Lazarus

After the wake and speeches, when the guests in black
Had with the charm of ordinariness
Dispelled the gross terror of a fellow dead
(Eyelid grown waxen, the body like a sack
Bundled into the tomb) and the women with their mindless
Ritual of grief had murmured abroad all that could be said –

Then, as the world resumed its customary
Mask of civil day, he came, too late to mend
The broken vase (a cracked one could have been mended)
God’s image blackened by causality.
And the woman said, “Since he was called your friend,
Why did you not come then? Now it is ended.”

And when, the army blanket of grey earth
Put off, Lazarus from the cave mouth stumbled
(Hand, foot and mouth yet bound in mummy cloth)
To the sun’s arrow, furnace of rebirth –
What could they do but weep? infirm and humbled
By Love not their love, more to be feared than wrath.

– James K. Baxter, who died on this day, 45 years ago.

You can read more about Baxter here, and more of his poetry here.

Testing the resurrection in our bones

Daniel Berrigan‘In 1980 and frequently since, groups of us have labored to break the clutch on our souls of wars and rumors of wars, of “inevitable” wars, of “just” wars, of “necessary” wars, of “victorious” wars. For us, repeated arrests, and the discipline of nonviolence in a religious tradition, have been summed up in the ethic of the resurrection surpassing all ideologies and justifications. Simply put, and daring to speak for others, some of whom are in jail tonight [including his brother, Phillip], we have longed to taste the resurrection. We have longed to welcome its thunders and quakes, and to echo its great gifts. We want to test the resurrection in our bones. We want to see if we might live in hope instead of in the … twilight thicket of cultural despair in which standing implies many are lost. May I add that in all this, we have not been disappointed’.

– Daniel Berrigan, SJ, ‘To Dwell in Peace: Unitarian Universalist Peace Fellowship Lecture’, Given at the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalists Association of Congregations, 1999.

‘They Have Threatened Us With Resurrection’

There is something here within us
Which doesn’t let us sleep,
Which doesn’t let us rest,
Which doesn’t stop pounding
Deep inside,
It is the silent, warm weeping
of Indian women without their husbands,
it is the sad gaze of the children
fixed there beyond memory,
in the very pupil of our eyes
which during sleep,
though closed, keep watch
with each contraction
of the heart,
in every wakening

Now six of them have left us,
And nine in Rabinal,
And two, plus two, plus two,
And ten, a hundred, a thousand.
a whole army
witnesses to our pain,
our fear,
our courage,
our hope!

What keeps us from sleeping
is that they have threatened us with Resurrection!
Because every evening
though weary of killings,
an endless inventory since 1954,
yet we go on loving life
and do not accept their death!

They have threatened us with Resurrection
Because we have felt their inert bodies,
and their souls penetrated ours
doubly fortified,
because in this marathon of Hope,
there are always others to relieve us
who carry the strength
to reach the finish line
which lies beyond death.

They have threatened us with Resurrection
because they will not be able to take away from us
their bodies,
their souls,
their strength,
their spirit,
nor even their death
and least of all their life.
Because they live
today, tomorrow, and always
in the streets baptized with their blood,
in the air that absorbed their cry,
in the jungle that hid their shadows,
in the river that gathered up their laughter,
in the ocean that holds their secrets,
in the craters of the volcanoes,
Pyramids of the New Day,
which swallowed up their ashes.

They have threatened us with Resurrection
because they are more alive than ever before,
because they transform our agonies
and fertilize our struggle,
because they pick us up when we fall,
because they loom like giants
before the crazed gorillas’ fear.

They have threatened us with Resurrection,
because they do not know life (poor things!).

That is the whirlwind
which does not let us sleep,
the reason why sleeping, we keep watch,
and awake, we dream.

No, it’s not the street noises,
nor the shouts from the drunks in the “St. Pauli,”
nor the noise from the fans at the ball park.

It is the internal cyclone of kaleidoscopic struggle
which will heal that wound of the quetzal
fallen in Ixcán,
it is the earthquake soon to come
that will shake the world
and put everything in its place.

No, brother,
it is not the noise in the streets
which does not let us sleep.

Join us in this vigil
and you will know what it is to dream!
Then you will know how marvelous it is
to live threatened with Resurrection!

To dream awake,
to keep watch asleep,
to live while dying,
and to know ourselves already
resurrected!

– Julia Esquivel, ‘They Have Threatened Us With Resurrection’ in Threatened with Resurrection: Prayers and Poems from an Exiled Guatemalan (Elgin: The Brethren Press, 1982), 59–61.

