Wednesday, April 15, 2015


St Peter Preaching -- Massacio

If there is a single idea that unites the readings for this Sunday it is ‘astonishment’. Astonishment has two sides. While we often describe something that astonishes us as ‘unbelievable’, we also explain the fact that some things fail to astonish us by saying that they are not 'believable'. That's how the Resurrection is for many modern people; they aren’t astonished by it, precisely because it's unbelievable.

Luke's Gospel shows that, despite our modern self-image, in this respect the disciples were not so very different from people today. They too were skeptical, and they thought that the Jesus who seemed to appear among them was more likely to be a ghost than a resurrected person – hence the physical touching and eating that Jesus uses to convince them otherwise. Since there is no body for us to 'touch', we can either accept the written record of their testimony, or we can say that the disciples must have been subject to some strange delusion or imaginative flight of fancy. Still, even if a 'bodily' resurrection were proven, this would not be sufficient to prove other ‘astonishing’ elements that, spiritually speaking, are in many ways far more important.

Dali -- Christ St John of the Cross
First, the Gospels proclaim that a crucified non-entity turns out be the Messiah the Children of Israel had long yearned for. This is no less 'unbelievable'. Equally, it is hard to believe that Jesus’ 'victory' meant forgiveness, not vengeance, for the very people who had demanded his death and preferred the release of a proven murderer. And can it also be (as the Epistle holds) that the most ordinary people -- like them and us -- can look forward to a Christ-like future? These are among the no less truly astonishing claims that the passage from Acts tells us Peter made when he preached in the market place.

There is a preconceived idea, widely held, that people in past times were able to believe things that a modern, scientific culture like ours cannot. The Gospel passage for this Sunday shows that Christians have good reason to combat this assumption. Despite enormous economic, cultural and technological changes, people then were not so radically different to people now. We should be open to their having truly witnessed a bodily Resurrection. At the same time, it would be a mistake to lose sight of the fact that it is the religiously, and not merely the scientifically astonishing that it is essential for our world to recover.

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