t recognize him as Jesus until he breaks the bread. And then Jesus proceeds to instruct Peter on what needs to be done:

Feed my sheep.

Today is my last Sunday with you before my sabbatical leave-of-absence begins. I will be away until August.

For the next three-and-a-half months, I will be working on a book.

And I’m going to do a little fishing and have breakfast on Fridays with old newspaper friends back in Sacramento.

They may not look like Jesus, or his disciples, but you’d be surprised at their hearts of gold.

You should know that a great deal of planning has gone into what will happen while I am gone.

Christie Thomas, our senior warden, John Reid, our parish administrator, and Peter Carey, our senior associate rector, have devised a detailed 28-page plan for who will be doing what in my absence. You are in very good, able and organized hands.

Sabbaticals are normal and positive occasions in the rhythm of parish life. Sabbaticals are a time of renewal for your rector, and for all of us to step back to reconnect with the foundations of our shared ministry.

While I am gone, the Vestry will be engaged in a process known as “mutual ministry review” and will be guided by the Rev. Pat Wingo, who is the canon, or chief assistant, to the bishop in our diocese, Shannon Johnston.

That process will culminate in an all-day retreat with the Vestry, Canon Wingo and myself when I get back in the fall.

I have been here almost five years, and we have experienced many changes together both personally and collectively.

We’ve welcomed new people, said goodbye to others, and grieved the deaths of still others. We ended some ministries, strengthened others and developed a few new ones.

The life of a congregation and rector unfolds in chapters. We’ve been through the getting-to-know you chapter, and the getting-down-to-work chapter. This sabbatical will mark the beginning of a new chapter.

How that new chapter will unfold none of us yet know. It will be written not just by us, but will be the work of the Holy Spirit working in all of us – of that I firmly believe or I wouldn’t be here. As a clergy friend pointed out to me last week, I will be on sabbatical, but the One who creates us and redeems us is never on sabbatical.

And that brings me to this remarkable story of Jesus feeding breakfast to his friends on the beach. Jesus tells Peter to “feed my sheep.” And as if to underline it, Jesus tells Peter three times, feed my sheep.

So, Peter, feed my sheep.

Biblical commentators speculate that Jesus told Peter to “feed my sheep” three times as a way of closing the episode before the crucifixion when Peter denies knowing Jesus three times.

That has a nice literary bookendish quality to it, and the fact the Jesus entrusts Peter, with all his flaws, is a statement that God’s boundless grace and love will triumph over our biggest mistakes and our worst sins.

I definitely find comfort in that idea.

But I wonder if there is another reason Jesus tells Peter to feed my sheep three times?

I wonder if Jesus says that three times because Peter isn’t quite getting it who the sheep are; that the sheep aren’t just the 12 guys enjoying breakfast together.

The sheep are many. The sheep include all of us who are here today; and the sheep include people who haven’t found their way here yet.

They include our students from across the street and people in our community who are hurting. Jesus does not come to establish a private dining club. He feeds his disciples breakfast and then sends them out to feed the sheep – and feed them everywhere.

He especially sends his disciples to be with the poor, the sick, the starving, the prisoners, the homeless, the unemployed.

He sends us.

Feed my sheep.

Feed my sheep.

Feed my sheep.

William Temple, the truly great Archbishop of Canterbury in World War II, once said: “The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members.” Feed my sheep. All of them.

In 2010 we celebrated our centennial with Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, the chief bishop of the Episcopal Church.

She challenged us in this pulpit, where I stand, to hear Jesus’ call to “be bold.” And we’ve been living into that challenge of how to be bold here at St, Paul’s.

Our Stephen Ministers visit with those who need a sympathetic ear; our hospital visitors spend time with the sick. Our Sunday school teachers educate our children in the faith, and our acolytes and choir brighten and inspire our worship.

Many of you bring dinner on Sunday for our university students, who gather regularly for prayer, study and friendship.

Martha’s Guild volunteers work tirelessly on hospitality events like the “Women Walking Together” luncheon yesterday.

Feed my sheep.

Our sheep are many, and are beyond our walls. PACEM volunteers give shelter to to people who live on the street, and our Salvation Army dinner teams feed those who are down on their luck. Feed my sheep.

We also need to look at why some sheep are hungry. We are part of a coalition of congregations in Charlottesville called “IMPACT,” which stands for:

“Interfaith Movement Promoting Action by Congregations Together.”