The Risen Truth

‘The resurrection of Jesus, then, is not simply the raising and the restoration to the world of his past identity (though that is a vital component in the situation … ). Equally importantly, it is the ‘raising’ of the past identity of those who have been with him. The risen truth shows us the self-deceptions which have drawn us into the vortex of destructiveness. “Look”, says the risen Christ, “and see that, whatever your hopes and your longings, you were still trapped in fantasy, in blindness to yourselves and to the reality confronting you. Look how you trapped me and handed me over to death. Learn the depth of your resistance to the truth.” And yet the whole of that past that is shared with Jesus is now to be transformed: as we learn the truth of its tragic character, we learn also that the tragedy is interwoven with hope. The truth incarnate, present in the human world, is instantly, inevitably, entangled with the luxuriant tendrils of human fantasy and self-deceit. Throughout the ministry of Jesus, we are reminded of the longing of disciples and “multitude” alike for a saviour congruent with their projections and aspirations. There is no breaking-free from this web, because entanglement in it is inseparable from human being – the conditions of imperfect knowledge and imperfect communication, combined with the urge to structure and subdue the world and tame its contingency. And thus truth in this world is a stranger, essentially and profoundly vulnerable (so the Fourth Gospel reiterates again and again): its connection with or participation in the world involves rejection, crucifixion outside the city gates. Yet it has entered the world, it has allowed itself to be linked with the sphere of destructive untruth; and even if rejected, it cannot be annihilated. If Calvary shows the links between truth and untruth pulling the former down towards extinction, Easter shows us those same links, the same interconnectedness of the human world, reversed, so that truth draws untruth up towards the light. Our connection with truth, with Jesus, has led to the cross; his connection with us remains, indestructibly, to assure us that our betrayal is not the ultimate fact in the world. We may betray, but the world characterized by betrayal is now interwoven with a reality incapable of betrayal. God’s faithfulness has worn a human face, through Calvary and beyond. The incarnate truth, “risen from the dead”, establishes that faithfulness as the ground of inexhaustible hope in the world, even in the midst of our self-deceits’.

– Rowan Williams, Resurrection: Interpreting the Easter Gospel (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1982), 41–2.

William Stringfellow, Instead of Death – Part I

In 1962, Stringfellow was approached by the Christian Education Department of the Executive Council to pen a book for adolescents that would be included in its high school curriculum. Instead of Death, a book with ‘an astonishing career’ (p. 3), represents Stringfellow’s generous response to that request, a book concerned not with death as such but rather upon the historic transcendence of death, i.e. with resurrection from death. Concerning this book, Stringfellow writes:

Instead of Death seeks to cope pastorally with a few issues which confront young people, as well as other persons, in self-conscious individual circumstances. But the theological connection of any of these matters to the ubiquity of the power of death and the redemptive vitality of the word of God in this world applies equally to political affairs and social crises and, moreover, does so in a  way which renders apparently private concerns political’ (p. 4).

Throughout the book, Stringfellow recalls his own journeys alongside death – his own unremitting pain and sickness, the deathly institutions, authorities, agencies and bureaucracies with which he engaged as a Harlem lawyer, and the way in which the community of East Harlem helped him to identity the relentless and ruthless structures, procedures and regimes which dehumanise us, and which are as militant and as morally real as that death which visits us in our illness and personal challenge to life. Stringfellow charges that the Church has all-too-often preached an innocuous image of Jesus, a Jesus who demonstrates no real authority over death’s power, and has supposed a distinction between the personal and the public (or political) which undermines the eventfulness and accessibility of the resurrection for every human being in every situation in which death is pervasive, whether that be in realms political, economical, cultural, psychological or personal. To announce the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is to announce the liberation of all of human life from ‘the meaning and purpose of death in loneliness, in sexuality, and in daily work’ (p. 9), three of the six themes that are then taken up throughout the book.

While sin, evil and death are related, Stringfellow warns that we should not confuse with them each other:

‘Death is not the consequence of either evil or sin, nor is death some punishment for evil or sin. Nor is there any such thing as objective evil; that is, some knowledge or idea or principle of evil which people can learn or discover or discern and then, by their own will, do evil or good. If humans knew or could know what is good and what is evil in that sense, then they would be like God himself … What one person or nation considers to be good or evil can never be claimed by that person or nation to be the equivalent or even the approximation of God’s judgment, although persons and nations constantly make just that pretense. They do it as a way of mocking God, as a way of pretending that they can second guess how God will judge their decisions or actions, as a way of asserting that they already know how God will judge themselves and others. That is perilous because only a person who does not believe in God would so seriously usurp and absurdly challenge the freedom of God in judging all persons and all things in the world … Sin is not essentially the mistaken, inadvertent, or deliberate choice of evil by human beings, but the pride into which they fall in associating their own self-interests with the will of God. Sin is the denunciation of the freedom of God to judge humans as it please him to judge them. Sin is the displacement of God’s will with one’s own will. Sin is the radical confusion as to whether God or the human being is morally sovereign in history. And those persons who suppose that they are sovereign exist in acute estrangement in this history, separated from life itself and from the giver of life, from God’. (pp. 18, 19–20)

