DON CUPITT

 

Is it possible for people, and even for a whole society, to lose faith in God? ... [If] it happens, [it is] not primarily because something they used to think existed does not after all exist, but because the available language about God has been allowed to become too narrow, stale and spiritually obsolete ... the work of creative religious personalities is continually to enrich, to enlarge and sometimes to purge the available stock of religious symbols and idioms ... (The Sea of Faith, 1984)


DENNIS NINEHAM

 

... people of different periods and cultures differ very widely; in some cases so widely that accounts of the nature and relations of God, men and the world put forward in one culture may be unacceptable, as they stand, in a different culture ... a situation of this sort has arisen ... at about the end of the eighteenth century a cultural revolution of such proportions broke out that it separates our age sharply from all ages that went before (The Use and Abuse of the Bible, 1976)


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Sermons from the margins


The Getting Up

At the centre of the Christian creeds stand the words: "The third day he rose again". "And if Christ be not raised", says Paul, "your faith is vain" (1 Corinthians 15.17).

The resurrection is not an optional extra for Christians. It is the heart and soul of the faith. The Bible gives three main reasons for its importance.

First, the resurrection is God�s vindication of Jesus and his teaching. The claims of the pre-Easter Jesus are not self-authenticating, and neither is the saving significance of his death. They are mere assertions until vindicated by the resurrection.

You can think of it like this. When Jesus said to the paralysed man, "Your sins are forgiven" (Mark 2.5), the claim was proved when the man got up and walked. When Jesus said his death would bring forgiveness of sins to the whole world (Mark 10.45; John 1.29; 3.16-17), the claim was proved when Jesus himself got up and walked. Paul uses exactly the same word to speak of Jesus being raised as Jesus had used when he told the paralysed man to get up.

The second significance of the resurrection in the New Testament is that it marks a radically new quality of life. After his death, Jesus does not simply resume normal life. Despite the analogy I have just drawn with the paralysed man - and unlike the situation with Lazarus and Jairus� daughter - Jesus� resurrection is not a continuation of an essentially similar existence. It is something radically new. He appears and disappears at will (Luke 24.31; John 20.19). The old order gives way to "a new creation" (Galatians 6.15; Revelation 21.5).

Third, and leading on from the last point, the resurrection of Jesus is central to the New Testament because it is not an isolated incident but the first fruits of a great harvest which includes us. As so often, the classic quotation comes from Paul: "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive" (1 Corinthians 15.22). But almost as familiar are words on a similar theme from the First Letter of Peter: "Blessed be the God and Father � who by his great mercy has given us a new birth into a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus" (1.3).

These great biblical affirmations - that the resurrection (1) vindicates Jesus� claims; (2) implies a radically new quality of life; and (3) marks the beginning of a new order that includes all of us - are far more important than speculations about what precisely happened on the first Easter morning.

Indeed, if these things are true, then the resurrection is not strictly speaking an historical event at all, because it has broken through the barriers of time and space.

So asking historical questions about the resurrection body is rightly condemned by Paul as the work of a fool (1 Corinthians 15.35-54). As we have seen, the word "resurrection" simply means "getting up" and is the natural partner to the phrase "going to sleep", which is used in the New Testament to mean "dying" (e.g. John 11.11-14).

So to say that "the third day he rose again" neither requires nor precludes any particular belief about the history of the physical body of Jesus after it was laid in the tomb. But there are two quite proper historical questions to ask in relation to the events following Good Friday and Easter.

The first question is: How did the Christian Church come into being?

The second is: How did Jesus "the proclaimer" of God�s Kingdom turn into Jesus Christ "the one proclaimed" as Son of God and saviour of the world?

To those two questions the Church replies: it is the resurrection of Jesus that explains both these facts. Anyone who denies this explanation needs to come up with a better one, for the facts cannot be denied.

The Church has come into existence and it does proclaim Jesus as Son of God and the Risen Lord.

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