IMPACT is the only organization in our region that brings Christians, Jews and Muslims together, and a common cause to change the social systems that perpetuate poverty, unemployment and homelessness. In a world that is torn to pieces by religious strife, uniting across religious lines to do anything at all is extraordinary.

These past two years it has been my privilege to serve as the co-president of IMPACT, and my time in this post will soon draw to a close.

So there is something I want you to do while I am gone.

IMPACT’s annual gathering, called the Nehemiah Action, will be on Monday April 29 at 6:30 pm at the John Paul Jones Arena.

I cannot go, but I want you to go.

All of you.

And I want you to invite others to go with you.

This year we’ve been working on the most complex and difficult issues we’ve ever tackled – unemployment and homelessness in our region.

We need you there to show support for these efforts.

You need a ticket to get in, and you can get one this morning from some folks right near you. Feed my sheep. Be at the Nehemiah Action.

My friends, thank you for having me as your pastor and priest, for supporting Lori and me, and for serving each other and the world beyond these walls.

We have traveled far together already, and there are more miles to go on our road together. You will be in my thoughts and prayers, and may each of you go from strength to strength, and blessing upon blessing.

It is time for me to go fishing. Be bold.

By James Richardson, Fiat Lux

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Abraham's Stars

St. Paul's Memorial Church is one of the founders of IMPACT, an interfaith coalition of 27 congregations -- Christian, Jewish and Muslim -- working together on community issues in Charlottesville.

We will soon gather at the John Paul Jones Arena on April 29 at 6:30 pm to hear our proposals for a coordinated effort to reduce homelessness and create new entry-level jobs for young adults. I hope you will come.

The other evening I gave a reflection for IMPACT leaders from our congregations, and I used the occasion partly as a refresher on how IMPACT does what it does. Roughly one-third of our congregational leaders are new to this, so it was a good moment to pause and reflect on how we got where we are and the accomplishments we have so far achieved. Here is the text of my talk:

+ + +

Abraham’s Stars

Genesis 15:1-6
After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great…” He brought him outside and said, “Look towards heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.
I want you to look around – look at each other tonight and count the stars among you, for you are Abraham’s stars. The Lord has reckoned you as righteous and good and beloved. Do not be afraid, God told Abraham, and God tells us: Do not be afraid. You are Abraham’s stars.

Tonight I want to spend a few minutes talking about IMPACT, what we are, how we got here, what we’ve accomplished and why we do what we do the way we do it.

So let’s have a little refresher on IMPACT.

We were founded in 2006 by a group of congregations who came together wanting to make a difference in our community.

Many were already involved in ministries of mercy like PACEM and the Salvation Army. They wanted to see if they could change the system so that ministries like PACEM and the Salvation Army would no longer be necessary one day.

The group affiliated with a training organization based in Florida called DART that began showing our congregational leaders and clergy how to create a listening-based community organizing structure that would tackle tough issues in Charlottesville.

Rabbi Dan Alexander of Congregation Beth Israel came up with the acronym, IMPACT, which stands for: Interfaith Movement Promoting Action by Congregations Together.

IMPACT’s method is based on listening to members of our congregations to find out what issues are most on their minds and hearts.

We do that every year in our congregations. In my congregation we have a series of house meetings. From there we narrow the issues. In the fall, we hold the Annual Team Assembly and hear presentations on the problems we’ve heard about from you.

Everyone in our congregations is invited, and we vote to narrow the issue to one or two for the year.

Then members of our congregations volunteer to serve on research teams to find out all we can about the issue for the year.

They come up with proposed solutions, and they meet with decision makers to further refine these solutions. Our goal is to not blindside anyone.

That’s where we come in tonight – to hear about the progress on the two issues we are working on this year: youth unemployment and homelessness – and how we are pushing for action with decision makers in our community.

You will hear more on these topics soon.

Then comes the Nehemiah Action where we ask you to bring at least three people with you to fill the John Paul Jones Arena.

We ask that the decision makers who can make changes in the system come to the Nehemiah Action and appear in on stage.

We ask them if they will commit to the solutions. We will applaud them for positive answers and remain scrupulously polite at all times.

We do this in public because this is a public process we are engaged with. We ask they make their commitments in front of you, the people who have raised these issues and worked on finding solutions.

We ask that you bring as many people as possible to show that there is support in our congregations for these solutions.

This is about grassroots support for realistic solutions, but that also can make some people very uncomfortable because it may not be the way they are accustomed to conducting business.

There is another level to this that I want to talk to you about.

What we do with IMPACT is to share the influence that we have together – power that we have by being together rather than working apart.

