Vicar's Thoughts

The Resurrection

15 April 2018

The resurrection - unbelievable? True? Let’s look at a few books, briefly.

First: The New Testament Documents: Are they Reliable? By FF Bruce. In this book we learn that there are literally thousands of virtually contemporary manuscripts of the Gospels and the other New Testament documents extant; many of them dating way back to almost the moment that the original was composed. The Gospel according to Mark going back to about 30 years after the Passion, while St Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians dating back to just 18 years after it. Bruce compares this fact with other great works of classical antiquity written around the same time – and taken as authentic and reliable by scholars. For example Caesar’s Gallic Wars, of which only around ten are considered to be ‘good’ and the oldest example dates back only to around 900 years after it was originally composed. Then there’s Livy’s Roman History; 35 examples - only one of which goes back as far as the fourth century.

Then, there’s Dunn’s A New Perspective on Jesus. This explores thoroughly the oral culture of first century Palestine and makes it clear that it was so robust – more robust than the written word, where reliability is concerned – that it could perfectly well have borne Jesus’ actions and sayings – many of them absolutely verbatim – well across the 30 years until Mark set them down in writing. After all, someone who was twenty at the time of the resurrection, would only have been fifty by the time Mark put stylus to parchment. Can you remember significant events from thirty years ago? Perhaps not every detail. But the key facts. The truth of what actually happened.

An older book, now, and parts of it overtaken by contemporary biblical scholarship but nonetheless eye-opening: Morison’s Who Moved the Stone? This painstakingly reconstructs the events of Holy Week and the Passion… placing these disciples here, those disciples there… and these women there… It also analyses the Jewish and Roman legal processes and finds them authentically reflected in the Gospel record of the trial of Jesus. And, with Bruce, Morison comes to the conclusion that the events recorded in the Gospels are authentic and reliable. One of Morison’s most telling points is that no contemporary document – not a single one from any source – Christian, Roman, Jewish, Greek at any point disputes the fact that the tomb was empty. Morison goes on to explore the options as to what happened to the body – was it stolen, removed by anyone? Roman, Jewish, the Disciples?  No.

Meanwhile, any major suggestion that Jesus didn’t actually die on the cross, only comes with the Gnostic writings some 100, 150 years later. For a whole lot of different – essentially non-Christian - reasons.

Trocme’s The Passion of Liturgy also looks in detail at the evidence. He argues convincingly that following the events on that First Easter, people in Jerusalem, stupefied and amazed, would have started to visit the key locations of the Passion.

They would reconstruct the events amongst themselves; clarifying a point here – restating a fact there. The Upper Room, Gethsemane, Golgotha, the Tomb. Possibly even that same evening, or the next day. The Passion Narrative was put together and then repeated and repeated perhaps on a daily, weekly monthly basis. Re-lived. Preserved. Preserved in a robust oral culture. Preserved until the Gospel writers came along. And then preserved for us in near enough the same form as we now have it in our present-day Passion Narratives; and in the Eucharist we celebrate with the very words Jesus used all those years ago.

But there’s just one more book I need to mention here… You see, we can examine, analyse and perhaps ultimately intellectually assent to the astonishing truth of that First Easter, and these books are a fantastic aid. But CS Lewis points out that this book ‘gives us one short prayer which is suitable for all who are struggling with the beliefs and doctrines. It is: Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief.’ For ‘…it is Christ himself, not the Bible, who is the true word of God. The book, of course, is the Holy Bible. All those wonderful, scholarly, patient and painstaking authors can give us great insight, confidence and hope. But we need, actually, only to turn to this book - with the intention of finding the Risen Christ within its pages - and Christ’s Spirit will bring us to that point. The point at which we can say with absolute faith and thanksgiving: Christ is Risen. He is Risen indeed. Alleluia.

Easter 2018

25 March 2018

Jesus on the cross asks his Father to forgive us. Forgive what? Our inability, as humankind, to understand that the things we choose to do might hurt others. And hurt ourselves. Our inability to understand that, when others are hurt, we are damaged ourselves. Archbishop Desmond Tutu calls it Ubuntu. What diminishes you diminishes me. Humankind is unable to understand that to a greater or lesser extent... we are all victims. Victims of the world we inhabit; the society and communities and peer groups to which we belong.


The Wedding at Cana

21 January 2018

Most people will have heard of the Wedding at Cana, even if they aren't religious. It's the event recorded in the Gospels of when Jesus turns water into wine.

As it happens, the Wedding at Cana has traditionally been read aloud in churches at this time of year, in the Epiphany season, since the early days of the Christian Church. It was the Medieval Church that changed the emphasis to focus almost exclusively on the Magi/Wise Men/Kings. They being important to the history of the world as the first non-Hebrew people to be shown (i.e. the rest of humankind), and to understand, the truth of God's coming to dwell among us.


Christmas Message 2017

December 2017

One thing perhaps we miss in the busyness of Christmas is something that happened in Bethlehem all those years ago: two people in need; weary, anxious, alone among strangers found a safe place. It wasn't much. Just a stable. But it was a roof, a shelter from the elements, and a place of welcome and rest.


Comedy and Christianity

8 October 2017

(Written by Revd Martin Booth, this article first appeared in the Rochester Link Newspaper, October 2017, and is their copyright.)


Prayer 2017

1 June 2017

We are currently in the Novena, those nine days of prayer to which the Archbishops have called us to from Ascension to Pentecost. And, we are engaged at St Mary’s on a number of initiatives related to this.

Prayer is very much a time where we talk to God and say sorry... seek to change... Ask for things... worry about things... tell God we’re frightened... lonely…


Mary Magdalen - Easter 2017

2 April 2017

Mary Magdalene has a crucial role as witness to us about the Easter Miracle. She has been called 'The Apostle to the Apostles'. For it was she who first encountered the empty tomb. It was she who ran to find Peter and John to tell them. It was she who had the first encounter with the risen Christ. It is she we can use as a model for our own journey of faith and our own encounter with the living Christ.


A Lenten Reflection

18 March 2017

Jesus is standing, even now, as he did before Pilate and Herod,
silent before the secular rulers of the world.
Jesus stands, silent, before the self-righteous religious people.
Those religious people who are so wrapped up in their own ways
and their own version of the Truth.


Come and See

16 January 2017

‘Come and See.’ Such a simple phrase, and yet one of the most profound in all of scripture. This is God – the creator, the one in whom we all live move and have our being, extending to us a great and gracious invitation. Come and see…


Christmas Message 2016 - Change

23 November 2016

It sneaks up on us doesn’t it? Not the regular changes we’ve become used to. Like the seasons. Like the change from countryside to city when we journey in the car or the train. Like the change of cultures or even languages when we travel. Like the change from our daily routines into periods of celebration - as with birthdays or anniversaries… or Christmas. Those kinds of changes don’t tend to bring with them any sense of unease.