And from this decision for or against God, for or against life, none are exempt, not even the youngest of persons:

‘Death does not wait for full maturity and adulthood, for infirmity or age, for sickness o weakness to assail human life. The work of death begins at the very moment of birth: death claims every person on the first consciousness of existence. Death does not respect or wait upon the foolish amenities which cause people to hide from their offspring the truth that, for all the ingenuity and capability of human beings, death is present, powerful, and active in every moment, in every event and transaction of human experience. No one is given birth who does not imminently confront the claim of death over his life’. (pp. 20–1)

But neither death nor life-after-death is the last word – that word Stringfellow insists, is Jesus Christ.

Wipf & Stock have offered readers of Per Crucem ad Lucem 40% off the retail price of any of the Stringfellow volumes. To obtain the 40% discount, just include the coupon code STRINGFELLOW with your order.

William Stringfellow, Imposters of God: Inquiries into Favorite Idols – Part IV

After chapters on money and status (pp. 31–6), race (pp. 39–43), and patriotism (pp. 47–52), Stringfellow, in Chapter Seven, turns to the idol named ‘Church’. He recalls that by the sheer gift of God, the Church lives in the midst of a history constituted by the Fall and in ‘juxtaposition to each and every institution and ideology in their fallenness’ for the critical purpose of ‘being a witness and example of the society of mankind and of all creatures liberated from the power of death’ (p. 55). In building his argument, Stringfellow considers the very constitution of the Church at Pentecost, where, he notes, arise two peculiar characteristics which distinguish the Church as free from the power of death. Both, he insists, pertain to the Church as renewed creation, that is, both inhere in the unity of the Church, bestowed in Pentecost by God for the sake and service of the world. He names these characteristics the ‘secular unity’ of the Church and the ‘churchly unity’ of the Church:

The secular unity of the church at Pentecost consists in the extraordinary transcendence, in that event in which the church is called into being, of all worldly distinctions familiar to men. Thus, according to the biblical testimony, on the day of Pentecost there are gathered in one place men of every tribe and tongue who are, in becoming the new society of the church, no longer divided and separated and unreconciled on account of their differences of race or language, ideology or class, nationality or age, sex or status, occupation or education, or, indeed, even place and time (Acts 2). Such distinctions, so esteemed in the world that they are representative of the idols men worship and vainly look to for justification, are surpassed in such a way in the establishment of the church in history that the church is characterized, biblically, as “a new creation,” “a holy nation,” “a priest among the nations,” “a foretaste of the Kingdom of God,” “a pilgrim people,” “a pioneer of salvation,” “a new race,” a community in which there is neither Jew nor Greek, bond or free, but in which all have become one in Christ.

Coincident with this worldly unity of the church at Pentecost is a churchly unity encompassing the manifold charismatic gifts bestowed upon the church and distributed and appointed among members of the church, such as prophetism, preaching, teaching, healing, administration, speaking in tongues, and so on. (See Ephesians 4:11–14, cf. 1 Corinthians 14:1–19.) These particular gifts of God to the church are missionary gifts – that is, they are entrusted to the church and authenticated in their exercise by members of the church as means of witness and service to the world. At the same time, according to the biblical precedent, the efficacy of a specific gift requires the presence and use of all the other various gifts so that they are all interrelated and interdependent, and so that each enhances the wholeness of the body of the church. The diversity of charismatic gifts is not occasion for division of the church into sects or parties or for status distinctions or exclusionary practices among members of the church. The gifts are contributions to a churchly unity which serves a broken, divided, fallen world as a forerunner of the reconciliation vouchsafed in Christ for the world.

It is possible to speak of the marks of the church in other frames of reference which are both trustworthy and worthwhile, but it is never possible to omit these two marks of the church manifested in the constitution of the church at Pentecost. (pp. 56–7)

Stringfellow proceeds to note that ‘a distinctive mark of the biblical mind’ is the ability to ‘discern that human history is a drama of death and resurrection and not, as religionists of all sorts suppose, a simplistic conflict of evil vs. good in an abstract sense’ (p. 64). God has embodied the aspects of the essential conflict between life and death into his own drama of death and resurrection: ‘In the light of the Gospel, every life, every person, every event, is included in the context of death and resurrection – of death and the resurrection of life, of death and transcending the power of death. As death is not just something which each of us must eventually face, but a power at work here and now, so the power of the resurrection is neither something remote nor merely promissory. The resurrection of Jesus Christ means the available power of God confronting and transcending the power of death here and now in the daily realities of our lives’ (pp. 64–5).

