IS CHRISTIANITY MADE UP?
As Christians we declare that in one very special person, who was more than human, the forces of death met their match. We believe that Jesus, the Son of God won for all people the ultimate victory. Jesus would rise from the jaws of death. So let us look at the evidence and see whether, according to the evidence, it did all happen, that in this one solitary case, a man rose from the dead.
There are a number of points we need to reflect on as we think about the events of the first Easter.
Firstly. Was Jesus dead?
One thing we know for certain is that Roman executioners were grimly thorough. In fact the officer in charge of the execution was himself liable to the death penalty if his job was not done efficiently. In the case of Jesus, the execution squad saw that he was dead already and so did not bother to break both his legs (a barbaric way of ensuring that those crucified did not continue to raise themselves on the crosses and gulp in air. But just to make doubly sure, they pierced his side with a spear and out came ‘blood and water’, as an eyewitness put it. This is a fascinating detail, all the more remarkable because the writer could have no idea of its medical significance. But any doctor will now tell you that the separation of the blood into clot and serum is one of the surest indications of death. That is what John records, even though he could only marvel at it, not understanding it. But it gives proof that Jesus was certainly dead. There is more though. Not only did the centurion report to the governor that the job was done (and he knew a dead body when he saw one) but Pilate allowed Joseph of Arimathea to take the body away. (The word in the Greek is actually the word for a corpse.) So yes, Jesus was very definitely dead. So any variety of the theory which suggests that Jesus recovered from this terrible ordeal in the cool of tomb and crept out is utterly discredited. It simply couldn’t have happened. But so keen have unbelievers been to discredit the New Testament that they have resorted to theories that Jesus wasn’t really dead. Celsus was a 2nd century anti-Christian who explained the resurrection by supposing that Jesus was nursed back to health by Mary Magdalene, forty days later his wounds got the better of him and he died and was buried secretly. These theories are invalidated by the overwhelming evidence that Jesus was dead. They are also psychologically improbable. Would the disciples who knew that Jesus had not risen from the tomb, but had died from his wounds, have gone all over the world proclaiming his risen presence with such joy that people felt that they might be drunk. Would they have gone through persecutions, imprisonments, torture and martyrdom? Would you die for something you knew wasn’t true?
The second point to make is that the tomb was definitely empty, and nobody has ever been able to put forward a plausible explanation, apart from the united testimony in the New Testament that the tomb was empty because Jesus had conquered death and was alive again.
It has been suggested that in the mist of the early morning Mary and the others all found the wrong tomb! It seems rather implausible to me. A rather comical suggestion of the 2nd century was that the gardener was so fed up at all the sightseers tramping over his seedlings that he removed the body and buried it elsewhere. Another suggestion was that the Roman soldiers who stood guard over the tomb were bribed by the Jewish authorities to spread a false story of how the body of Jesus had disappeared. They told of how they had fallen asleep on duty and the disciples came and stole the body.
But all of these attempts to explain away the empty tomb on the assumption that someone stole the body come apart very fast. There were only two groups of people who were interested in what became of the body of this executed teacher, his friends and his enemies. The records all show us that Jesus’ friends had no idea that he might rise; they were not expecting anything of the sort. Rather, they scattered, depressed, just like any other group whose hopes had been dashed by the death of their leader. There was no expectation in Judaism that any prophet or teacher might personally come back from the grave, though there was the hope of a general resurrection on the last day. His disciples were not expecting Jesus resurrection. What’s more if they had been able to spirit his body away, despite the strict Roman Guard on the tomb, they would scarcely have been prepared for the fraud, nor would people all over the world and in all generations from then till now be so confident that Jesus lives.
But if it was not the disciples who stole the body, how could it have been the opposition? They had been scheming for Jesus death for quite some time. The last thing they would have done is to give anybody any reason to talk about a resurrection by moving his body without anyone knowing.. With Jesus dead and buried they had him exactly where they wanted him... They had made great effort to make sure he was kept there with a great stone being rolled in front of the tomb and a roman guard being posted there. To suggest therefore, that either the Jews or the Romans moved his body is quite ridiculous. And anyway, if they had removed the body of Jesus surely they could quite easily have produced his body when all the fuss about his resurrection started. That would have squashed the new movement in one fell swoop. This was something there were unable to do. They simply got cross with the disciples and tried to silence them by putting them in prison; by torturing them and having them killed. But they could not discredit the story the disciples told of the empty tomb - the tomb left empty by the resurrection of Jesus.
To be continued next month.
Every blessing for a very Happy Easter.
From the Rector's Desk:
The Annual Parochial Church Meetings
Tuesday 14th April, 7.30 p.m. in the Holy Cross
Wednesday 29th April in St. Michael's
(Isfield was the 23rd March).
Next to our worship this is the most important meeting we have as a church. It gives us an opportunity to review where we are, and thank God for all he is doing in this place and it gives us an opportunity to look forward with vision. (Financial Reports and Reports from organisations will be Holy Cross before Easter for you to study before the meeting.)
The meeting is also the place where we elect representatives to the Parochial Church Council and at the vestry meeting elect churchwardens. I look forward to seeing you at your respective meetings
Don't forget your Easter Bonnets on Easter Day!
Come and Meet Bishop Richard Jackson
On Wednesday evening of the 22nd April at 7.30 p.m., Bp Richard is coming to Holy Cross School Uckfield to share some thoughts with as many people as can make it and will answer questions about our church life in the diocese where he is able. This is an open meeting for anyone to attend and we hope you will make it a firm date in your diary.
St Georges day Parade and Service for our uniformed organisations - Sunday 26th April at 11.00 a.m. in Holy Cross Church.
