”˜One morning you will see in the newspapers “Moody is dead”. Don’t believe it! I shall never be so alive as I will be that morning.’
–D.L .Moody (1837-99)
”˜One morning you will see in the newspapers “Moody is dead”. Don’t believe it! I shall never be so alive as I will be that morning.’
–D.L .Moody (1837-99)
What is the one single event that has most influenced and changed human history? The disciples of Jesus Christ have only one answer, which they proclaim without reservation, indisputably and absolutely: the dying and rising of God’s only-begotten Son, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! Yes, the rising of Jesus Christ from His human death on the cross to new and unending life on the third day has forever influenced and changed human history and, indeed, our lives. One sentence in the Easter Scripture readings, from the Gospel according to Saint John, gives us the key to understanding how and why the rising of Jesus Christ makes all the difference: “And he saw and believed.”
When pastors gaze upon their flocks after sunrise on Sunday, many will see congregations cast in shadows””haunted by diminishing investments and the prospect of losing jobs and homes.
Amid this fear and doubt, the clergy must lead the faithful to a message of hope””the miracle of the Resurrection commemorated at Easter.
To do it, many will rely on the Gospel of Mark, a tale that embodies the anxiety of confronting the unknown. Mark tells the story of Jesus’ life and death, but it closes with a cliffhanger: Three women go to his tomb, only to tremble with fear at finding the crypt bare.
It is that sensation of emptiness, terror and mystery that is drawing pastors to this scripture.
Nearly two-thirds of Americans will be attending Church services this Easter, according to a poll released by the Knights of Columbus.
The fraternal organization released on Thursday the results of a poll conducted by the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion.
Of those surveyed, 63% said they plan to observe Easter by attending a Church service. Among Catholics, 74% said they would attend a service.
We are interested in your theological as well as personal reflections.
The more specific you can be the better.
The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation ”” This story begins and ends in joy.
— J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973)
Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.
It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His Flesh: ours.
The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that ”” pierced ”” died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.
Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.
The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.
And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.
Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.
–John Updike (1932-2009)
The music is from the Second Chapter of Acts originally. Listen to it all.
Jesus’s disciples had their lives turned upside down. At the moment of his death, they were fearful, living under occupation and behind locked doors. The news that the women in their group had seen him alive astounded them and completely changed the way they lived. Their fear was transformed into courage, their anxiety turned into confidence, and they were able to speak publicly about what they believed to be true.
It is often said that Jesus Christ never wrote any books or held public office, hardly travelled from the place where he was born, or produced any plans for the ordering of society. Yet all the armies that ever marched or kings that ever ruled have not had so profound an effect on the world as that travelling preacher and healer. That is because of the resurrection message that was transmitted across the known world by excited men and women who had found something extraordinary.
Jesus’s disciples thought they had lost the teacher who had taught them that the kingdom of God belongs to children, that human life should be characterised by compassion and dignity, whatever your status, and that life is lived not for the maximising of one’s own comfort but for the common good.
Jesus of Nazareth was certainly dead by the Friday evening; Roman soldiers were professional killers and wouldn’t have allowed a not-quite-dead rebel leader to stay that way for long. When the first Christians told the story of what happened next, they were not saying: “I think he’s still with us in a spiritual sense” or “I think he’s gone to heaven”. All these have been suggested by people who have lost their historical and theological nerve.
The historian must explain why Christianity got going in the first place, why it hailed Jesus as Messiah despite His execution (He hadn’t defeated the pagans, or rebuilt the Temple, or brought justice and peace to the world, all of which a Messiah should have done), and why the early Christian movement took the shape that it did. The only explanation that will fit the evidence is the one the early Christians insisted upon – He really had been raised from the dead. His body was not just reanimated. It was transformed, so that it was no longer subject to sickness and death.
Let’s be clear: the stories are not about someone coming back into the present mode of life. They are about someone going on into a new sort of existence, still emphatically bodily, if anything, more so. When St Paul speaks of a “spiritual” resurrection body, he doesn’t mean “non-material”, like a ghost. “Spiritual” is the sort of Greek word that tells you,not what something is made of, but what is animating it. The risen Jesus had a physical body animated by God’s life-giving Spirit. Yes, says St Paul, that same Spirit is at work in us, and will have the same effect – and in the whole world.