It is to this truth that the Church is elected, called and empowered to bear witness. This election, calling and empowerment takes place in the event of Jesus’ resurrection. This event announces the end of the reign of death and inaugurates the new creation in which we need no longer fear the power of death, and so we need no longer serve any idols:

The resurrection constitutes freedom for men from all idolatries, whether of race or money or church or whatever. It constitutes freedom from death as a moral power in history, freedom to welcome and honor life as a gift, freedom to live by grace, unburdened by the anxiety for justification which enslaves men to idols.

In this freedom, we can begin to be faithful to our own humanity, and so faithful to God. We can go to work to give back to our various idols their true nature and purpose in relation to human beings and human living: to love our country and try to restore it to a sense of its true vocation in the family of nations; to use money as a medium facilitating equable exchange of goods and services; and try to get it so used in our society and in our world, and so on.

In this freedom, we no longer serve idols in our work or other experiences; we serve the living God. We work in the service of life, for ourselves and our fellow men. We work to re-establish human life in our relationships with ourselves and others and things in our society, anticipating in hope the final restoration when God will be “all in all.”

Thus work takes on the character of worship “in spirit and in truth,” and in our worship we celebrate the life and restoration we are working for. In such freedom, then, the present obvious dichotomy between what Christians do in the sanctuary and what they do in society can be done away with. What is affirmed and enacted in our corporate liturgical worship is what we affirm and work for in our daily lives. In both, we celebrate the gift of life as such by participation in God’s affirmation of life in the face of death. (pp. 65–6)

Imposters of God, which began its life as a study book for high school students, has been described as a work which ‘exposes the reality of idolatry at the heart of our common life in the world: work, status, money, race, the church, etc. But perhaps most importantly, it provides hope: a way of living in grace’ (Anthony Dancer). Yes it does. And Karl Barth was right about Stringfellow when he said, ‘You should listen to this man!’

Don’t forget Wipf & Stock’s offer to readers of Per Crucem ad Lucem of 40% off the retail price of any of the Stringfellow volumes. To obtain the 40% discount, just include the coupon code STRINGFELLOW with your order.

William Stringfellow, Imposters of God: Inquiries into Favorite Idols – Part III

‘More than any of the other great and familiar principalities of this world – more than the university or the corporation or the profession, or even race – the nation is a symbol of salvation for men, an image of the Kingdom; it is a facsimile of that order, tranquility, dominion, and fulfillment of life in society which seems lost in the present era and yet after which men yearn persistently despite all disillusionments and defeats’ (p. 47). So begins Stringfellow’s assessment of the idol of patriotism. He proceeds to argue that the ‘sheer arrogance of the idolatrous claims of nations, perhaps especially those possessed of enormous economic and military strength, is so startling’ that our fascination with such idolatry can be ‘explained in no other conceivable manner than as moral insanity’ (p. 48). Throughout the book, Stringfellow assesses that the idols are always in competition with each other, but this competition is nowhere more ferocious, he insists, than where the idols are nations: ‘The necessary corollary of the claim that a nation is God’s surrogate in the world is the invincibility inherent in the ultimacy of a nation’s cause, and this notion is sufficient to rationalize any aggression, subversion, or subjection between nations. This is what every war attests. Or, to put the same thing a bit differently, as with all idols, the actual moral power on which the nation as an idol relies and to which it appeals in its practical conduct is the power of death’ (pp. 48–9).

And as with the other idols that Stringfellow names throughout this book, his concern here is a positive one, positive, that is, as defined by the interruption to the demonic rule of the principalities that takes place in the resurrection of Jesus, an event which reconstitutes and inaugurates humanity into life and freedom amidst the death and bondage regimes of the principalities and their idols. His concern throughout is to assist us to ‘identify our own idols as a first step towards freeing ourselves from enslavement to them’ (p. 51)

Don’t forget Wipf & Stock’s offer to readers of Per Crucem ad Lucem of 40% off the retail price of any of the Stringfellow volumes. To obtain the 40% discount, just include the coupon code STRINGFELLOW with your order.

‘To believe means …’

Van Gogh - The Raising of Lazarus 1890I wish to follow up on my previous post on A Liturgy for a Miscarried Child with some words from the ‘Introduction’ to Moltmann’s groundbreaking thesis, Theology of Hope:

To believe means to cross in hope and anticipation the bounds that have been penetrated by the raising of the crucified. If we bear that in mind, then this faith can have nothing to do with fleeing the world, with resignation and with escapism. In this hope the soul does not soar above our vale of tears to some imagined heavenly bliss, nor does it sever itself from the earth. For, in the words of Ludwig Feuerbach, it puts ‘in place of the beyond that lies above our grave in heaven the beyond that lies above our grave on earth, the historic future, the future of mankind’. It sees in the resurrection of Christ not the eternity of heaven, but the future of the very earth on which his cross stands. It sees in him the future of the very humanity for which he died. That is why it finds the cross the hope of the earth. This hope struggles for the obedience of the body, because it awaits the quickening of the body. It espouses in all meekness the cause of the devastated earth and of harassed humanity, because it is promised possession of the earth. Ave crux – unica spes!