The General Election approaches - decisions are made
The count-down has undoubtedly begun. And don't we know it? It should concentrate our minds on priorities and what really matters most. Coincidentally, the build up to this general election runs in tandem with the Lenten pilgrimage that leads to Easter. Both will require us to make a decision.
It is important that the Christian voice is heard in the political debate. But we also know that the tailoring of the Christian faith to any political ideology will result in distortion. We have to ensure that the freedom of the gospel of Jesus Christ is not politicised and thereby tamed.
I urge you to do all you can on the day of the general election to open your church for prayer and to encourage members of the congregation to join you there to pray for our nation. And do not hesitate to advertise your open church as a safe and welcoming place for anyone who wants to reflect on the life of our nation and our place in the world today.
The decision-making is also important. The right to vote is a precious statement of our participation in society. Our identity as stakeholders who make a positive contribution to spiritual, moral and material welfare on the kingdoms of this world was recognised early on in Christian history. Please do exercise your vote and encourage your people to do so.
Writing in Rome in around 150 AD Justin Martyr patiently describes the Christian contribution to society as that of a peace-maker. Writing a little later than Justin, the unknown author of a letter to Diognetus says: Christians "dwell in their own countries but only as sojourners; they bear their share in all things as citizens, and they endure all hardships as strangers... In a word, what the soul is in a body, this the Christians are in the world".
Justin Martyr was put to death for holding fast to this conviction. We who today live and vote in freedom should do so in vindication of his martyrdom.We shall go to the polls almost exactly a month after we have gone to Jerusalem, symbolically, in the drama of the Holy Week liturgy. In that drama we are also confronted by a decision on how to vote: with the crowd, or for Jesus? If you vote for Jesus, you vote to invest in a mystery that uses reason against itself: power is channelled through humility and hatred is immobilised by the joy and laughter of love (in fulfilment of Psalm 126.1-2). You cast your vote at the Easter renewal of your baptism and confirmation vows, when you respond to the question, "Do you turn to Christ?" The outcome is not the formation of a government in the Houses of Parliament, but the formation of your character as a citizen belonging to the mansions of God in heaven.
Bishop Martin Warner. The Bishop of ChichesterThe Meaning of Holy Week & Easter
Jesus is King!
The triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem gives way to his passion and death.
Yet Jesus is King and within a week will rise triumphant from the dead.
He is the firm ground of our hope that all sufferings in this life
are lost in the power of his resurrection.
Palm Crosses will be blessed and distributed at 8.00 & 9.45 and distributed at all other services
THE GREAT TRIDUUM
Maundy (Holy) Thursday
7.30 pm. The Eucharist of the Last Supper,
Washing of feet, stripping the altar and watch of prayer.
This day marks a new beginning, the beginning of the end. From this point on, our Christian worship is a continuum through to Easter Morning. The watch of Prayer underlines this continuity.
The first emphasis this evening is of love and service. The Agape Meal, is the love feast, within which, often in the early Church, the Eucharist took place. Jesus enjoyed meals with his disciples and it was at a meal that the Eucharist was inaugurated.
Tonight the twelve will have their feet washed, just as Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. The word ‘Maundy’ is a derivation of the traditional anthem for this evening ‘Mandatum novum do vobis’; A new commandment I give unto you’. John 13.34
The second emphasis is the Lord’s Supper, which carries with it the theme of redemption and so makes the Eucharist a prefiguring of the Eucharist of Easter day.
passage from the Book of Exodus when we hear of the great escape of the Israelites from the land of Egypt - the Passover, foreshadowing the Christian Passover in the death and Mighty resurrection of Jesus.
Baptism and/or the Renewal of baptismal Promises
The service now takes a different form for we pass from the Old Testament to the New. The celebration of Christ’s rising from the dead begins. We share in Christ’s Risen Life through baptism. We have no candidates for Baptism this year, but we recall our own Baptism and renew our commitment to the Risen Lord as we once again affirm our allegiance to Him, and our rejection of all that is evil.
The Eucharist of Easter
On the day of resurrection Jesus revealed himself as the risen from the dead in the breaking of bread (Luke Chapter 24 verses 13-35). He comes to us in the climax to this great service in Holy Communion. Some church members at first, have found it a little strange to be celebrating an Easter Eucharist before the clock turns mid-night. Ideally the vigil should be celebrated at about 3.30 am Just before sunrise, but I doubt that many would come and join me at that hour! But we do not know at what time of the night Jesus rose from the dead, all we know is that the women came very early to the tomb and found it empty and the lord risen. (The Church’s weekly celebration of the resurrection has always started at evensong on the Saturday evening)..and the Resurrection of Jesus is utterly beyond the confines of time.
The Easter Vigil well prepared, is a deeply moving service. The length of the service will be just a little longer than our normal Sunday Eucharist and I hope that many of you will forego what you normally do on a Saturday evening for the sake of celebrating the rising again of the Lord in the way those Christian did in the early Christian centuries, to whom we owe so much.
There will be a drink of wine or soft drinks in the church afterwards before we go to our beds ready to let the whisper of the Resurrection which we hear in the Vigil become a real shout during the Great Fifty days of Easter.
Canon Martin Onions
Choral favourites for Spring Evening
St. Margaret's Church Isfield 6.00 p.m. 17th May
with the choir of Holy Cross Uckfield & Friends
First half – Choir Chorus Favourites, to include:
How Lovely Is Thy Dwelling Place, from The Requiem by Brahms
The Heaven’s Are Telling, from The Creation, by Haydn
Be Not Afraid, from Elijah, by Mendelssohn
Second half - Choruses from the shows by Ivor Novello, Cole Porter and Montague Phillips.
Full details inn next months magazine.