Resurrection fantasy

Mar. 13, 2014 @ 06:39 PM

Just imagine coming home and finding something you thought you’d lost forever waiting on your front porch  -- in exactly the state in which you last saw it. Once upon a time, my relative died and then rose again and … well almost, but not quite.

This is really how the new TV show “Resurrection” ought to be started each week. And the opening season could not have been more perfectly timed. The High Holy days of the Christian calendar are just beginning and everything is moving in the direction of, you guessed it -- The Resurrection. And thus enter the TV show.

In the first episode, a young boy named Jacob is returned to parents who had lost a son many years ago. This boy knows things that only their son could know, and he sweetly turns to the mother and says, “You look different.”

All the little clues that suggest and invite belief that this was their son draw us in to the story. But for the religious, especially Christians, this new series might become the avenue to answer some nagging questions and enter imaginatively into what happens in the afterlife.

What happens to the body that is buried in the ground? Just take a look at the character of Jacob, come back new and as young as the son the couple had buried 32 years ago. Does this feed anyone’s fantasy of perpetual youth?

Will we have any consciousness in the afterlife and will we remember people we knew in our previous life? You bet, the episode seems to scream.

And, again, the signs of recognition bear an uncanny resemblance to the descriptions offered by the Bible. It will be a body, all right, but it will be a glorified body, an honorable body says the Bible, but with all its relational connections, or so it appears.

And then amidst the DNA testing and the journey back through police files and Jacobs’s disappearance only to go fetch an old toy from a secret hide-away we get a glimpse of ourselves. We become reacquainted with the push-pull of faith and doubt made more obvious because it is demonstrated by no other than a local minister, who was Jacob’s childhood friend. The wanting to believe but wondering about the risks of belief, these are tensions embedded in the psyche of the religious as well as all people of hope.

But what do we make of the DNA testing and the attempt to ensure that Jacob is who he is, even to breaking down that giant tomb. Are these gestures in aid of helping faith or the vestiges of our modern tendency to continually probe the realm of faith with scientific tools  In which case what will the end be? I guess we will find out in the following episodes, in the same way that those who are waiting for the resurrection will as well.

Beyond the hope it seems to engender, there is a curious question that “Resurrection” poses: namely, what cultural deal is being negotiated within a modern culture that is increasingly ambivalent about religion and how the religious fits into its new niche. I’ll be interested to see what answers this new TV program provides to these questions?

Esther E. Acolatse is an assistant professor of the practice of pastoral theology and world Christianity at Duke Divinitzy School.