At the very end of Martin Scorsese’s film version of Nikos Kazantzakis’s now famous novel. The Last Temptation of Christ, Jesus returns to the Cross, from his out-of-body temptation sequence, to those last, agonizing moments of death. Then, suddenly, white flashes of light streak the screen, the image is lost—as if someone has just opened the camera and exposed the film within. The ending is suggestive, for it is clear that neither the film maker nor the tale-weaver had any desire to try to capture on film or to explicate in prose precisely what happened to Jesus between his death on the Cross and Easter morning. The point should not be lost on the theologian!
And yet, the course of New Testament scholarship and of Christian theology in general shows an overwhelming and repeated urge to return to this part of the Gospel story, to try to determine “what really happened.” The demon that drives such research is still articulated best by the apostle Paul:
“If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain, and your faith is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:14).