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Open the gospels and let the resurrection penetrate your mind and heart


Death – thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy, or charms can make us sleep as well,
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die. – 
John Donne

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 whole history. People talk about the decline of the church. It’s rubbish. Everywhere you look, the church is growing: 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.

But, concerning evidence for Our Lord’s resurrection, there is one fascinating insight by Bishop Tom Wright. He points out that all four Gospels say that the first witnesses to the resurrection were women. Now in the ancient Middle East the witness of women was despised. 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 all four gospel-writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John put the witness of the women back in again, unless their witness is true?

As Samuel Coleridge said, I am weary of evidences. 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. The Gospels are a whole world. Like what? Well, like a symphony by Beethoven. Unless you have the sort of crackpot consciousness that uses great music as wallpaper, when you listen to your recording of Beethoven – say the Eroica – you sit down and you sit still; you might even pour yourself a drink: you relax with your ears open and your mind attending.

If you do this right, you soon lose sight of the furnishings where you’re sitting, the window frame, whether the door is open or shut. You enter the world of the Eroica and something happens to your whole being. You are filled with the music. You have entered a particular musical world. And this musical world has entered you. 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.

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

You can hear her footsteps in the rhythm of those words. If I were back in Bolton teaching children in that secondary comprehensive school, 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 were great! Because they had entered the world. They were enchanted. Better still, they were transfigured. It’s a kind of indoctrination. Good – putting true 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. 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. It becomes England in your heart and mind because you’re reading from the English Bible. If you let them, the rhythms of the English Bible will shape your lives 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, or brains fit only to fill in the diocesan returns. 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 Beethoven – and see where that takes you. You are there in the upper room, face to face with Jesus. He is asking if you trust him.

You notice I am asking you to read the English Bible, the King James Version. A good reason England is one of the few secularised, de-Christianised countries on earth is because the bishops and the clergy have all but banned the reading of the English Bible. When I was Rector of St Michael’s, Cornhill, St Paul’s Cathedral gave our church a beautiful lectern copy of the King James BibleThe Canon told me they never used it at the cathedral – only, he said, when the Royal Family come, awkward people like that.

At St Paul’s, they use the other stuff. They say that people don’t understand 16th century English. Well, we didn’t know the seven times table once or how to read the cat sat on the mat. There is no such thing as profound truth in shoddy language. People have to be taught. And, once you have been taught, you’re glad you were. No one would think of performing Shakespeare in the new doggerel language. Oh, go on then – someone will write to tell me they know a place where they have, and how much everyone enjoyed it! Good for them: but it wasn’t Shakespeare they were enjoying. 

A few years ago, the Sunday Telegraph gave away to all its readers a copy of the Passion of Our Lord according to St Mark. A lovely thing to do – except they gave copies of the New International Version – what I call The Bad News Bible. I got as far as page two where it says the disciples ‘were reclining at table’ as they ate the Last Supper. But it was the institution of the Eucharist, not a dissolute party at Nero’s palace! This is how the real Bible goes: 

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 you at Easter: Why weepest thou? Whom seekest thou? Would you like to find Jesus on this Easter Day? You can and you shall. Here he is in the gospels. He is risen!

Tolle lege, as God said to St Augustine: Take the book in your hands and read it.

Happy Easter!

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

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