Posted by: mikebackup | April 7, 2010


Luke 24:1-12

The Resurrection
On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” Then they remembered his words.
When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

The starting point for today is a question Eve asked in last Sunday’s service. During our Easter discussions she asked a belter – ‘How did God raise Jesus from the dead? A brilliantly obvious question that is very difficult to answer with integrity. It’s the sort of question many adults don’t ask because they either think there can be no reasonable answer or they are too afraid to ask. But difficult questions of God are very important and often result in a real deepening of faith. Martin Joseph wrote a song called ‘Treasure the questions’ and was aimed at teenagers. Maybe there is something we can learn from teenagers about the need to question and explore our faith. Maybe we have questions about the resurrection that we have never dared to ask. Perhaps you have been dying to ask the very question that Eve asked last week.

Treasure The Questions

Locked in my heart there’s a child
Knocking the door to get out
Asking the questions that hurt and
Sometimes there’s a question of doubt
I can’t pretend that it’s easy
I can’t pretend that I win
When your search in this life is over
That’s when the struggle begins

And if I don’t find out the search is not in vain
And if I don’t find out I
Treasure the questions as they rage in my mind
I treasure the questions some day I will find
I ran out of answers such a long time ago
And I treasure the questions wherever I go

Searching Sahara’s of sorrow
Trying to understand why
But the journey has brought me so much closer
I don’t have to stand here and lie
Over and over I cried in the darkness
Over and over to see
The crime is to sit and not wonder
Renewing my mind set me free

And if I don’t find out the search is not in vain
And if I don’t find out I
Treasure the questions as they rage in my mind
I treasure the questions some day I will find
I ran out of answers such a long time ago
And I treasure the questions wherever I go

Resurrection is possibly the most difficult element of the Christian faith to reflect on with integrity. Saying you believe in God is not so hard to come out with, saying you follow the teaching of Jesus or that you go to church, again is not that hard to do. But to say you believe that Jesus was brought back to life days after he died a horrific death so cementing his position as the invisible God made flesh, all of a sudden you’re in very difficult territory. It’s Harry Potter land, pure fantasy that’s great for a bedtime story but only a fool would believe it was real.

This is nothing new, these problems started Easter morning about 2000 years ago. In our reading today, we are told of the risen Christ, but all we get is scorn and doubt from those that were closest to Jesus. Peter himself goes to the tomb and sees that it is empty, but is by far from convinced. You can imagine him standing there at the entrance to the tomb, looking at the linen, picking it up and leaning against the wall. Then after a few moments, putting it back and wandering out head down in thought, wondering what all this was about.

From this point onwards in the New Testament you see the struggle many had with concept of resurrection, look at Thomas.

John 20.24-5
Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”

Then there was the struggle Paul had in Athens.

Acts 16-18
While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.

Later when he is speaking to the Aeropagus and he gets to the resurrection, it’s too much for some.

Acts 32-3
When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” At that, Paul left the Council. A few men became followers of Paul and believed.

Resurrection is so radical because it puts faith and doubt together. It seems so incredible. We are now at a point in Christian history where the prevailing thought in society is disbelief. This contemporary position started during the Enlightenment in the 18thcentury . The advancement in science and technology seemed to point to two things. Firstly, humankind was in control and secondly science appeared to show death really is the end.

The publication of Darwin’s ‘Origin of the Species’, threw great doubts on everything as it challenged fundamental Christian teaching on Creation. The doubts rippled out from there. If God did not create in the way we thought, then perhaps our understanding of death is not as we thought either. Thomas Huxley in 1840 coined the term ‘agnosticism’ to describe religious doubt caused by lack of scientific evidence.

Henry Bowler reflected brilliantly on faith and doubt in his painting ‘The doubt: Can these dry bones live?’.

This picture raises anxiety, but then calms that with great subtlety. A young women is reflecting on a skull and bones that have surfaced in a graveyard, how can these bones have life? But look at what else is presented The bones belong to a ‘John Faithful’ and also on the headstone are the familiar words ‘I am the resurrection and the life’. In the centre bottom, with perhaps an echo of the parable of the sower, a horse chestnut sprouts on a grave stone with the word Resurgam, meaning resurrection or ‘I will rise again’. A butterfly, the symbol of the soul rests on the skull, while other are seen amongst the graves. The colours and bright day speak of life, not death. The doubts may be there, but they are only momentary. We can live honestly with doubts while doing our best to live life by faith. Living life by faith allows us to explore resurrection beyond the nuts and bolts approach that science offers and often our overly rational mind.