But on the other hand, all this must inevitably mean that the man who thus hopes will never be able to reconcile himself with the laws and constraints of this earth, neither with the inevitability of death nor with the evil that constantly bears further evil. The raising of Christ is not merely a consolation to him in a life that is full of distress and doomed to die, but it is also God’s contradiction of suffering and death, of humiliation and offence, and of the wickedness of evil. Hope finds in Christ not only a consolation in suffering, but also the protest of the divine promise against suffering. If Paul calls death the ‘last enemy’ (I Cor. 15.26), then the opposite is also true: that the risen Christ, and with him the resurrection hope, must be declared to be the enemy of death and of a world that puts up with death. Faith takes up this contradiction and thus becomes itself a contradiction to the world of death. That is why faith, wherever it develops into hope, causes not rest but unrest, not patience but impatience. It does not calm the unquiet heart, but is itself this unquiet heart in man. Those who hope in Christ can no longer put up with reality as it is, but begin to suffer under it, to contradict it. Peace with God means conflict with the world, for the goad of the promised future stabs inexorably into the flesh of every unfulfilled present. If we had before our eyes only what we see, then we should cheerfully or reluctantly reconcile ourselves with things as they happen to be. That we do not reconcile ourselves, that there is no pleasant harmony between us and reality, is due to our unquenchable hope. This hope keeps man unreconciled, until the great day of the fulfilment of all the promises of God. It keeps him in statu viatoris, in that unresolved openness to world questions which has its origin in the promise of God in the resurrection of Christ and can therefore be resolved only when the same God fulfils his promise. This hope makes the Christian Church a constant disturbance in human society, seeking as the latter does to stabilize itself into a ‘continuing city’. It makes the Church the source of continual new impulses towards the realization of righteousness, freedom and humanity here in the light of the promised future that is to come. This Church is committed to ‘answer for the hope’ that is in it (I Peter 3.15). It is called in question ‘on account of the hope and resurrection of the dead’ (Acts 23.6). Wherever that happens, Christianity embraces its true nature and becomes a witness of the future of Christ’. – Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope: On the Ground and the Implications of a Christian Eschatology (New York/Evanston: Harper & Row, 1967), 20–22.

‘Adam, where are you?’

descent‘God … has gone to search for Adam, our first father, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, He has gone to free from sorrow Adam in his bonds and Eve, captive with him … “I did not create you to be a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead”‘. – ‘Ancient Homily for Holy Saturday’, ascribed to Epiphanius of Constantia, cited in Catechism of the Catholic Church (Homebush: Society of St Pauls, 1994), 165:

NT Wright – ‘Can a Scientist Believe in the Resurrection?’ – 2

Back in December 2007, I drew attention to a lecture that NT Wright gave here in St Andrews on the question ‘Can a Scientist Believe in the Resurrection?. This lecture has now been made available for download in a number of formats.

Where, Then, Is the Sting?

Oh death! Where is thy sting?
Dread venom of lowest hell,
Brewed in the bitterness of hatred,
Where is thy sting,
Distilled from violence of rebellion,
Compounded of saddest separation?
This is death’s sting, and yet
Where, oh where, death, is thy sting?

Where does the sting incise,
Where pour out its poison,
Ghastly, grisly, doom-dealing, deadly?
In it the shame and pain of
Fruitless remorse, dull anguish,
Dry tongue cleaving, tears destroyed
In lethal cynicism, passion against God,
Rustlings of memories bringing horror,
And the incoming, ravaging darkness-
This is death’s sting.
Yet where, oh death, is thy sting?

How then the irrevocable loss
Of the holy, heavenly being-
Man brilliantly lit by God,
Pulsing in glory? How, where, is this loss?
Down in the mocking strata of death,
The leering, gaping grin of the grave,
The stench of corruption, glory-failure
And no-being in God. This is the sting.
Yet, oh death, where, where is thy sting?

The sting is in him. Look up
(All ye that pass by). Look and see.
Do not let the divine drama pass over you,
Be over you, be gone. Look up!
There, writhing with the sting. Oh yes,
Human enough to suffer and divine
Enough to bear. Look up and see,
All ye who pass by. See where death’s sting
Was and is no more.

If a man stay and look, he will see.
If he pass by, then in a moment
He will pass by love, and will never see.
He will miss the miracle
Hid in the grim gallows. He will bypass
Love reaching out with cool arms
To embrace the sin-fevered.
He will pass by, not knowing
Where the sting has gone.