We are being asked to come together to share our collective power especially with those in our community who are not accustomed to having much influence or having their voices heard, like our unemployed young people or the homeless.

And IMPACT is remarkable for another reason: In world torn apart by religious differences, we come together looking for what we have in common as heirs to Abraham.

That may make some of us uncomfortable for many reasons. But this is not about our personal comfort. You are being asked to be uncomfortable by standing with those who don’t have much influence on their own.

All of us are being asked to stand up with one voice, to use our voice, and to use keep standing together to change our world.

And you know what? We already have, right here in Charlottesville. Let’s count our successes in the last four years:
* In 2007, IMPACT won new bus routes serving low-income neighborhoods so that people can get to school and work, or go to the grocery store. 
* In 2008, IMPACT won approval of a free dental clinic serving thousands of people who have no dental insurance. 
* In 2010, IMPACT won approval from local law enforcement agencies to develop translation services for non-English speaking people who encounter the Justice system.
Many of our successes take more than one year.
* It took two years to win expansion of pre-school education programs.

* It took two years to win approval from the city and county for the healthy transitions program for the mentally ill. 
* It took three years to win approval of an affordable housing trust fund and the refurbishment of hundreds of housing units for low-income people.
And now we are engaged in the most difficult and complex issues we have ever engaged with: jobs and homelessness.

The outcome of this year’s Nehemiah Action is still uncertain. You will hear more on these issues a little later, but let me underline this year – more than ever – it especially important that you bring as many people as you can to the Nehemiah Action on April 29.

Last spring, we brought 1,537 people to the Nehemiah Action to speak with one voice and have an impact in our community, and that got us part of the way on our issues.

But we still have a long distance to go. We will not get there without you.

If we were to bring the equivalent of one day’s average worship attendance we would have 4,000. Think of the impact we would have with that many voices and the bigger issues we could tackle in the years ahead. Think of what we might accomplish together.

Tonight we are on a journey like our ancestor Abraham. We are walking together on a road with many bumps and curves. We will make our share of mistakes and a wrong turn or two.

But know this: This same God, the God of Abraham, the God of Moses, the God of Jesus, the God of Mohammed is with us, and will guide us, and will bring us safely through. Do not be afraid, God told Abraham. Do not be afraid, God tells us.

You and I are Abraham’s stars.

By James Richardson, Fiat Lux

Sunday, April 7, 2013

The benefit of the doubt

Today sermon is based on John 20:19-31:

+ + +

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

So where the heck was Thomas? Where was he when all these amazing things were taking place?

Let’s put ourselves in his shoes for a moment. The disciples are in hiding, in a locked room, afraid for their lives.

Maybe Thomas was out getting them food.

Thomas goes back to the secret hideout, and he finds his friends all happy-clappy because they’ve encountered Jesus risen from the dead.

The Holy Spirit has filled them up with peace and joy. The flame of Pentecost has come upon them like a volcano.

But Thomas missed the show, and he is pretty darn peeved.

“Show me,” he says. “Unless I touch the wounds of Jesus I’m not going to believe any of this. Show me.”

Thomas wasn’t even his real name. The word “Thomas” was a nickname for “Twin.” One chronicler of the time said his real name was “Judas” and he adopted the nickname Thomas, or Twin, to distinguish himself from that other Judas, which was a common Jewish name.

And before we go any further, let’s pause a moment and talk about the opening sentence of this gospel lesson that declares the disciples are in hiding “for fear of the Jews.”

Unfortunately, that line has been used for centuries to justify anti-Semitism by labeling Jews as “Christ killers.” But just keep in mind that everyone in this story, including the people in hiding in the locked room, is Jewish.

Emotions were running high in Jerusalem immediately after the crucifixion.

As the gospel accounts tell us, the crowds were very much on the side of Jesus, not Pontius Pilate or the collaborator Temple authorities who had concocted a mock trial and mob justice to get Jesus.

Maybe Thomas was in hiding himself, afraid because he might have been mistaken for the other Judas.

As it turned out, he went down in history as “Doubting Thomas,” and many a preacher will be using him today as a foil to implore congregations to set aside all doubts and ratchet up their faith.

Yet I’d like you to notice a few things today in the story of Thomas the Twin. No one condemns him for doubting. The disciples bring him into their hiding place. They don’t cast him out for his doubts.

No one judges Thomas for saying what surely was on the lips and minds of others outside the room. The disciples give Thomas the benefit of the doubt. They love him and embrace him, doubts and all. Today I want to talk about dimension to this life of faith that we don’t acknowledge enough in our churches:


The story of “Doubting Thomas” is a story about the power of doubt.

