After Easter–was Jesus a ghost?

That was what today’s gospel said the disciples thought. When he appeared after walking with two disciples to Emmaus, the gospel says the apostles were terrified.

Wouldn’t you be? This is the stuff of horror movies right? The coffin slowly opens and the un dead creep forth. This is vampires, zombies, ghosts and ghouls.

It is an interesting point. What exactly are ghosts? There are three theories: the most common is that a ghost is the soul of a departed person who, for some reason, has not made it successfully to the other side and part of them, or a memory of them or their spirit remains here. Why does this happen? There are different theories: perhaps the person is kept here by an unhealthy attachment to a person or place in this realm. Maybe a person here holds on to that other person in some psychic way. Maybe the person died suddenly and violently and the soul was not prepared and is uncertain where to go next so it hangs around here for a bit longer

Another theory is that a ghost is a slip in time. A couple of times my sister said she saw a little boy dressed in colonial clothes with a little dog. This was in the woods behind our house when we were growing up. Each time the little boy was doing the same thing–running with the dog across the same stretch of woods. What my sister saw was like the loop of a film playing over again. Weird.

The third idea is that a ghost is a manifestation of a demon or angel spirit.

We don’t know for sure. As for vampires and zombies–well I’ll leave that up to you and the movies.

What we do know is that the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ was none of these things. The disciples thought he was a ghost, but he says “Come and touch my hands and side and give me something to eat.” He knows and they know that whatever a ghost is, you cannot touch its body and it is not interested in eating.

The physicality of the resurrection is one of the details that the gospels insist on. This was not only not a ghost and not a resuscitated corpse. This was not a zombie, a vampire or any other kind of fantasy monster. Nor was it a myth made up by later Christians who were mimicking pagan myths.

Of all the misconceptions about the resurrection, this is the stupidest, and yet it is the one held by a significant number of theologians and New Testament scholars. The crackpot idea is that the early Christians wanted to compete with the pagan myths about dying and rising gods so they made up this story about Jesus rising from the dead in the Springtime of the year so that they could have a dying and rising god too.

How dumb is that? The early Christians were Jews and they were famously opposed to any pollution of their religion by paganism. To imagine that the Jewish followers of Jesus would splice into their religion a pagan dying and rising god myth is more difficult to believe than the resurrection itself. All the witness, not only of the first Jewish Christians, but of the later Gentile converts is that they resisted all forms of idolatry, myth making and crazy stories.

St Paul himself warns of this in the New Testament. I the first chapter of first Timothy he tells his protege not to allow people to follow myths and “endless genealogies” and at the end of the book he warns against those who babble and teaching so called “knowledge”. This is a reference to gnosticism–that heresy that has as its core a divorce between the physical and the spiritual realms

This, or course, is the fault line running through the modernist Biblical scholars who deny the physical resurrection in favor of a spiritual re-interpretation or the idea that it was a myth. They deny the reality of the resurrection and lapse into gnosticism. Yes, of course the resurrection has a spiritual dimension and they want to emphasize that, but it would have no spiritual meaning if it was not a physical reality.

Saying that the resurrection was a spiritually meaningful event is like saying to your fiancee that you believe in the beautiful idea of marriage and you wish to be married to her, but you do not wish to do anything so crude and physical as having sexual intercourse. The only reason a marriage is a marriage is because, at some point, it is very physical. In other words, it is real. Likewise the resurrection is only real if it is physical. That is what resurrection means after all. It does not mean that “the disciples of Jesus in some way still hoped and trusted in their Lord despite his tragic death”

Likewise the resurrection was not a fanciful myth.

Just like it wasn’t about a ghost, a vampire, a zombie or any other fanciful idea.

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