Where is death’s sting?
In him:
Annulled and made void: nothing.
Its poison absorbed, destroyed.
Death tried to conquer. This it could not.
This sting in man is death, fiery,
Anguish and flame of hell,
But in him-after the suffering-
Exploded myth of destruction.
In him the fire of death
Blazed to expending, and expended.
Then death, where is your sting?

Ask not, ‘Where is the deathly sting?’
For it is destroyed, absorbed into nothingness
By love’s holy power. Now
It is only life, life flowing,
Life in quality replete, surging up
Out of the empty tomb. Christ’s grave,
Empty through grace, is the wide room
Of man’s new spirit. Man is in life.
Man is enthroned in the heavens,
Having entered into his glory
Through man’s suffering. Man is high.
Gone then is death’s sting.
Void in the victory-the ancient
Annulled victory of the grave.
Oh, death, where is thy sting?

Geoffrey Bingham, 1991

NT Wright – ‘Can a Scientist Believe in the Resurrection?’

Last night I attended a packed-out NT Wright lecture, ‘Can a Scientist Believe in the Resurrection?’. It was the clearest I have heard the good bishop for a while (of course, this could be because I was the most awake, a rare thing in itself). Those expecting to hear a ‘scientific’ engagement with the issues may have been disappointed; for the historians (and apologists) among us, however, it was great. Nothing at all new but classic apologia – Wright-style.

This lecture has also been made available in a number of formats.

Alastair has saved us some work by posting his excellent summary of the talk here. My notes are considerably more scrappy (resembling the state of my mind) but for the record, here they are:

  • Science can never be enough for a full and flourishing account of human being.
  • Resurrection in the C1st necessarily impinged on the the public world. It meant a real physical act. To talk of resurrection is to do history rather than science because it is a unique, unrepeatable, event.
  • Resurrection is not about life after death; it is about what happens after life after death.
  • Christianity stands with the Pharisees rather than with the Sadducees or Philo on the question of resurrection.
  • The resurrected body – though created out of the ‘stuff’ of the old body – contains new properties. The resurrected body used up all the old properties (hence the empty tomb). The resurrected body has a ‘new kind of physicality’, one equally at home on earth as in heaven. It is not capable of decay or death.
  • Resurrection is not resuscitation, which is merely the return to the corruptible body.
  • No Jewish hope envisaged a two-stage process of resurrection, the second part of which was a general resurrection.
  • The resurrection of Jesus transformed Jewish notions of a messiah. No Jew expected the Messiah to be resurrected because no Jew expected the Messiah to be killed.
  • ‘Death is the last weapon of the tyrant; and the point of the resurrection is that death has been defeated’.
  • Discrepancies in the accounts in the four canonical gospels concerning the resurrection of Jesus is evidence which supports the historicity of the event. If we only had one account – or of the accounts were derived from one another – then the story would be more improbable.
  • The resurrection accounts witnessed to in the gospels are very early, arising from oral traditions.
  • 1 Corinthians 15 is a later revision from the earlier gospel accounts wherein the first witnesses were women. In the C1st, women were considered incredible witnesses. There appearance in the gospels, therefore, suggests that the gospel accounts were the earlier.
  • Christianity appeals to history and so to history it must go. And yet who we meet as we go challenges us to rethink – and reconceive – our worldview, including our understanding of history.
  • Faith does not ignore history but respects and transforms history because it is faith in the Creator-God.
  • When something turns up in science that doesn’t fit the paradigm with which we’ve been working, we must be prepared to change our paradigm even while not rejecting all that had gone before. The faith by which we know is determined by the nature of its object. This corresponds to the methodology adopted by science. Scientific epistemology occasionally requires having to change ways of seeing to that which is more appropriate to the new reality. So too with Christian faith.
  • Hope in the resurrection is actually a ‘mode of knowing’. Wright cites Wittgenstein, ‘It is love which believes the resurrection’; as it was for Peter. The reality of the resurrection cannot be known is we insist on a mechanistic view of reality. Belief in the resurrection requires a full devotion of love. This love-epistemology relates to a new ontology of the resurrection.
  • Unlike with lust, love requires a real other, a real external knower. To believe in the resurrection, therefore, is to believe in the one resurrected.
  • All knowing is a gift from God – no so less scientific and historical knowing – and ought be situated within the arena of knowing established by faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Forthcoming James Gregory Public Lectures are:

February 28, 2008: John Polkinghorne, ‘Has Science Made Religion Redundant?’

April 17, 2008: Bruno Guiderdon, ‘Islam and Science’

Can a Scientist Believe in the Resurrection?