Do you know that God exists? the interviewers ask; or, How do you know Christian faith is true? There are two tempting ways of responding, both wrong. There is the apologetic shuffle of saying, ‘Of course, I don’t really know; this is just the truth as it appears to me and I may be wrong’. And there is the confident offer to prove it all to the hearer’s satisfaction; here are the philosophical arguments, here is the historical evidence, now what’s the problem?
Two kinds of mistake: the first because it reduces faith to opinion and shrinks the scale of what you’re trying to talk about to the dimensions of your own mind and preferences; the second because it keeps you at arms’ length from the whole business by making it impersonal: here are the proofs and it doesn’t much matter what I or anyone may be doing about it. It’s just true in much the same way as it’s true that Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in the British Isles. You may say, ‘Well, there you go’ but are unlikely to fall to your knees.
St Paul in today’s epistle makes it clear that to speak of Jesus’ resurrection is also to say something crucial about who and where we are, not just to make a claim about the past.. Now we should not doubt for a moment that Paul means what he says and that he takes for granted that the resurrection of Jesus is not a piece of fantasy or wishful thinking but the actual emptying of a grave. However, the point of Paul’s entire teaching on the resurrection is to take us much further than that. This event, the emptying of the grave, has done something and has brought the Christians of Colossae – like all Christians – into a new universe. They are living in a new climate, with new ‘thoughts’ – a climate in which the various ways in which we’ve put up barriers between ourselves and God have been shattered and our old selves are dead. We may still go on trying to put those barriers back up again, but something has happened that opens up a new kind of future. Our selfish and destructive acts and reactions can be dealt with, overwhelmed again and again by the love shown in the cross of Jesus. Because of Jesus’ death and rising from the dead, our resurrection has started, and our citizenship in heaven has begun. There is a hidden seed of glory withinus, gradually coming to its fullness.
Resurrection has started. How do we know? Not by working it out and
adopting it as well-founded opinion, not by deciding that this idea
suits us, not by getting all the arguments straight, but because we are
dimly aware of something having changed around us. For Paul’s converts
in Colossae, Corinth, or wherever, it’s about the impact on them of his
early visits: here was someone who although he wasn’t a good speaker or
a charismatic teacher (so he himself tells us) was so intensely aware
that the world had changed that he changed the world for those around
him. They trusted him; they were prepared to risk all the mockery and
harassment and worse that Christians had to put up with because they
were able to say, ‘It’s so real for him that we can sense the sort of
imperative urgency in what he says and what he sees; whatever he
believes, this is life at a new level’.
That’s why the two sorts of defence of faith I mentioned earlier aren’t
good enough. It’s not that this is an attractive theory that I’ve
decided to try out – but I may be wrong. Nor is it that I now have a
knock-down argument that will convince everyone. There is something
compelling here. I can’t help being drawn to this promise of life and
freedom, it isn’t about my opinions only; yet I know that I can’t put
this into neat words that will make everyone say, ‘Oh yes, it’s obvious
For a great many people, the burning question about faith is not just,
‘Can anyone believe this?’ but ‘Can anyone live like this?’ Is it
possible to live ‘in heaven’, in such a way that our selfishness is
eroded? To live on the basic assumption that people can be healed of
their miserable compulsions to fear and resent each other and to cling
to their grievances and injuries? Last weekend’s television drama, ‘Five
Minutes of Heaven’, was a painfully sensitive reflection on what it
takes to make reconciliation more than words alone, when a former
terrorist gunman meets the brother of the man he killed in cold blood.
Both, it turns out, are still locked into that past event: the gunman,
though he has now become a sought-after speaker on reconciliation, is
still trapped in self-loathing; the victim’s brother, who witnessed the
shooting as a boy of ten, is equally trapped, traumatised by what he saw
as a child, helpless with rage that his brother’s murderer has been
‘forgiven’ by a society with a short memory. When they meet at last, it
is in an explosion of near-murderous violence; yet something is
released, some future is opened.
