Tag Archive: resurrection

Easter Day 2015

This is one of my favourite hymns, partly because it features one of my favourite saints, namely St Thomas. I also like it because it works equally outside for a dawn service – either read or, with a choir, sung – as at a service in church later in the day.

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

O sons and daughters, let us sing!
The King of heaven, the glorious King,
o’er death to-day rose triumphing.

That Easter morn, at break of day,
the faithful women went their way
to seek the tomb where Jesus lay.

An angel clad in white they see,
who sat, and spake unto the three,
‘Your Lord doth go to Galilee.’

That night the apostles met in fear;
amidst them came their Lord most dear,
and said, ‘My peace be on all here.’

When Thomas first the tidings heard,
how they had seen the risen Lord,
he doubted the disciples’ word.

‘My piercèd side, O Thomas, see;
my hands, my feet I show to thee;
not faithless, but believing be.’

No longer Thomas then denied;
he saw the feet, the hands, the side;
‘Thou art my Lord and God,’ he cried.

How blest are they who have not seen,
and yet whose faith hath constant been,
for they eternal life shall win.

On this most holy day of days,
to God your hearts and voices raise
in laud and jubilee and praise,

O filii et filiae, Jean Tisserand (d. 1494), translated by John Mason Neale (1818–1866)*

Easter People

“We are an Easter People and ‘Alleluia’ is our song.” So said St Augustine some 1800 years ago; and it is still as true today as it was then. He was writing at a time when Christians were still very much in the minority, when the world was a dangerous place and, for many, life was “brutish and short”. It was against that background that Augustine declared the hope, the promise and the truth that gave Christians their strength and determination to stand against the tide of paganism and violence that beset the world around them.

They were “Easter People” because they believed in Jesus’ resurrection: he had died but, by the power of God’s Holy Spirit, had been brought back to a new life which was witnessed by many of his followers at the time. They were an “Easter People” because they had decided to follow that same Jesus and to model their own lives on what he did and taught.

Above all, they were “Easter People” because they had confidence in God despite anything the world might say or do to them. That is what they believed and that is why their song is “Alleluia”.

“Alleluia” means “Praise the Lord”. The word has been used by Christians of all denominations for centuries. It is used most often at Easter and in the Easter season but is a good word whenever we want to praise God and to thank him for his goodness. There are times when we most certainly do not feel like praising God. Life can be tough through illness, loss of income, grief, arguments etc etc. When we praise God we are not saying that “everything is OK”. What we are saying is that, despite anything else that might be going on, God is good all the time.

If it had not been for what God did through Jesus at Easter, there would be no Christianity, and we would not have the hope, the promise or the confidence in God that we do now.

 We know that Christ has been raised from death and will never die again – death will no longer rule over him.

(Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 6 verse 9)

Alleluia! Christ is risen.
He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Psalm 70


It is said that there are four short great prayers which everyone should have at their disposal. They are: please, help, sorry and thank you. The beginning of the psalm I’m looking at here could be summarised as “Help!” and the end as “Hurry up!”. There is an urgency about this prayer and I guess that is one reason why this psalm is one of the shorter ones – just five verses.

It also seems to me that Psalm 70 fits in with this week in the Church’s calendar. The week began with Palm Sunday and remembering Jesus arriving in Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. We then follow Jesus through the days and events that lead to his  crucifixion; and then we celebrate his resurrection at Easter. At this point of the journey, Jesus is in Jerusalem with his friends and followers. He is aware, much more acutely than them, that things are coming to a head and that he will be presented with “the cup of suffering” to drink. Jesus is no masochist nor is he a fatalist. He has a choice but the consequences for him will be dire: he will suffer and die. Before Easter, there is Good Friday; before resurrection there is the cross. Surely Jesus would ask for God’s help and with some urgency to put it mildly. No matter what he knew or expected to happen afterwards, the prospects for that week would make anyone turn to God for help.

I would not press psalm 70 too far or try to put words into Jesus’ mouth. I do suggest that it is OK to ask God for help and, if the situation warrants it, to ask him to hurry up.

A prayer from “Common Worship”

True and humble king, hailed by the crowd as Messiah. Grant us the faith to know you and love you, that we may be found beside you on the way of the cross, which is the path of glory. Amen. (Additional Collect, Palm Sunday)

Rebooting creation

lent 2013 003b“Let everything that can breathe, praise God!”

(Psalm 150 verse 6)

When the computer does not work there is a technical fix called “rebooting”. It basically means starting all over again and the simplest way is by switching it off and then switching it back on again (and hope you saved your work before hand).

There is something of that idea in Easter. Jesus died (was switched off) buried for three days (make sure the power is completely off)  and rose again through the power of God’s Holy Spirit (power back on again). As with any analogy do not press it too far but with rebooting it is usually either because a programme needs updating or because the computer has frozen and needs to be restored to proper working order. It is something like that last idea which is behind the phrase “new creation”.