NT Wright will be giving a public lecture on ‘Can a Scientist Believe in the Resurrection?’ at the University of St Andrews (Scotland) on Thursday 20 December, Physics Lecture A, at 5.15pm. Admission is free, and more information is obtainable from phoning 01334 474 975.

For those who can’t get there, the audio/video of a previous lecture on the same topic is also available from the following:

Forsyth on ‘The Power Of The Resurrection’

Here’s a series of posts on Forsyth on the Power of the Resurrection:

Forsyth on ‘The Power Of The Resurrection’ – Part 1

Forsyth on ‘The Power Of The Resurrection’ – Part 2

Forsyth on ‘The Power Of The Resurrection’ – Part 3

Forsyth on ‘The Power Of The Resurrection’ – Part 4

Forsyth on ‘The Power Of The Resurrection’ – Part 5

One Kneeling, One Looking Down

Part of my meditation on this Good Friday has been focused around a poem by Australian poet Les Murray. The poem, One Kneeling, One Looking Down, was inspired by an aboriginal legend in which a man was killed, and then raised from the dead by his two wives. In order for this ‘resurrection’ to happen, both wives had to agree on it. Murray’s poem depicts a moment of engagement between the two wives: the older wife wanting to have her husband back and the younger one resisting. Apart from the obvious echoes of the Easter narrative (not least the two women, the many impossibilities, freedom through death, etc), Murray’s piece also invites the reader to experience something of the fear and hope, sense of betrayal and renewed possibilities, that the Easter narrative explores. Of course, one does not want to push the echoes too far. Part of my meditation today was on ‘seeing’, even re-writing, the poem’s episodes as a Trinitarian event in the life of God. In this, we not only have one kneeling (in faithful obedience) and one looking down (in pained delight), but also one holding him up in that kneeling posture. But again, one does not want to push the echoes too far …

Anyway, here’s the poem:

ONE KNEELING. ONE LOOKING DOWN

Half-buried timbers chained in corduroy
lead out into the sand
which bare feet wincing Crutch and Crotch
spurn for the summer surf’s embroidery
and insects stay up on the land.

A storm engrossing half the sky
in broccoli and seething drab
and standing on one foot over the country
burrs like a lit torch. Lightning
turns air to elixir at every grab

but the ocean sky is troubled blue
everywhere. Its storm rolls below:
sand clouds raining on sacred country
drowned a hundred lifetimes under sea.
In the ruins of a hill, channels flow,

and people, like a scant palisade
driven in the surf, jump or sway
or drag its white netting to the tide line
where a big man lies with his limbs splayed,
fingers and toes and a forehead-shine

as if he’d fallen off the flag.
Only two women seem aware of him.
One says But this frees us. I’d be a fool –
Say it with me
, says the other. For him to revive
we must both say it. Say Be alive. –

But it was our own friends who got
him with a brave shot, a clever shot. –

Those are our equals: we scorn them

for being no more than ourselves.

Say it with me. Say Be alive. –

Elder sister, it is impossible. –
Life was once impossible. And flight. And speech.

It was impossible to visit the moon.

The impossible’s our summoning dimension.

Say it with me. Say Be alive again. –

The young wavers. She won’t leave
nor stop being furious. The sea’s vast
catchment of light sends ashore a roughcast
that melts off every swimmer who can stand.
Glaring through slits, the storm moves inland.

The younger sister, wavering, shouts Stay dead!
She knows how impossibility
is the only door that opens.
She pities his fall, leg under one knee
but her power is his death, and can’t be dignified.

From Les Murray, New Collected Poems (Manchester: Carcanet, 2003), 450-1.

NT Wright on the goodness of creation

Taken from an interview with N. T. Wright from CT.

You say that the Hebrew bible is not largely concerned with what happens to people when they die. That might surprise many Christians.

Yes, but it is not actually controversial. You can search the Old Testament from end to end, and even if you take a maximal view of passages like the “I know that my redeemer liveth” bit in Job, you’re still left with a very small selection over against the vast mass of the Old Testament in which the question is not even raised.

What is the point then?

I grew up with the view that in the early Old Testament period, there was no interest in life after death. In a middle period, represented by some of the Psalms, there were the beginnings of an interest in life after death. And then finally, with Daniel, you get resurrection, as though that’s a progression away from the early period.

The view that I came to is that the main thing the whole Old Testament is concerned with is the God of Israel, as the Creator God who has made a good creation, and that what matters about human life really is that it’s meant to be lived within God’s good, lovely, created world. That is equally emphatic in the early period, where you get agricultural festivals that celebrate Yahweh as king over the crops and the land. It’s equally emphatic there and in the doctrine of resurrection. From that point of view, the idea of a disembodied, nonspacio-temporal life after death appears as a rather odd blip in between these two strong affirmations of the goodness of the created order and the wonderful God-givenness of human bodily life within that created order.

