Today the Anglican Diocese of Christchurch is a bit like the overnight situation in the third test between NZ and England. NZ is 35 runs for 3 wickets in its second innings but has an overall lead of 274 runs. The innings score is challenging, the overall lead is pretty good but the fate of the match is in the balance. Yesterday parishes facing change through recommendations of the Structural Review Group heard what those recommendations are. For some parishes the recommendations might feel challenging, like 35 for 3. Overall the recommendations across many parishes are like NZ's overall lead, pretty good - see here from 25 March - but the fate of the Diocese, as a Diocese embracing change or refusing to change is in the balance. What will be our collective response to the recommendations?
We have a new Archbishop for the NZ Dioceses (= Tikanga Pakeha), Philip Richardson. A comment made here yesterday pointed to the possibility of theological disagreement with ++Philip. Well, yes, he is an archbishop not a pope! Now in this morning's Fairfax papers, who else but Glynn Cardy is talking up ++Philip as champion of the progressive cause of the day. Talk about the fox getting into the chicken coop. It is a kind of mayhem to have elected an archbishop one day only to talk him up the next in a manner likely to send the church into schism. I wonder if it ever crosses Glynn's mind that his speculations out loud in the public media might destabilize the confidence of our church in its leaders? I have sufficient regard for ++Philip to wish him a decent honeymoon in his new role as the wider church gets to know him. Now he will not be free of the tags Glynn has placed upon him!
An very interesting reflection on the situation before another archbishop, the new ABC, is posted by Brother Ivo on Cranmer. We should not underestimate ++Justin capabilities!
Meanwhile this is Holy Week and time once again to reflect on the sacred mysteries of this week. I suggest we work backwards from the Resurrection. If Jesus had died on the cross and that was the end of his life, what would his legacy have been? Not much, I suggest. A paragraph, perhaps, in the history of impact-making rabbis of Israel under the Romans mentioning some notable healings and memorable insights into the rule of God in the world. Maybe today scholars of Judaism would produce a monograph or two on ancient magicians among the rabbis, notably Jeshua ben Joseph. Perhaps there would be a brief headline making news item that the Teacher of Righteousness at Qumran had been identified by an unusually radical scholar as that same Jeshua ben Joseph.
It is the resurrection which makes the difference here, which sets the Jesus movement on a trajectory apart from Judaism and which drives the leaders of that movement to see in Jesus things which were not obvious to them when they walked the dusty roads of Palestine with him. We read the gospels forwards from Jesus' beginnings to his end because that is the way the narrative is told, but theologically we should begin with the resurrection and read backwards. What was it about the resurrection which led to the telling of the story of Jesus in the way that Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and, yes, Paul told it?
That is why, to offer a first reflection this Holy Week, the question of the witness to the resurrection is vital to Christianity. Deny the resurrection and everything about our claims to truth falls over. Personally I find the variations between the gospels, 1 Corinthians 15 and, say, Acts 10:34-43 puzzling. Why isn't the account of that witness more consistent? Modern skeptics have driven a horse and cart full of doubts through the lack of consistency (even, some might say, inconsistency). Yet closer inspection yields more consistency than some are prepared to allow. At the bedrock of each gospel narrative is the empty tomb. They are consistent on the fact that the crucified body of Jesus was placed in the tomb, on the third day the tomb was empty, and thereafter the risen (i.e. raised up from the tomb) Jesus appeared to people.
This, further, is consistent with two accounts which do not explicitly mention the emptiness of the tomb, Acts 10:34-43 and 1 Corinthians 15:1-11. What is 'raised on the third day' phrasing in these passages about but an act of raising from the dead, a physical raising which leaves the tomb empty. Acts 10:40 beautifully distinguishes between the raising and the subsequent appearances, 'God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear.' So also 1 Corinthians 15:4-5, 'he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve'. If the tomb was not empty why mention the act of raising from the dead and not proceed straight to the accounts of the appearances of Jesus?
Running these accounts together, with all their variations, I suggest we can account for the variations in a couple of ways. First and foremost, we get the impression that Jesus appeared on a number of occasions to a range of witnesses. Between the four gospel writers and Paul's 'tradition' account in 1 Corinthians 15 we receive a set of accounts with heavy selection at work. Paul's tradition is focused on the appearances to the leadership of the Jesus movement, with the exception of the appearance to 'more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time'. The four gospels uniformly emphasise the immediate witnesses to the resurrection, women. Matthew, Mark and Luke (distinct from Acts 1) move quickly from the immediate experience of the risen Jesus to his departure (albeit somewhat implicitly in Mark). Only Acts 1 and John 21 imply a period of more than a few days or weeks in which Jesus remained with his disciples. Together these witnesses to the variety of Jesus' appearances do not provide anything like a coherent account of the history of Jesus between resurrection and ascension. That, perhaps, leads us to a second reason for the variations between accounts.
Secondly, we get the impression that the gospel writers in their gospels are focused on providing for their readers an account of the ordinary human life of Jesus, prior to death. The continuing presence of the risen Jesus via the Holy Spirit in the movement perhaps made unnecessary a prolonged account of the period between resurrection and ascension. (Luke, in his 'sequel' to the life of Jesus unveils in Acts many ways in which the risen Jesus post-ascension continues to engage with the movement). What their accounts needed was a wrap up and what we find is that the accounts of the resurrection are overlaid with conclusions to the gospels as a whole (or, in the case of Mark 16:1-8, we might say, denuded of a conclusion via intentional abruptness in the closing of the account - a kind of anti-conclusion).
Thus Matthew draws us rapidly to the Great Commission and Luke does so similarly, but in a challenging manner because in Luke 24 he almost conveys the impression that a long day (of about 25 hours?) elapses from raising to commissioning-and-ascending whereas Acts 1 is explicit that the period was 40 days. (Luke also manages the most flagrant rewriting of gospel tradition when he converts Mark's "you will see him in Galilee" into "as he said in Galilee", Mark 16:7//Luke 24:6, in the cause of confining the resurrected Jesus to Jerusalem and its environs).
John works in a different manner, having proposed through his gospel that everything is going on all at once ("my hour"): death and departure, cross and glory, descent and ascent. Thus his Pentecost occurs on the day of Resurrection but there is a epilogue or two as a week elapses before the appearance to Thomas and further time before the appearance to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias. But like his evangelical colleagues, John is all the 'resurrection' time wrapping up his gospel: this is a word to skeptics among the believers, this is a word to rival claimants for leadership of the church.
In the end, then, I am arguing that the accounts of the resurrection, between the gospels, Acts and 1 Corinthians have a coherency when we dig beneath the varied ways of wrapping up the narratives of Jesus' earthly life, acknowledge the basic facts which are shared (principally the emptiness of the tomb and the sheer multiplicity of appearances), and allow that different things mattered to different writers.
We need not doubt that Jesus rose bodily from the dead. That is the witness of the apostles. But what was the impact of the resurrection on understanding who Jesus was prior to death and is after resurrection? Jesus rising from the dead in the midst of ancient Judaism in Israel in the first century AD was like a fox in a chicken coop. A certain theological mayhem ensued. The epistles effectively tell us about the mayhem and that it was a good kind of mayhem!