Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Reincarnation or Resurrection?

"I believe with complete faith, that there will be
" - revival of the dead, whenever it will be God's,
blessed be He, will to arise and do so. May His Name be blessed, and
may His remembrance arise, forever and ever."
--Thirteen Principles of Faith by Maimonides, Jewish mystic

God Is Near Us, by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, while primarily about the Christian practice of breaking bread in community, touches upon an important aspect of this practice, and the Christian teaching of the Resurrection of the Christ, completing the cycle of the Jewish Messiah, or saviour. In the "feast of the resurrection," Ratzinger writes first about the rebuke of Saint Paul upon his visit to the community at Corinth, and how it applies to modern man equally.

"When you assemble as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you; and I partly believe it, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized... do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?

What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not. For, I received from the Lord what I also delivered [taught] you, that on the night he was betrayed, Jesus took bread, broke it [the Passover meal], and said, "this is my body which is for you.
Do this in remembrance of me."

Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body,
eats and drinks judgment upon himself.

--Saint Paul to the Corinthians, the Bible

Saint Paul's rebuke applies to us, as the opposition of one another threatens to obscure the central mystery that is the Christ. Some nowadays argue that this ritual should not be elevated to a cultic practice as the Roman and Orthodox churches do, but rather it should be as the ordinary, the everyday, celebrated in the same way we live our lives.

This reshaping is then accused of puritanism, of calvinism, of poverty. Yet the event as described by Paul was a Passover meal; Jesus did not command his disciples to repeat the "last supper." Indeed, they could not; it was not possible. The meal was part of the annual festival of Pesach, Passover, a lunar festival with a specific date.
Jesus did not give a command to repeat this annual Jewish liturgy. So to enter into a blood relationship, in the taking of the bread and the wine, the disciples unite into a divine kinship with the Lord. By free will, they partake of his spirit in unity and wholeness.

This realization for the disciples was the result of the resurrection as both a historical and as an ultimate dimension of reality. The Christian account of the resurrection of Jesus, Ratzinger says, "offered the actual starting point for the Christian shaping of the legacy of Jesus. It was this that opened up the possibility of being present beyond the limitations of the earthly corporeal existence... The Resurrection took place on the first day of the week, the day the Jews held as the day on which the world began [time and creation]. For the disciples, this, Sun-day, became the day on which the new world
began. Its essential characteristic was now the celebration of the resurrection..."

Writing about the Resurrection, Protestant theologian, Karl Barth says in this book, The Resurrection of the Dead, that Paul rather, brings a "corrective" to the church at Corinth, scolding them; utterance and knowledge of spiritual gifts are to Paul manifestly no ends in themselves... no guarantee... that blameless, waits in the end." Appealing to the schismatics of Corinth, Paul also appeals to those who are among the cult of Apollo, to those whose belief lies not in the assurances of God, but in their own ideas of God. He exhorts them, you are not in the service of Paul, of Peter, of Apollo; on the contrary, everything is yours in Christ Jesus.

It is he, who upon the cross, declares his freedom.
Yet Barth, expounds at length about the "foolishness" on man, of their failings and weaknesses, about how they do not meet the Lord, nor share a great likeness to the Creator. Look, Barth posits, "Are not the position and counter-position in the resurrection visible here?" Barth says Christians are called as witnesses to the event, rather than participants in an ultimate reality as other Christ believers have represented, because if it is true that with the resurrection, appeared the Church, then the ends of history have commenced; if the gospel of a risen Christ is rejected, then there is rebellion against God; judgment and perishing come to rule, then faith falls back on itself.

God's wrath in the mind of some is the result. In short, Barth views the resurrection as a literal event, not historical, and not a vision or a dream. He says that man is not capable of knowing God through his own senses, because man is too puny to perceive such an exhalted being, except by the great and grand revelation of the god himself. The resurrection, in Barth's mind, is one such instance. And we are called as witnesses to believe.

Moving into traditional views held by other faiths groups, Mohammedanism
is one which holds sway for the Resurrection. Muslim teaching about the subject is discussed in the book, Resurrection Judgment and the Hereafter, by Sayyid Mujtaba Musavi Lari. He writes, " After enjoying a brief time of life giving rays of the spirit, the body finds that its role is at an end. The compound nature of the body allowed it to house the spirit only for a limited time... The spirit being ultimately free of the body, eternal and ultimate, it is therefore the spirit alone which appears on the plain of resurrection..."

However, today this teaching is less favored among Muslim thought, writes Lari. There is however he writes of an enduring belief in the idea that "resurrection represents a complete and comprehensive return to bodily life, for nothing that pertains to man can ever be fully destroyed. Thus man resumes his life in the next world... his life unfolding on a more elevated realm than this world."

And finally, in the east, the tradition of reincarnation holds sway. While some have made the argument that resurrection came into the west from Jewish contact with ancient Persian (modern day Iran) ideas, whose citizens held strongly developed beliefs in reincarnation, its introduction to the Christian, via the Jewish world altered this notion.The modern notion of resurrection was born.

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