Somehow creation has got stuck, or infected with a virus, and needs rebooting. However, instead of wiping the whole memory and starting again, God has worked it so that the whole thing did not have to die. You could say that Jesus took the virus into his programming, was shut down and rebooted, thus destroying the virus and saving the world. It is not a perfect analogy but it does illustrate how the world can be understood to need saving from the result of the actions of just a few of its creatures. It is in a similar way to a whole computer being deemed to be infected by just a little bit of malicious programming.

The point is that somehow the whole of creation is affected by Jesus’ death and resurrection without having to endure the suffering and death (the shutdown) that he did. Rebooting without shutdown you might say.

A prayer from “Common Worship”

God of glory, by the raising of your Son you have broken the chains of death and hell. Fill your Church with faith and hope; for a new da has dawned and the way to life stands open in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen. (Additional Collect, Easter Day)

We do understand that in general it is best to leave a wild creature alone and that trying to help can sometimes make matters worse. On this occasion the hedgehog was spotted on the grass verge in broad daylight early one evening. It had obviously hurt its leg so it was carefully picked up (the wearing of gardening gloves was deemed necessary) and brought up the lane to our back garden.

We found an old cardboard box and while one of us found worms and slugs with which to feed it, another went indoors to phone the RSPCA or anyone else who might help or advise. The evening wore on and we wondered whether we were going to have to make a better shelter for the poorly animal or else let it go and let it take its chances.

Later than we would have liked, we got a call to say to take it to a local vets’. Apparently for wild animals there was to be no charge; which is just as well as I overheard one caller being told the evening charge was £119 and that was before any treatment costs. So off we went with the gerbil carrier, some straw and broken hedgehog.

I guessed the outcome of our visit when the person staffing the reception said, “I’ll just take this through to the nurse and we will return the container to you.” How were we going to break the news to the youngest member our family? Well, a few minutes later a vetinary nurse came out with the empty container and bad news. Not only was the leg broken but there were other internal injuries and the hedgehog was destined for “hedgehog heaven”.

To our relief the news was greeted better than we might have expected. We reasoned that dying at the vets’ was better than dying a slow death through starvation or being eaten by a fox. The nurse thanked us for our trouble and we went on our way.

I mention resurrection but I do not mean reincarnation as some creature in another life in this world; nor do I mean resuscitation – a last minute reprieve or recovery for the animal. Some people talk about having a soul: some essential part of our identity which is invisible and separate from the physical body which we can see and touch. Some people would say that only human beings possess a soul, others would say that all creatures have them. Either way, resurrection would be understood as the soul escaping the body and thus escaping death.

If you do not believe we have a soul then such a resurrection is meaningless. But the Christian belief in resurrection does not depend upon whether we have such a thing as a soul or at least on a particular understanding of what a soul might be. Nor does it mean that “saved” people cannot die. Rather it means that after we have died (that is to say, death is real) there is the hope and possibility of a new life – the result of God’s miraculous power which Christians believe was revealed by Jesus Christ’s resurrection. And if God is God, then he will do what is exactly right for everyone and for everything – that is one of the ways of understanding the idea of “a new heaven and a new earth”.

What does that mean for our hedgehog? I don’t know, but I inclined to believe that resurrection is a real possibility and that what ever God does it will be what is right for that hedgehog. Where is that hedgehog now? Probably buried somewhere – but its future lies elsewhere.

Hope for Easter

It is not a short book and there is plenty to think about: “Surprised by Hope” by Tom Wright. So far I have read most of it including the last chapter and the appendix. I discovered a while ago that there are some books that you don’t have to read every chapter in order nor read every single word. This is one of those books and if you like taking time over a book this is one you might like to read.

The main theme is about the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the message of hope that it brings. Bishop Tom describes how this makes a difference both to how individuals may see their future after death but also to how we shape society in the present. In other words, how we live now as individuals and as a society can be done in the light of the message of hope the Jesus’ resurrection brings.

A key point that the author makes is that the first Christians believed in and preached the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. This causes some people, including committed Christians, problems. If the phrase “bodily resurrection” conjures up a picture of a resuscitated body you would be forgiven for imagining that we’re talking about some kind of zombie! I remember a conversation with a Methodist minister who objected to the bodily resurrection on the grounds that it implied that Jesus was an animated corpse – his preferred take on the resurrection was to talk about it in spiritual terms. The problem with that view is that it seems to restrict the resurrection to the sphere of ideas and feelings.

Tom Wright clarifies the position by reminding us that what the New Testament asserts is that Jesus really did die and then, through the action of God’s power, was raised to new life in a transformed body. Thus the person whom the disciples met after the resurrection was the same Jesus Christ they knew but with a new, real body. This event is unique in our experience and therefore not easily examined by sceptical enquiry. Either this event happened and is outside our normal experience or it did not happen. It is not credible to dismiss this event just because it lies outside out normal experience.

