Bishop Martin's Easter Message: He is not here!
Suffolk's Bishop Martin asks the question: How do you believe in the resurrection of Jesus?
How do you believe in the resurrection of Jesus? It is a central tenet of our faith, and without it Christianity would not exist. As Paul writes, '...if Christ has not been raised... your faith is in vain' (1 Corinthians 15:14). But coming to believe it and believe in it is not easy in our rationalistic society where we demand proof. Of course, it would not be faith if we had proof - but I suspect most of us need some help along the way to enable the resurrection be what it is - the foundation of our faith.
I remember quite vividly when I was a teenager, the Vicar of the church I attended preaching on the Sunday after Easter about Jesus’ resurrection. You would expect sermons about resurrection at Easter - but this one was different. He spoke about his brother being killed in India during the Second World War, and of his own mother’s death. When his brother died, even though they were nearly 5,000 miles apart, he said he somehow knew what had happened, at the very moment his brother lost his life.
When his mother died, something similar happened – he knew she had died, even though he wasn’t with her. Both of these instances were convincing experiences of Jesus’ resurrection for him, moments of truth. Somehow he knew that his brother and mother had not gone forever, but had moved into a life beyond death, making Jesus’ resurrection real for him.
But just as the Vicar was completely persuaded of Jesus’ resurrection by these momentary experiences, so we, the congregation, were drawn into this conviction, persuaded by his faith. We were caught up in a cascade of conviction, which I presume is why he shared these stories, and why I remember it so vividly nearly 50 years later. Experience, and the witness of others to that experience, help us on the way to faith.
So it was a few years later, when I was about 20, I was walking down St Andrew’s Street in Cambridge, and in an intense moment I suddenly realised, without warning, that Jesus, risen from the dead, was as physically real as the man who at that instant was walking towards me. I was not aware that I had been thinking about what the resurrection was like, or in what sense I believed it, but from then on I knew - for me - it was real.
Religious experiences like these - I think of them as mystical moments - are not unusual, though it is unclear why some people seem to have them and others don’t. They are also very powerful because nothing is quite the same again. They are moments that turn a person’s life around, turn it on its head. They determine how we live our lives. Since that moment walking down the street over 40 years ago, I have never doubted that Jesus rose from the dead, and was experienced physically, not just spiritually or emotionally, by his followers.
I’ve alluded to the other plank for me in my faith in the resurrection - how else do we explain the disciples’ behaviour after Jesus’ appearances? It is not proof, but it does seem to me hard to explain without something profound enough happening that they were willing to give up their lives.
So how do you believe in the resurrection? Experience? The witness of others in the Christian community? Thinking through the evidence? When we look, of course, all these are there in the New Testament. God by the Holy Spirit has given the Church all that is needed to believe.
For Sunday: Happy Easter!
Rt Revnd Martin Seeley
Martin Alan Seeley is a British Church of England bishop. Since May 2015, he has been the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich. From 2006 to 2015, he was the Principal of Westcott House, Cambridge.
Born: May 29, 1954 (age 61), Portsmouth
Alma mater: Jesus College, Cambridge
Consecration: May 14, 2015
Diocese: Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich
(The views expressed here are those of the author, not of Heart 4 Ipswich, and are intended to stimulate constructive debate. We welcome your thoughts upon the ideas expressed here, posted as comments below)