Rector's Letter for April
DEAR SISTERS AND BROTHERS,
There is a probably apocryphal story of a debate between a Marxist and a Russian priest in the early days of the rise of communism in Russia. It goes like this. The Communist stood and steadily, exhaustively and comprehensively explained the deep truths about the new economic system, about how people would discover a new dignity as part of the collective reality, about the benefits of a revolutionary approach to politics. And he sat down to silence. The priest stands and says “Christ is risen”. At which point, the crowd stands up and enthusiastically and joyfully reply “He is risen indeed”. The story is much loved by preachers. One nil to God
It is a problematic story. It suggests that Christianity is about emotion, not intellect, feelings not facts. It suggests that Christians like playing “Top Trumps” rather than entering into real debate with the world. It suggests that real life is located in the realm of religion not in the nitty gritty of the shopping basket, the rent, the cultural shifts that take independence and freedom from sections of society. It puts faith in a box and cuts it off from life. It makes Resurrection sound irrelevant, esoteric and of no earthly value. Little wonder, when preachers use this story, the short fix of “feel good” that the congregation feel wears off and we are left with a slightly uncomfortable sense that we are not sure what it is that we believe nor why anyone else should bother.
So, in this month that starts off with Easter Day, what can and should Christians say about Resurrection? What do we believe?
If we are to live in a post-fact world, the primary fact is that the tomb was empty. The four gospel writers tell this in four different ways, the sort of slightly mixed up and essentially same story that is more convincing than four witnesses rehearsing the same story word for word. Other stories around the empty tomb, of encounters between Jesus and various disciples and non-disciples, all these strongly suggest that the primary Christian shout, that Christ is risen (the Russian priest was not wrong you see), convinced many and drove them on to put themselves in great danger in telling this story to others. What can we say? We can say that the tomb was empty and that Christ is alive.
And... we can say something else. If God raised Jesus (Acts 2 ff), then the things we say about God and creation at Christmas, that God took flesh because creation mattered to God, we can repeat at Easter, that God does not see creation only as something for the here and now. What can we say? We can say that God’s love is eternal; to God, nothing is finite. Death has no victory.
And... we can say something else. If God raised Jesus, then the primary mindset to hold onto is one of hope, renewal and confidence. There are no limits. Despair, fear, anxiety and failure, although all part of the human condition, all present and correct in the disciples who populate the post-Easter stories, do not have the final say. This is not false optimism. It is based on fact, starting with the empty tomb.
I know all this in my head. Which is all well and good but how far does thought alone take us? Where the Russian priest was onto something, and strangely where perhaps the current way of living in the world meshes with him, is here; that we are motivated not by facts alone but by our emotions too. We allocate time aside for spirituality and devotion in Lent. How about beefing up our prayer life during Easter too? How about seeking the Risen Lord in our daily lives? Towards the end of the season, in May, we will encourage you to pray and work towards sharing the Good News of Jesus. Use this time to draw close to him moment by moment.
With love and prayers,