There is plenty of reason to doubt the reality of this story. Jesus enters a locked room. He comes in physical form, yet he is beyond physical, as if he is from some other dimension of time and space.

Yet the Risen Christ is very real to those who experienced it; he is no mere metaphor; he is so real they can touch him.

Jesus comes to Thomas and shows him his physical wounds. Thomas responds with astonishment, as any of us would:

“My Lord and my God!”

And Jesus tells Thomas that others are blessed to believe without seeing the way he has seen. In effect, Jesus tells Thomas to doubt his doubts, and Thomas does, and by so doing he comes to a new understanding of himself and his own walk of faith.

For Thomas, his transformation begins by proclaiming openly his doubts.

Doubt is not an enemy of faith. Doubt can be a tool of faith bringing us to a deeper sense of the divine within us, and a deeper sense of our true self.

To grow in faith requires asking the hard questions, and being comfortable waiting for answers. Thomas the Twin only has to wait a week to find answers, but many of us will spend a lifetime grappling with doubt.

To live fully into faith is to live on the edge of faith by pushing beyond the pat answers and clich├ęs of culture and religion.

Blind faith is a very thin faith.

And communities of faith that leave no room for the expression of doubt become hollow and stale – or worse, self-destructive cults.

The tools of reason, inquiry and analysis are gifts from God, and can yield truths beneath surface readings of religious texts and doctrines.

When we put those tools of the mind with the tools of the heart through prayer, we will grow in faith beyond anything we think possible, both individually and as a community of faith.

Giving the benefit of the doubt to ourselves, and to each other, can break down walls of isolation and create islands of compassion as we grow in our faith together.

Doubt is not Thomas’ sin. Thomas has a different sin – he scoffs at his friends when they tell him about their experience with the Risen Christ.

Rather than saying, “tell me more,” he pushes them away. He turns their experience into a selfish claim for himself: “If I don’t get something out of this, then it didn’t happen.”

To live with doubt is not to avoid it, but it also requires listening with open hearts and minds to the experiences of others. None of us are smart enough, or holy enough, to do this alone, or at least not very well.

The redemption in the story of Thomas is that he has an experience of the Risen Christ in spite of himself.

His redemption comes by remaining in the community that continues to embrace him even when he seems intent on pushing them away.

Did you notice something else crucial in the story?

Thomas didn’t say: “I want to see the face of Jesus.” No, he says: “I want to touch his wounds.” So when Jesus invites Thomas to touch his wounds, he is inviting him to touch all his wounds – and not just the wounds on his body. He invites Thomas to touch the wounds of the world where Jesus dwells.

Jesus invites Thomas to venture into the dwelling places of the poor, the sick, and the wounded in body, mind and spirit – to go to the empty places where doubt prevails and hope is hard to find. Like Thomas, we need to touch the wounds of Christ, and that means touching wounds of the world around us.

This is what it means to pick up your cross and follow.

This path of the Risen Christ is not about our personal comfort. This path will not always lead to personal enjoyment. We may not like what we discover. We are called to take risks.

But know this: We aren’t the first to take this path and we don’t walk alone.

Many have gone before us, and they’ve told us about how in their times of doubt and emptiness, they came to a deeper sense of the Holy. Mother Teresa quite famously told of her long years of emptiness.

It may be the difference between Mother Teresa and most of the rest of us, is people like her are patient, and we are not.

People like Mother Teresa are comfortable living with their doubts, even for a long time, even when they can’t see beyond their horizon.

They know the path can be rough, but this journey of faith ultimately is the only one worth making. The story of Thomas and his doubt does not end in the closed room. The door to the locked room opens; Thomas emerges back into the world different, changed, and somehow new from his encounter with the Risen Christ.

Nor does the story end for us today. The doors here will open, and we will go forth from this room today different, changed, and somehow new from our encounter with the Risen Christ.

And it begins by bringing all of our trust, all of our prayers, all of our wounds – and even our doubts – on this walk of faith with each other.

And when we do, watch anew for the Risen Christ coming among us, and be open to how we will be transformed, changed – made new together each and every day.

