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.