If the resurrection of Jesus is real then it tells us something. To his disciples, after the shock and disbelief of their initial reaction, it told them that “Jesus is Lord”. That is to say, Jesus is both God and Messiah. (Working out the precise theology of that mystery has taken centuries, since Christians believe in one God but also believe that Jesus is God.) If Jesus is God and Messiah, then he is someone to be taken very seriously. In fact, it means that we have work to do. Tom Wright’s next point is that it then follows that both Christian Baptism and Christian ethics are based on the anticipation of our resurrection with a transformed body after death – just as Jesus did. Death, though real and painful enough,  does not have the last word.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ gives us a hope; a real, tangible hope but not just  “spiritual wishful thinking”.

The message of Easter is not first and foremost that death is not real (it is), nor is it that we may go to heaven after we die (we may), but that Jesus is Lord, Jesus was raised from the dead never to die again, Jesus went in his real, transformed body back to heaven (which means that there is a little bit of earth already in heaven). It means that heaven (where we could see God face to face) is a lot closer than we think and we have the possibility of earth being made more heaven-like if we work with the grain of God’s will rather than against it.

This book is not for the general reader: if you find the latest Discworld novel, an Agatha Christie whodunnit or a Tom Clancy thriller challenging enough then this book may not be an easy read. However, if you’ve read C. S. Lewis, then you may find some food for further thought here to get your teeth into.

Whether or not you decide to read this book, may I wish you a blessed Easter and may you, too, discover the hope that Easter stands for.

The donkey is a red herring

For many Christians today marks the beginning of the holiest week of the year. That’s not to say that there isn’t any holiness anywhere else but it is a special week. We make a point of remembering the last events in Jesus’ life leading up to his death by crucifixion (Good Friday) and then a little later his being brought to new life in the resurrection (Easter Day).

Palm Sunday gets its name from an event in the gospels when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, not on foot – his usual means of transport – but on the back of a donkey. He was welcomed as a king and where we might roll out the red carpet, in Jerusalem they put their branches from palm trees on his road (a green carpet, I suppose). That sets the scene: Jesus is no longer moving about the country, he is now at the capital city. It would be fairly easy to talk about that event and find some meaning in it. There is something for everyone: Jesus rode a donkey and in that way he showed humility (he could have ridden a war horse, instead, to show that he was a powerful warrior king) and that makes a political as well as a theological point. Meanwhile children might take an interest in the donkey itself: what is it like to be specially chosen by Jesus? However, if we leave Palm Sunday only thinking about the donkey then I think we have missed the point. Jesus is indeed being portrayed as a king but a crucified king.

That leads us to the next part of Palm Sunday which looks at the events leading up to Jesus’ death by crucifixion. It is a fairly long reading. For some it might seem strange that the main focus of Palm Sunday is the events that happened around that first Good Friday. However, the fact is that for many busy people, Palm Sunday is the last chance they get to come to church before Easter and they would miss out on a crucial part of the gospel message: Jesus was executed, dead and buried before the miracle took place which we celebrate on Easter Day.

I probably shouldn’t admit this but I do find listening to or reading about those Good Friday events hard going. Think of it this way, how often could you listen to how a friend of yours died before you found it all a bit too much? As usual, today I found it hard to concentrate during the reading of St Matthew’s version of events. One notorious verse did stand out.

It was the one where the religious authorities reject Jesus in favour of a violent rebel so that Jesus was not released from custody but handed over to be tortured and executed. Pilate washed his hands of the whole affair while the crowd said ‘let his blood be on us and on our children!’ (verse 25 of chapter 27). For centuries this has been taken to mean not just that they take responsibility for their choice but that every generation was to be blamed for putting an innocent man to death. That is a terrible misuse of that verse and moreover, it is not what it is means. In the Bible there is a principle that if anyone should take the blame it is only for what they themselves have done. The rest of that person’s family are not guilty by association. This ancient principle that goes back at least as far as the prophets Ezekiel and Jeremiah some 600 years before Jesus’ time in history.

I think there is a better way to understand this verse and it depends on remembering what else was going on in Jerusalem at the time. It was around the feast of the Passover. Every year the Hebrew people remembered (as they still do) the miracle of their escape from slavery in Egypt and the beginning of their long journey to a new land. Part of the story is how the first-born child of every household died. The exception was where the doorway of the house had been daubed with the blood of a sacrificial lamb. The splashing of the blood meant that that house was passed over. To be splashed with blood meant that you would be spared being killed. Splashing with blood in the Old Testament is also associated with religious or holy sacrifices. In other words, blood is associated with God saving lives and with dedicating things to God as being holy. Fortunately, Christians believe that Jesus’ death means the end of any need for animal sacrifices although we do use that Old Testament imagery to try to explain the meaning of Good Friday and Easter.

St Matthew, who we believe started out as a traditional Jew, would have known this. So when the crowd talk about Jesus’ blood being on them and on their children, they probably meant “We take responsibility for our actions”. St Matthew did not have to include this verse, but as he did, I think he means it to be understood that despite what they did, salvation is for them as much as for anyone else. In other words, any benefit there may be had from Jesus’ crucifixion is for them as well as for us.

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