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recreation of memory in community life

 perspective of the kind of movement

It’s rather clear from the way that the stories develop in the gospels that the Christians who are writing the gospels a generation after the death of Jesus are doing so from a stock of oral memory, that is, stories that had been passed down to probably by followers. But if we think about the death of Jesus and remember a group of people who would have still been attached to him and to his memory after his death, it must have been a rather stark and traumatic period of time. Many of their initial hopes and expectations had been dashed. All of this talk of the kingdom of God arriving soon seemed to be disconfirmed with his death.

And yet there’s that story of his resurrection of his coming back to life. And it’s around that memory, around that set of concerns that a lot of the earliest oral stories about Jesus must have circulated and must have been built. So we have to imagine the followers of Jesus getting together around the dinner table probably and talking about their memories, maybe it was the memory of something he actually said once upon a time or maybe it was a glimpse of an image that they had of him. Surely they thought it was some image of great power…. But the thing that keeps coming back is they tell the story of who he was in retrospect from the experience of what he became through his death and through the story of his resurrection….

Story telling was at the center of the beginnings of the Jesus movement. And I think we’re right to call it the Jesus movement here because if we think of it as Christianity, that is, from the perspective of the kind of movement and institutional religion that it would become a few hundred years later, we will miss the flavor of those earliest years of the kind of crude and rough beginnings, the small enclaves trying to keep the memory alive, and more than that, trying to understand what this Jesus meant for them. That’s really the function of the story telling…it’s a way for them to articulate their understanding of Jesus. And in the process of story telling, when we recognize it as a living part of the development of the tradition, we’re watching them define Jesus for themselves. At that moment we have caught an authentic and maybe one of the most historically significant parts of the development of Christianity.