‘Five Minutes of Heaven’: we’re left in no doubt that if real
reconciliation were possible, that would be what it was, five minutes of
something quite other than the expectations and routines of this tragic
world. And we’re left in no doubt that getting there might be the most
painful thing imaginable. The drama spared us nothing; but it did
-courageously – suggest that ‘heaven’ was not an illusion. Can anyone
live like that? Well, perhaps, perhaps just getting to the outer edge of
something ‘outside’ the endless weary exchange of retaliation. A
fleeting image of what Paul is talking about: another world that has
taken root in this one – only not just through the chance experiences of
a few individuals but because something has happened once and for all to
declare that sin has been dealt with, the prison of the self has been
broken open by God. The impossible is now possible. Your life is hidden
with Christ in God, and you live from a depth newly opened up in you.
And the only way of saying that, of course is for it to be lived out.
It’s no use talking endlessly – preaching endlessly – about
reconciliation and forgiveness and liberation. No argument can persuade
anyone about this, only the lived reality. It’s worth remembering that
Paul of Tarsus joined the Christian community not as a well-meaning
religious enquirer but as someone who had been the equivalent of a
terrorist gunman, someone who had supervised the activities of a private
militia devoted to abducting and imprisoning members of the Christian
sect. He is a perfectly intelligible figure in the back streets of
modern Beirut or Baghdad. And he has to find his ‘heaven’ by going,
undefended and unvouched for, to the people he has been trying to
silence and kill. Can anyone live like this? If the Colossians or
Corinthians or Philippians had asked this, at least Paul would have been
able to say yes: I have lived it, or, It has lived itself out in me and
in those who were my victims. No wonder that he goes back over this so
many times in his writings, and, in his second letter to Corinth,
angrily protests that, whatever else may be true, he is not doing this
for the sake of his comfort or power. Why should the Corinthians trust
him (especially when there are more attractive teachers around)? Well,
at least he has lived through the most appallingly painful realities of
the reconciliation that Jesus made possible; he has lost an entire
career, an entire identity, he has put his life at daily risk. The one
thing the Corinthians can be sure of is that this is not an opinion or
And the moral of all this? It’s boringly familiar. If we want to commend
our faith, we have to show the difference. The new world has to be
visible. In the days of the early church, writers trying to defend the
faith naturally used all sorts of complex intellectual arguments; but
they also said, ‘Look at us. We try to live forgivingly with each other.
We don’t try to get revenge when we’re killed by the state authorities
or the lynch mobs. We treat every life as precious, including the lives
you don’t care about. We try to be peaceful and faithful, in private and
in public, and to live lives of sexual faithfulness and self-control [as
much of a challenge, we might add, in the late Roman Empire as it is
today]. Does all this suggest to you that there might be another way of
living that offers healing to the casualties of so-called ordinary human
Early Christians could point to the martyrs – but also to those who
freely decide to live lives of continence and poverty in the first
monastic communities, the men and women who tried to live out the life
of heaven in the daily discipline of life together, giving themselves
time to discover their most deeply hidden failings and fears, their most
deep-seated difficulties with themselves and other people and not
running away but letting the action of God through the life of the
community heal them bit by bit. We’re still fascinated by this life – we
joke about it, yet have an uneasy respect for it, as a whole series of
television presentations will confirm. But there is a real question here
to the Church, not least to the Church of England. More people than
perhaps ever before want to have access to what the monastic life
promises, the wisdom of mutual patience, shared silence and prayer,
space to grow out of childish ways – yet the profile of monastic
communities and the recognition given to those who seek the path of
contemplation is pretty meagre. Is it time to pray for and work for a
radical new affirmation of this life and a proper valuation of its gift
to the Church and the world? To pray harder for vocations to this life
an to encourage people of all ages to explore it and to have the courage
to take those costly promises so as to begin to show the world what
difference the faith makes – what the resurrection looks like?
