Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Jesus rose . . . ripping a hole in history!

I am sneaking in a few more bits on the Resurrection of our Lord before Ascension Day tomorrow. (My apologies to regular readers for the inactivity of the blog during the past week; I've been busy packing in readiness to move house - always a terrible task!)

The historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus is very strong. John Austin Baker, Bishop of Salisbury, has a first class mind. Recently he wrote about the resurrection of Jesus from the dead in the following way:-

"But it is still very important, in a sceptical and often hostile culture, that the Easter story should stand up to attack - no easy matter at a distance of almost 2,000 years."

He went on:- "But stand up it does."

I have studied the evidence over many years, and I am convinced he is right. There is strong evidence - from history and from personal experience. Part of the evidence is the very existence of the Christian movement. It is very difficult to account for the fact that this great movement was founded by a man who lived such a short and obscure life. He never travelled far from home (except as a child), and he died in disgrace. At his death his followers were reduced to a handful, and they were demoralised and shattered.

Yet the movement re-emerged with great vigour. It is extremely difficult to find a suitable explanation for the fact that the largest movement ever was launched in such unlikely circumstances. In my view, the only adequate explanation is that given by his surprised disciples:- "It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared..." (Luke 24:34). This also explains another startling fact: The first Christians, all of whom were Jewish monotheists, called Jesus, "Lord" (God). This extraordinary, and highly significant fact will be discussed further in the programme.

This, then, is the heart of the Christian claim, and it is unique among world religions. Because God raised him from the dead, Jesus continues to be alive and active in our world . Not by his writings: not only in the memories of his followers: but through the Sacraments (the outward signs of his love celebrated by the Church) and by his Holy Spirit - living in his disciples.

In Surprised by Joy, C.S.Lewis, famous for "The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe", among many other books, looks back at his days as a young atheist in Cambridge. He records a conversation with another, older, University teacher, a man who shared his atheistic creed. Quite out of the blue, the older man commented on the "surprisingly good" evidence for the historicity of the gospels. He went on: "Rum thing. All that stuff of Frazer's about the Dying God. Rum thing. It almost looks as if it had really happened once."

He never returned to the subject, but Lewis's atheism was shaken - for the main point about a Dying God is that he RISES FROM DEATH. And the difference between Jesus and the Dying God myths is that Jesus was a REAL HISTORICAL person. If the evidence could begin to convince even this man, it must be very strong.

Professor Pinchas Lapide is an orthodox Jew. Recently, he wrote, The Resurrection of Jesus, in which he says, "I accept the resurrection of Jesus not as an invention of the disciples, but as an historical event." This conclusion, by a man with no Christian axe to grind, has to make you think.

Many followers of other religions are just as anxious to point out the differences between Jesus and the great founders of other world Faiths, as Christians are. For example, the English Buddhist, Maurice Walsh, pointed out the Buddhist view of Buddha is very different from the Christian view of Christ. He stressed that the Buddha is thought of as a Teacher, not as a Saviour.

The same approach applies within Islam. Dr. E.G. Parrinder made the point, Muslims "do not like the title Muhammadan", because "they do not worship Muhammad but they believe that he was the last and greatest Apostle of God". How different is Christianity! Christians glory that their name identifies them closely with Christ, whom they reverence as Teacher, Saviour and God.

After surveying the evidence for Jesus' resurrection, Professor C.F.D. Moule of Cambridge posed this question: "If the coming into existence of the Nazarenes (i.e. the Christian Church) ... rips a great hole in history, a hole of the size and shape of resurrection, what does the secular historian propose to stop it up with ?"

Some of the greatest minds of our day have become convinced, on the basis of historical evidence alone, that the resurrection of Jesus actually happened; that he is alive today as the King of Glory, the conqueror of sin and death, the God who loves us.

The only proper response to this conviction is the total commitment of our lives to Jesus, in worship and service

- Fr. John Young (from a talk given on the BBC in 1989)

Easter reminds us that the Good News is Jesus and the Resurrection. We are not concerned with some vague belief in the immortality of the soul, but with the startling fact of the Resurrection of the body, that is, the whole person. We believe in a new creation of which the Risen Christ is the first instalment. Our God is the one who gives us a share and a promise of this new creation through sacramental signs which use matter - water, bread and wine and the touch of a human hand.

There is no room in our Easter faith for a false spirituality which despises the material world. We who worship the Word made Flesh, the Son of Mary, must be concerned for the whole of life and human society in its God-given environment.

- Fr. Roy Fellows, Administrator of the Shrine of Our Lady, Walsingham, U.K., from 1987 to 1993

Enthroned at your Father's right hand,
yet truly present in this Sacrament,
I pray you, risen Lord,
whose power sustains all things,
whose beauty makes all things fair,
and whose triumph
seals all things with the hope of renewal,
come to me
in my receiving of your Body and Blood,
and in your coming
raise me up
to seek the things which are above -
and above all,
your love
which is above all understanding.

- Fr Brian Moore

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Prayer to the Risen Christ

Adrienne von Speyr (1902-1967) was a Swiss medical doctor and mystic. Over the years in times of contemplative, mystical prayer, she dictated to the theologian and priest Hans Urs von Balthasar a total of 69 books. These included commentaries on the Bible, various theological topics, and prayers such as the one below. With Balthasar, she co-founded a secular institute, Johannesgemeinschaft ("Community of St. John").

This prayer is taken from
First glance at Adrienne von Speyr by Hans Urs von Balthasar Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1981, pages 203-204.
(I have set it out in shorter paragraphs.)

Lord, we thank you for the feast of Easter.

We thank you for having returned to us after your death and descent to hell, after you had endured all forsakenness, for having remembered our small forsakenness and for having overcome it by the fullness of your presence.

Although you suffered death, for which we are guilty because of the weight of our sins, you return to us as our brother with the gift of your redemption.

You do not make us suffer for bringing you to the Cross; rather, you let us share in your joy. You celebrate a reunion with us as if we had never been unfaithful, as if we had been waiting for you continually with faith and confidence, as if we were capable of adding something ourselves to your joy. We are those redeemed by you and yet you remain our brother.

Lord. help us to be thankful. Let the gratitude which we owe you and your Mother always accompany us from now on; let it become fruitful and perceptible everywhere in our service. Let us be people redeemed who really fill their whole life with your redemption, who accompany you everywhere, who seek to do your will, as you do the will of the Father.

Let us not only enjoy the fruit of' your suffering and redemption, but rather help us - beginning today - in our attempt to know you as our brother, our true redeemer forevermore in our midst. Help us never to forget that you are there, that you have answered our unfaithfulness with faithfulness, our disbelief with ever greater grace.

Let every day, whether hard or easy, become one which includes the explicit, or at least the hidden, joy of knowing that you have redeemed us and, in returning to the Father, you take us along. We ask you for your Easter blessing in which the blessing of the Father and the Spirit are contained. Amen.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

From today's Gospel Reading:

Gonville ffrench-Beytagh (1912-1991) became Dean of Johannesburg in 1964. In the course of his ministry he challenged apartheid, and spent time in prison. On his release he went to England, becoming best-known for his remarkable work of spiritual direction, which he carried out from St Vedast's Church near St Paul's Cathedral, London. He published numerous books. The following passage is from Encountering Light, William Collins & Sons & Co Ltd, Glasgow, 1975, pages 66-67:

Jesus told us that the distinguishing mark of his disciples is their love for each other, and this is not the ordinary 'loving our neighbours as ourselves' which is required of all men, but 'the fellowship of the Holy Spirit', Koinonia, a belonging together at the depth of ourselves. So we have to be a communion of saints, bound together, belonging together, needing, trusting, accepting each other.

I do not believe that any of us, whether minister, priest or layman, can find God without also finding a 'company of the beloved' with whom he can in some way share his search. 'Where two or three are gathered together in my name,' said Jesus, 'there am I in the midst.'

This is another paradox. I have already emphasized the utter necessity for every Christian to make time to be alone with God, and I have expressed my own belief in the sacrifice of the Mass as the focal point of Christian life. But it is too easy to get bogged down in generalities and pious resolutions. We have to make actual the trust and forgiveness and love which we learn and express in private prayer and public worship by actually practicing these things with our 'even Christians', as Julian of Norwich calls them.

This is the real test of love - to let others experience you as you really are, and trust that they will accept you as God accepts you, and then in turn to seek truly to accept them as they are, dull, ugly, boring, stupid, and selfish though they may be, and, indeed, as you may be. The work of Jesus is to make men whole, and the work of the Holy Spirit is to make men into a whole, to bring us closer and closer together until we find our unity with each other in him. These two kinds of healing go together, and it just is not possible to be whole and isolated at the same time. Even the Greeks were aware of this, thousands of years ago. Their word for a private person, someone who is cut off from the rest, was 'idios', from which we get the word 'idiot' - someone who is so mentally handicapped that he lives in a world of his own.

This is how C.S. Lewis puts the same truth in Four Loves, William Collins & Sons & Co Ltd, Glasgow, 1960, page 169:

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket - safe, dark, motionless, airless - it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable . . . The only place outside heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers of love is hell!