There’s a talking lamppost in north London I’m told. If you come near it, it flashes and shouts at you: ‘Stop! If you are engaging in an illegal activity your photograph will be taken and used to prosecute you. Please leave the area.’ Wrongdoers are said to flee the scene!
What usually happens doesn’t always happen. Life is full of surprises.
This spring we’ve seen extraordinary weather with winter coming and going and going and coming and coming again.
What usually happens doesn’t always happen.
The laws of science even allow for this. The resistance of a metal wire to the flow of electric current follows so-called Ohm’s Law that the voltage divided by the current is constant. At low temperatures Ohm’s Law breaks down and you get superconductivity.
I hope you get the drift of my argument. There is a philosophical point at issue which concerns the raising of the dead.
We couldn’t live our lives in one sense without a belief that what usually happens usually happens. Life’s predictability is an aid to getting on with life.
We couldn’t live our lives meaningfully without the belief that what usually happens is not what always happens.
Science can provide the footnote to the poem of life but Christianity is the poem itself – that’s how C.S.Lewis put it.
Christians live in the world with an other worldly vision that is opened up by Christ’s resurrection. This is God’s signature on the history of Jesus, his birth, life, suffering and death. It signifies that God has taken our nature in Jesus and taken it to himself.
Why do you look for the living among the dead? The angels said to the women. He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you…that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.
When I read Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code or Richard Dawkins The God Delusion I am struck by assaults upon Christianity that are so far from tackling the real issue of truth that’s at stake.
Are you and I destined for eternal splendour or not? Is the evidence for Christ’s resurrection trustworthy or is it not? Is Jesus the Son of God or is he not?
Roughly a third of the population of the earth bows to the uniqueness of Christ. They do so in heart and mind and sometimes more heart than mind. They trust their Church to be a good steward of the gospel as much as people like Dan Brown and Richard Dawkins distrust her stewardship. There is an urgent need for more thoughtful Christianity and a fresh awareness of the evidence for the Christian good news and the awesome historical events that make Christianity Christianity. It’s the historical evidence which secure the trustworthiness of the teaching of the Christian Church.
Look at the evidence. The accounts of the resurrection in the New Testament are strangely matter of fact, even reserved. The disciples fail again and again to recognise Jesus. This failure would hardly have been relayed to us if, as some critics of Christianity make out, the disciples made up the stories. Would the different geographical focuses – Matthew in Galilee, Luke in Jerusalem – have survived in a made up version? Would the role of women as witnesses, very controversial in those days, have been included in a constructed tale?
In Daniel Clark’s recently published Dead or Alive? Harvard Law Professor Simon Greenleaf has this to say about the varying testimonies to the resurrection of Jesus: There is enough of a discrepancy to show that there could have been no previous concert among them; and at the same time such substantial agreement as to show that they all were independent narrators of the same great transaction.
This transaction, as he calls it, is further evidenced in history by the Christian church changing its weekly holy day from the Jewish Sabbath to Sunday, that being the day of Christ’s rising. What a change that would have been for pious Jews!
Christ rose in fulfilment of the Old Testament and not out of the blue. The resurrection is not just evidenced in history it is the pledge of its fulfilment. The New Testament speaks of the risen Christ as the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End of the Cosmos. Teilhard De Chardin spoke of the Risen Christ as the Omega Point. By raising Jesus as the centre of human history God the Father has made him our goal, our Omega. That is, in Christian understanding, the whole creation is moving and tending towards Jesus Christ who will be the fulfilment not just of human destiny but of the earth and the whole cosmos.
What evidence is there for the resurrection of Jesus outside the New Testament? The Roman historian Tacitus wrote in 115AD of ‘an immense multitude’ following Jesus despite his ‘suffering the extreme penalty…under Pontius Pilate’. How can we explain the extraordinary growth of Jesus’ followers if that penalty (crucifixion) had really been the end of his story? Tacitus is no friend of Christianity so his account of the early church all the more impressive corroboration of the resurrection.
Think also of this, possibly the most compelling evidence through the ages. In the Acts of the Apostles we see a frightened bunch of men and women ending up confronting the authorities confidently with the news that Jesus that was and is alive. Some of them became martyrs. They even died for their belief that Jesus is Lord. Such encounters with Jesus have continued over 20 centuries and have sustained the faith of thousands of martyrs. Today we see martyrs like the infamous suicide bombers who die for what they believe to be true. Imagine dying for what you not only doubt to be true but know to be false?
How significant it is that Christianity is the only religion refusing to talk of its Founder as a past figure. Buddha and Mohammed have graves but Jesus – that is a different story, one that makes Christianity unique.
What usually happens usually happens – but not always! Think about something more surprising than a talking lamppost - a rainbow.
Modern mathematics has shown through the so‑called Chaos Theory that complicated systems like for example the weather on the earth are quite chaotic in their nature. The weather is the result of quite random events occurring in an infinity of places. Yet from this chaos can and do emerge very beautiful manifestations of order and pattern - like the rainbow.
So, argues the Christian mathematician, although the tendency of living forms is towards the greater chaos of death and dissolution the emergence at one point in time and space of the Risen Christ is in harmony with our understanding of the theory of chaos and human existence.
The emergence at one point of a Man brought back from the dead is in harmony with scientific truth, as much as the emergence of a beautiful rainbow on a stormy day!
To say dead men don’t rise so Jesus couldn’t have is to reject any possibilities beyond this world.
To accept Jesus rose is to accept such possibilities for him, for yourself and for all who look for his promised return.
The theologian Karl Rahner speaks of the revolutionary implications of Jesus’ resurrection using the image of a volcano: What we call Jesus' resurrection - and unthinkingly take to be his own private destiny - is only the first surface indication that all reality, behind what we usually call experience, has already changed in the really decisive depth of things. Jesus' resurrection is like the first eruption of a volcano which shows that God's fire already burns in the innermost depths of the earth, and that everything shall be brought to a holy glow in his light. He rose to show that this has already begun. The new creation had already started…
The resurrection of Jesus is good news because it opens up to us a perspective that gives both a purpose for living and a reason for dying. In the greatest of hardships we can sense eternal brightness ahead as surely as the Good Friday centurion could look at the carnage of the Cross and say God is at hand.
As Christians we live with pain and sorrow and things that seem utterly brutal and uncontrollable but we live with a God who brought Jesus from death and all that is out of nothing.
How can anyone live meaningfully without the belief that what usually happens is not what always happens because there are always the possibilities of God which exceed our asking or imagining and which will be revealed after our death?
The accounts of the Resurrection end with the risen Christ directing the disciples 'Go, tell all'.
This is why Mother Teresa could speak of Jesus Christ as the Truth ‑ to be told, the Life ‑ to be lived, the Light to be lighted, the Love ‑ to be loved, the Way ‑ to be walked, the Joy ‑ to be given.