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

By James Richardson, Fiat Lux

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Guest blog: If Jesus is Lord that means Caesar isn't

Brandon Ambrosino


Resurrection As Metaphor? What the Early Christians Meant When They Said, "Jesus is Lord"

Posted: 04/01/2013 1:07 am

Earlier this week, I wrote a piece about the Christian concept of the resurrection. Does it matter, I asked, if Jesus' resurrection is interpreted metaphorically? My answer was that it matters a great deal, since "a Jesus whose physical body remains in the grave gives me no hope for a physically broken world."
A friend emailed me that I was reading the Gospels wrong, and that the resurrection was best interpreted metaphorically. To relegate the resurrection to a purely physical phenomenon was to read the Easter narrative in the most primitive way, at its lowest common denominator. The Resurrection narratives are given to each of us to interpret and enjoy in our own way -- literally or metaphorically.
The Easter stories, he reminded me, belong to all of us.
And yet before they belonged to us, they belonged to other people -- people who lived and thought and wrote within the first century. It seems to me, then, that if we are to truly understand what the gospel writers are trying to say, we need to contextualize them not first within our own world, but within theirs.
And it must be understood from the outset that their context is fundamentally Jewish.
At the heart of Judaism is a pattern of exile and return, which is summed up in the following passage from Deuteronomy:
When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.
To commemorate their ancestors' miraculous deliverance from Egyptian slavery, Jews observe Pesach, or Passover. There are many, many layers to the story of the Exodus, but one key phrase that is often repeated in the text concerns God's motive for freeing his people: "And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord." In other words, Israel's God is saying, "I will deliver you, Israel, and the world will know that I am Lord, and Pharaoh is not."
Today, there are many branches of Judaism that see this pattern of exile and return as metaphorical; but for ancient Jews, their hope was that God would deliver Israel from their foreign rulers and create a new Heaven and Earth. Just as God sent Moses to physically deliver their ancestors from Pharaoh, Second Temple Jews prayed that God would send them another prophet like Moses to inaugurate God's kingdom.
But before God could step in as king, he'd first have to overthrow those pagan rulers still enjoying their power. In the first century, the pagan ruling over Israel was Caesar, the divine emperor of Rome. Caesar ruled with the threat of death, which was his greatest and last weapon. And even though Rome was in a relatively peaceful phase at this point, no dissension would be tolerated. Disloyalty meant death -- and Rome had a reputation for killing.
If a messiah were going to overcome Rome, he'd better be able to overcome the physical threat of death -- which is why many Jews were looking for a Messiah to lead them to military victory. It's in this context that various would-be messiahs showed up claiming to be the one to deliver Israel from the hand of her enemies. As was sadly the case, these claimants were found and murdered -- which proved that they were not what they claimed to be. If Rome killed you, then you obviously weren't the Messiah. Crucifixion meant game over for you and your movement.
But with Jesus, the story is different. Jesus is seen as a threat to the political establishment, and is murdered in the attempt to preempt any uprising in his name. And yet it's only after Jesus' murder that his followers come together and begin announcing that Jesus is, in fact, the Messiah they'd been awaiting.
"Jesus is Lord," the disciples flippantly announce, and the overtones aren't lost on anyone who's listening. If Jesus is Lord, then that means Caesar isn't. Now normally Rome would just squash this kind of rebellion by death; but in the case of Jesus, death -- both the threat and the physical state of non-existence -- have been overturned by the Resurrection.
A bodily Resurrection.
And it must be bodily because, after all, a dead Messiah -- no matter how spiritually alive he may be -- is still dead. He's especially dead if he's being experienced as a ghost. In the ancient Mediterranean world, a vision of a recently deceased loved one confirmed that he was dead... not that he was alive.
It's difficult to imagine the disciples saying, "God has warmed our hearts and caused us to experience the metaphorical presence of Jesus, and therefore we know that he's the Messiah!" Unless Jesus' postmortem appearances were experienced in a physical way, his disciples would have assumed that Rome had won again, and that Jesus, regardless of what they hoped, couldn't have been Lord.
For this reason, scholars of all persuasions are forced to seriously consider what happened between the event of Jesus' crucifixion and the event of his proclamation as Lord. As it turns out, the early Christians answer this question in their Easter stories. What convinced them that Jesus was the Messiah was that, unlike other people murdered by Rome, he didn't stay dead.
Now did Jesus bodily rise from the dead? That's not my question here. I'm simply asking, "Did the early Christians believe that Jesus had risen bodily from the dead?" And when we read the Easter stories within their first century political and religious contexts, I think the answer is emphatically, "Yes!"
At the heart of the Easter story is the belief that Jesus is Lord, and Caesar is not. This is always, in the first place, a political claim -- and a physical one.

Follow Brandon Ambrosino on Twitter: