Tuesday, June 22, 2021
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Let the rhythms of the Bible shape your life

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THERE is no reason to seek proof of Our Lord’s resurrection. The proof is the existence of the church, growing for 2,000 years, so that today there are more Christians than ever in its history. People talk about the decline of the church. It’s rubbish. Nearly everywhere you look, the church is growing: Africa – 350million new Christians in sub-Saharan Africa in the last ten years. Latin America. South America. China. India. 

Northern Europe’s suicidal infatuation with secularisation is not typical. And even in Northern Europe, in England, at least in those places where the full faith is taught – not some watered-down apology for the faith by foolish modernisers – the church is growing. 

But, concerning evidence for Our Lord’s resurrection, there is one fascinating insight by the sometime Bishop of Durham, Tom Wright, which I’d like to pass on to you. He points out that all four Gospels say that the first witnesses to the resurrection were women. In the ancient Middle East, the witness of women was not held very highly. In St Paul’s Epistles, written years before the Gospels, the witness of the women is not mentioned – a cynic would say airbrushed out. So why did Matthew, Mark, Luke and John put the witness of the women back in again, unless their witness is true?

Even this is too forensic, too evidence-based. As Samuel Coleridge said, I am weary of evidences. Only make us feel the reality of our religion. And by ‘feel’, Sam didn’t mean sentimentality and touchy-feeliness. He meant the very tangible details of our faith: the cross of wood, the resurrection of the body and the bread and wine of his presence in the Eucharist. The resurrection of Our Lord is not a matter of forensic science. The way to approach it – the way to approach all Christian teaching – is with an informed and devoted imagination. The Gospels are not a circular from the council tax office or the tedium incarnate of this year’s census. The Gospels are a whole world. Like what? Well, like a symphony by, let us say, Beethoven. Unless, like the presenters on Classic FM, you have the sort of crackpot consciousness that uses music as Valium – ‘soothe away the stresses of the day’ – when you listen to your recording of the Eroica (for example this one conducted by Daniel Barenboim) you sit down and you sit still. You relax with your ears open and your mind attending.

If we do this right, we shall lose sight of the furnishings where we’re sitting, the window frame, whether the door is open or shut. We enter the world of the Eroicasymphony and something happens to our whole being. We are filled with the music. We have entered a particular musical world. And the musical world has entered you. It is the Eroica that is coursing through our veins.

So, with the resurrection: don’t approach it academically, clinically, forensically, theoretically. Instead, open the Gospels and read the stories. Use your imagination. Let the stories penetrate your mind and heart. It’s like eating a good meal. Indeed, the bread and wine from heaven.

The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre.

Miraculous! You can hear her footsteps in the rhythm of those words. If I were back in the classroom teaching young children, I would get them to clap the rhythm out and then say the words. Then, all of them, say the words again. Then clapping again. Inside five minutes of this, the whole class would be at the empty tomb with Mary Magdalene. And I’ll tell you what: when we met for our next lesson, the children would say, Can we do it again, Sir – that clapping thing? It was great! Because they had entered the world. They were enchanted. Better still, they were transfigured. It’s a kind of indoctrination. Good – putting doctrines in is a good thing. It’s a sort of brainwashing. Yes – brains should be kept clean.

Behold, two of his disciples went that same day to a village called Emmaus . . . Abide with us, for it is towards evening and the day is far spent . . . and their eyes were opened and they knew him. 

All in the April evening and the lambs and the spring flowers. It’s set in your imagination in England. And say it’s the evening on Easter Sunday, after the service. The church candles extinguished. The aromatic blend of ritual and red wine. The church quiet and the ending of another Easter Day. Abide with us. And it becomes England in your heart and mind because you’re reading from the English Bible. And, if you let them, the rhythms of the English Bible will shape your life like the English landscape. This is not a theory. Not an argument. Not a balance-sheet. This is a field, a mountain, a river, a chunk of English Gospel. Get your hands full of the Gospel story. Feel it.

But then there are the people with the council tax minds, brains fit only to fill in the census. They will be doubtful of the resurrection. Oh well, there’s a story for them too:

Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.

Do that as well, with Doubting Thomas. Do it with all your imagination and concentration – like listening to the Beethoven – and see where that takes you. You are there in the upper room, face to face with Jesus. He is asking you to trust him – as Mary Magdalene trusted him:

Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? Whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away. 

Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master.

And to all of us this: Why weepest thou? Whom seekest thou? Would you like to see Jesus this Easter? 

Well, here he is beside us, Our Risen and Ascended Lord and Best Friend.

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Peter Mullen
Peter Mullen is a Church of England clergyman, writer and broadcaster

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