So, instead of resurrection being a step away from the early period, it is a way of reaffirming what the early period was trying to get at: the goodness of creation.

haunted … until Easter


‘Since my early teens, I have been haunted by the sense of the emptiness of worldly values and the futility of worldly achievements in the face of their inevitable annihilation in death and, eventually, the death of the solar system. The pasing years have placed more and more of what significance life held for me behind me. Nostalgia and resistance to change were sea-anchors intended to secure me against the wind-drift which carries everything toward the edge of the world. But Easter has begun to mean the presence of Yahweh in the face of that actuality to end all actualities. The resurrection has come to represent the treasuring up of the concrete achievments and actual values to which history has given birth, negotiating at the cost of death itself the impasse thrown up by the concrete failures and actual evils to which history has given birth. Under the sign of the name of Yahweh, Easter has led me no longer to resist time and not to a flight from this world but to a positive valuation of and commitment to this-worldly actions in the knowledge that they are “not in vain” in Yahweh.’ (J. Gerald Janzen)

Forsyth on ‘The Power Of The Resurrection’ – Part 5

But if faith be no more than piety, it is not easy to associate it either with the resurrection or with power. And it is quite easy to work it into sympathy and co–operation with many of the world powers and institutions that delude us with the promise of establishing the Church among men, or doing them good. My point is that what we lack in our faith and pay for in our effect is that element of power which makes faith the continued action in the Church of the greatest exertion of omnipotence ever known–the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. It is a point that will receive little attention. It will be treated as a piece of theology. And a leading minister told us last week that the Churches care nothing for theology. That may be bad, and even vulgar enough, but perhaps it is not the chief trouble; which is when they do not seem to know where theology begins, and are disposed to dismiss as theology the vital centres of saving and experienced faith.

Forsyth on ‘The Power Of The Resurrection’ – Part 4

We have moved our faith’s centre of gravity, and we have detached it too far from the experiences which gather specially about the Cross and the Resurrection. We cultivate the pieties, and we are strange to the hells and heavens that open about that historic moment, which was the crisis both of our souls and of human destiny. We have a religion whose keynote is evolution rather than crisis, education rather than conversion, good form rather than great power. Our preaching is ethical and aesthetic, and our piety is active and tender. And we win much respect, we do not puzzle or offend, and the papers praise us for being ‘in tune with the time. Only our place is to command the tune, and the Cross should offend it. There are things we cannot do, which if undone must undo us; and there are people we fail with, and lose, who would be worth more than hundreds we gain. And our lack is not a scheme but a life, not sympathy but conviction, not union but communion. And it is communion, not with a vague spirit of piety or pity, but with the spirit of our redemption, whose source and shrine is indeed the person of our Saviour, but that person chiefly in the act wherein He put forth His whole personal power–in the Cross, and if we go behind that, and make two acts of what was really one, it is in that other act wherein was exerted the whole power of God for the world–the resurrection of Christ from the dead. This resurrection was chiefly the saving of His soul from the powers and pains of death and their dominion over him. The emergence from the tomb was but the material expression of that first inner resurrection, which was the great victory, and whose nature and action is continued in our faith. For when we believed we were “quickened together with Him”. We only believe by the power of his resurrection.

Forsyth on ‘The Power Of The Resurrection’ – Part 3

From the New Testament point of view the seat of chief power and authority in the universe is the cross of resurrection of Jesus Christ. And there are many signs that we do not realize this, that we do not take such statements seriously, or in any other than in some figurative and moral way. For Paul the omnipotence of God was chiefly shown in raising Christ from the dead. But for the average modern Christian there is practically and experimentally more power in the processes of astronomy and evolution than he can by any effort feel to underlie either the death or the resurrection of Christ. The latter especially he associates with ease rather than effort, just as his conception of fatherhood has become joined with the affection rather than the judgments of God, with the child Jesus rather than with the Cross. We have largely lost the idea that there is a greater power at work even in the natural world than the might of cosmic process, glorious states, or brilliant genius. And that is the power of sin, which has it in it to bring all these things to dust with the alliance of time. We think that there are powers which meet us hourly to–day, of which Paul knew nothing—like the cosmic power of which I spoke. And we have a latent sense, that had he known of our modern forces, he would not have spoken so freely and with so little gratification about the resurrection of Christ, as the supreme exhibition of the power of God. And it is true that there are powers familiar to us which were unknown to him. But there were powers, and greater powers, familiar to him which are being forgotten by us. And chief of these is the power of sin. In these moral measurements of the universe which give us final values, this is the ruling power unless it find its master. The power which masters the world’s sin is the real omnipotence of the universe. And the true sense of what power is, comes home to us only in our sense of forgiveness and redemption, And that sense issues for us from the twofold act of the death and rising of Jesus Christ.