By Dick Staub
Religion News Service
NEW YORK (RNS) I'm in the Big Apple to film a bit for the History Channel on the period between Jesus' resurrection and ascension, which is a little spooky, very important and some would say very, very sketchy on details.
It's always intriguing to see what a producer finds interesting. In this case, John Marks, a former 60 Minutes producer, is picking up two threads: What happened? And what does it mean? What he seems really interested in is what I would call the "possible impossible."
What happened between the Resurrection and Ascension is a whole lot of miraculous stuff. Jesus is crucified (think "Passion of the Christ"), raised from the dead (think zombie movies) and then ascends into heaven (Think "Star Trek" and "beam me up, Scotty").
Jesus walks through a locked door to meet with his fearful disciples, breaks bread with two guys on the road to Emmaus; when they recognize him, he disappears.
After the Resurrection, a lot of people didn't recognize Jesus at first glance. Mary Magdalene mistook him for a gardener and then hugs him when she recognizes him. "Do not hold on to me," he tells her, "for I have not yet ascended to the Father."
Doubting Thomas, ever the skeptic, is told, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe." Thomas is convinced. "My Lord and my God," he responds.
Biblical scholars will talk about "what happened" in very different ways. Some will say these are fantastical tales useful as myth, but certainly not credible as history. On the other hand, others like me will conclude that these stories are fantastical tales that actually happened.
For us, these are always absolutely impossible events that are possible.
When I was in seminary in the 1970s, there was an unbridgeable gap between science and faith. To take science seriously, scholars tended to lean toward dismissing miracles as fanciful myths. Those who believed in miracles -- even the highly educated -- were derided as delusional.
Even the Virgin Mary didn't believe the angel who told her she would bear a child; she had never been with a man, so it would, she said, "be impossible." The angel chided her saying, "With God all things are possible."
What happened at the Resurrection, Ascension and everything in between seem simply impossible; on this point, believers and skeptics can agree. But the faith community would do well to drop its glibness about miracles, and the scientific community needs to drop its certitude about the impossibility of miracles.
I'm reminded of what George Lucas said to Bill Moyers when "Star Wars" was first released. Moyers asked Lucas if he believed in God, and Lucas said yes. If the cavemen were at a one on their scale of understanding God, he said, modern humans are at a five. He then added
that our understanding of God is on scale of zero to 1 million.
Once we grasp the belief that the impossible is indeed possible, then we can approach the more important questions of what the Resurrection and Ascension mean. Things like:
Jesus is still alive; even the skeptic Thomas believed it based on physical evidence.
Jesus promised to overcome death; when he did it, he became a pretty reliable guide to the eternal.
Jesus promised that he was going to die, be raised from the dead and go to prepare a place for us. His promises about our future seem more credible because of his Ascension.
His crucifixion is not a cruel disappointment of an underperforming God, but instead fulfills the messianic expectation of the suffering servant promised by Isaiah.
Jesus forgives our disbelief (Thomas) and even our momentary denials (Peter). He loves us the way we are, but loves us too much to leave us the way we are.
Jesus is willing to take on the impossible task of transforming us into new creatures; he can take on the world's most impossible situations and accomplish the impossible by revealing what is possible.
The power to do the impossible is the angle the producer seemed most interested in, and I wondered why. In this age that's so in need of hope, when things seem impossible, wouldn't it be wonderful if the impossible was possible?