It could hardly be a more propitious time for this. The present
financial crisis has dealt a heavy blow to the idea that human
fulfilment can be thought about just in terms of material growth and
possession. Accepting voluntary limitation to your acquisitiveness, your
sexual appetite, your freedom of choice doesn’t look so absurd after all
as a path to some sort of stability and mutual care. We should be
challenging ourselves and our Church to a new willingness to help this
witness to flourish and develop.
But it is of course only one form of witness. When all’s said and done,
the call is to every one of us. We need to hear what is so often the
question that’s really being asked when people say, ‘How do you know?’
And perhaps the only response that is fully adequate, fully in tune with
the biblical witness to the resurrection is to say simply, ‘Are you
hungry? Here is food.’
This is the real meaning of Easter…
No tabloid will ever print the startling news that the mummified body of Jesus of Nazareth has been discovered in old Jerusalem. Christians have no carefully embalmed body enclosed in a glass case to worship. Thank God, we have an empty tomb.
The glorious fact that the empty tomb proclaims to us is that life for us does not stop when death comes. Death is not a wall, but a door. And eternal life which may be ours now, by faith in Christ, is not interrupted when the soul leaves the body, for we live on…and on.
There is no death to those who have entered into fellowship with him who emerged from the tomb. Because the resurrection is true it is the most significant thing in our world today. Bringing the resurrected Christ into our lives, individual and national, is the only hope we have for making a better world.
“Because I live ye shall live also.”
That is the real meaning of Easter.
–Peter Marshall (1902-1949), The First Easter
It is easy for us to forget that that is where the first disciples were on Easter morning””in the cul de sac. They had no place to go. Peter and Andrew, James and John, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary, the mother of James and the other women. The enterprise was based on Jesus of Nazareth. This movement which they had given themselves to””this God thing””it was all dependent upon him. The healing of the sick, delivering people from dark drives and obsessions, loosening the grip of loss, the teaching about how God works in peoples’ lives, (not just religious practices), but having the ability to bring people into God’s presence, into an experience with the living God by his words and presence. When Jesus was around, God came to them; forgiveness flowed; broken lives were mended. All this seemed to happen around him. You can see the problem I suppose””Jesus was the franchise. There was no way to posture or pretend about these things. Without him it would be futile to carry on. The disciples could dress in robes; learn certain chants, liturgies, rites and ceremonies; they might even build an impressive temple but if the franchise is all about people encountering the living God through Jesus of Nazareth and he’s dead then what have you got?
To further illustrate my point, remember the disciples didn’t have any of these. The Pharisees and the scribes had the Hebrew scriptures; the priests in the temple had the altar of sacrifice, the altar of incense, the candelabra, the shew bread, the robes, the Holy of Holies””all that the disciples had was Jesus. Frankly, if he had not been raised we would never have heard of him. And just to have heard of him is hardly enough anyway. Without Jesus they were clearly in the cul de sac of death, which Karl Barth once called “the hopeless cul de sac.” That’s what those who stumble over Jesus’ seemingly exclusive statement that he is “the way, the truth and the life” too often forget. The Easter message is quite clear here””there’s one way out of the cul de sac and Jesus pioneered it.
Sam believes that Gandalph has fallen a catastrophic distance and has died. But in the end of the story, with Sam having been asleep for a long while and then beginning to regain consciousness, Gandalf stands before Sam, robed in white, his face glistening in the sunlight, and says:
“Well, Master Samwise, how do you feel?”
But Sam lay back, and stared with open mouth, and for a moment, between bewilderment and great joy, he could not answer. At last he gasped: “Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? What’s happened to the world?”
“A great shadow has departed,” said Gandalf, and then he laughed, and the sound was like music, or like water in a parched land; and as he listened the thought came to Sam that he had not heard laughter, the pure sound of merriment, for days without count. It fell upon his ears like the echo of all the joys he had ever known. But he himself burst into tears. Then as a sweet rain will pass down a wind of spring and the sun will shine out the clearer, his tears ceased, and his laughter welled up, and laughing he sprang from bed… “How do I feel?” he cried.” Well, I don’t know how to say it. I feel, I feel” –he waved his arms in the air– “I feel like spring after winter, and sun on the leaves; and like trumpets and harps and all the songs I have ever heard!”
— J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973), The Return of the King