This Risen Experience: The Spirit of Easter by Paula Gooder (book review)

While there is plenty of theology and Bible study in This Risen Experience: The Spirit of Easter, the book is arranged, loosely speaking, as a journey for the person who wishes to reflect on the meaning of the resurrection. That journey is based around 42 passages which, if taken between Easter and Pentecost, is one passage a day, six times a week, for seven weeks.

A journey planned

To her credit, Gooder notes that a work such as this is as much or more about what is left out as what is included. After all, the resurrection is a huge topic. Still, her stated purpose is personal reflection (which assumes but stops short of what action would follow). Those who, like I, are excited to see the word ‘reflection’ used a lot, be warned: this is not close to the same level of indulgence as you’d expect from mystics such as Nouwen or Merton. To be clear, this is still an exploration of Bible, theology, and history more than wandering, sybaritic narrative.

And to be equally clear, Gooder will walk with you through observations like “This does not mean, however, that we will always feel this truth deep down. Faith is at least partially about keeping going despite what we feel today, tomorrow or the day after. Living the resurrection life includes expecting the sudden, powerful presence of the risen Jesus in the midst of our uncertainty and loss but trudging on whether we feel this presence or not” in a way that Wright, Licona, or Habermas do not.

Key milestones

After an introductory chapter reflecting on what the resurrection means for new life, eschatology, life after death, etc., Gooder’s stepping stones have a hint of historiographic arrangement without feeling dragged too far outside the scope of the Bible. The seven-week journey, then, looks a bit like this:

  1. Loose Ends: The Resurrection and Mark’s Gospel ties the abrupt early ending (16:8) to an exhortation for us to be content in our discipleship with the ambiguity of unfinished business, even if we need not feel our confidence threatened by its oddity.
  2. Dramatic Events: The Resurrection and Matthew’s Gospel shows how Matthew leaves us no doubt the significance of what happened.
  3. On the Way: The Resurrection and Luke’s Gospel reminds us that experiences such as the road to Emmaus aren’t solely about Scripture so much as about recognition of Jesus was.
  4. Lifted up: The Resurrection and John’s Gospel puts front and center the fact that John has twice as many resurrection appearances than any other gospel, the point of which is that His light is to reach others through us.
  5. Life and Death: The Resurrection and the Epistles illuminates the ideals which out to be in place in our lives now that Jesus is alive.
  6. At the Right Hand of God: The Ascension makes the case for elevating our respect for Jesus’ ascension beyond the (poor) recognition it usually in our story.
  7. Spirit-filled Lives: Pentecost deftly connects the historic chain of events to meaning for the believer of modernity.

Useful souvenirs

Learning about the resurrection and the biblical narrative variants is inherently useful for those who fancy themselves apologists. For example, Gooder makes the case that nothing in the ancient near east nor the Judaism of the day that would indicate that people were expecting bodily resurrection in a right-now sort of way…which is part of refuting objections such as resurrection as a borrowed myth or as hallucinations based on pre-existing expectations.

The bottom line

One personal narrative at the end of the book sums up its momentum when Gooder tells of a question her daughter asked over dinner: “How does Jesus make us real?” This cry of the human heart is, whether we realize it or not, common to us all. The vast majority of Christians, I’d surmise, will find Gooder’s guided reflections illuminating if not edifying. Given that one of the promises of the book is growth in what it actually means to be a Christian, I’d love to have seen a little more outward (versus inward) application. All told, however, the book is insightful and well worth the modest price tag.