Lucy Winkett reflects brilliantly on resurrection in her 2010 lent book ‘ Our sound is our wound’. She describes resurrection as ‘what there is on the other side of nothing. It is the life we had not thought of, and, despite our best efforts, will not be able to imagine’. Returning to butterflies, they brilliantly exemplify that reflection. To us, metamorphosis is something that happens to caterpillars. But to come to a caterpillar without knowing that, the emergence of a beautiful butterfly from the seemingly dead tomb of the caterpillar is simply something we could never imagine. The impossible has come out of nothing.

Stanley Spencer saw resurrection as something that could be found and experienced in the here and now, if we are prepared to look for it. He explores this thought in his painting ‘resurrection’. Unlike many Christian interpretations of resurrection and judgement day, there is no separation between this life and the next. The two are brought together. His own comments on this painting and his view of resurrection explain the significance of this.

“John Donne, describes the churchyard as being “the holy suburb of heaven”. When it comes to why and how I came to concentrate so much on the subject of the Resurrection, I think I can explain. My wish is to reveal the meaning of things. I am aware that there is a special meaning in what I experience that I love and wish to express clearly. I begin to search for the means of doing this and this search brings me to the contemplation of the Resurrection… A sort of reciprocity begins. This life being the key to the next tells me something of the next life and causes the resurrected life to tell me more of what the resurrection in this life is like. This intercourse brings out the meaning I see in this world. In the picture the resurrection has, so to speak, partially taken place through the already perfectness of some things…The contemplation of the Resurrection throws back into this life a light which picks on this life’s perfection and its special meanings that I so much love and seek” (From )

This understanding is very helpful for a journey of faith and is also very Biblical. The ‘intercourse’ between this life and the next that Spencer talks of can be seen through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. The life of Jesus pointed to the resurrected life and at times it broke through into this. Jesus’ baptism and the transfiguration are good examples of this. But there were so many ordinary examples where Jesus showed what the resurrected life means. He did this in the way he treated people. The death of Jesus showed that we all must go to the nothingness of death to experience what is beyond. The resurrected Jesus had a close relationship with his former life. He showed the scars of crucifixion.

We can use this in our life today, as we too can catch glimpses of resurrection, or as I have often called them, glimpses of heaven. We must be open to their often fleeting presence but rest in them when they happen. I had a wonderful example just the other day when I saw Josh’s Easter play. I had a very good central position as I was filming it for the school There were a number of particularly moving scenes and at each one of those I found myself aware of a glimpse of heaven. I looked round and could see Josh, Oli, Lisa, my Mum and Dad. Something about our togetherness in the presence of God in those moving moments brought tears to my eyes. I have been consciously alert to these glimpses for many years and I usually have one everyday, in laughter, in creation, with the family. As part of my daily prayers, I give thanks for each day and in my minds eye I go through the day and give particular thanks for those glimpses.

These glimpses don’t provide rational evidence for resurrection, they provide a realisation for our faith, that we are already on the path of eternity. How God raised Jesus from the dead isn’t the question that needs answering, it isn’t a scientific problem. How science understands death has changed radically. It used to be that heart failure and brain inactivity meant a person was dead. Resuscitation techniques have changed all that. What science understands about death and consciousness will continue to change, but it will never provide an answer for the resurrected Jesus. Most importantly rationally testing the resurrection of Jesus will never provide us with faith. The techniques we have now for technically resurrecting people would have been viewed as impossible 100 years ago. 100 years from now there may be techniques for bringing people back to life who have been clinically dead with severe injuries for say two days, died on the Friday, but came back on the Sunday. Science at some point may be able to recreate the resurrection of Jesus, but that would not give anyone faith in Christ. Science cannot answer the real question that needs answering.

In 1598, Galileo, quoting Cardinal Baronius said ‘the intention of the Holy Ghost is to teach us how one goes to heaven, not how heaven goes’. Biblical literalism at one extreme and atheism at the other concentrate on the question that does not need answering – the how. On Easter day we do not celebrate how God raised Jesus from the dead, we celebrate why – ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life’.

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