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….shouted the hecklers in the crowd of philosophers in the Court of Areopagus in Athens – (a sort of 1st century Hyde Park Corner). St.Paul had joined the public debate on religion and told them about Jesus and the resurrection. It’s not surprising that they laughed, but a few thoughtful members of the audience were open-minded enough to join Paul for a deeper enquiry into the foundation event of the Christian Church.
It is important to know that belief in the resurrection was hard to grasp in those days 2,000+ years ago. Even some of the earliest converts had their doubts and Paul had to write to the Jesus-Movement in Corinth to remind them of the “facts” giving details of names and numbers of witnesses (1st Letter to the Corinthians Ch.15) It’s amusing that as a typical male chauvinist Paul forgot to mention that Jesus’ first appearance was to a woman – Mary Magdalen! But women’s testimony was not valid in those days.
We need to be clear that given the political and religious culture of their day belief in a living Lord Jesus would never have got off the ground if there had not been some dramatic event as the spark point.
But against such natural doubts it is worth remembering that belief in an after-life is hard wired into the human psyche. Neil McGregor, a former Director of the British Museum, in his Radio 4 series “A history of the world in 100 objects” described the care with which, 3,000 years ago, the Egyptians buried their dead with utensils and food for the next life. The composer Tchaikovsky said, on the death of his mother, “despite my conviction that there is no after-life, I cannot believe that my mother has ceased to exist”. And marathon runners for Cancer Research point to the sky and say “my mum will be watching me, I’m doing this for her!”.
And in this sceptical age the debate continues – not just about the resurrection of Jesus but about the very existence of God, and that is good. Naïve belief about pop-up Marys or dancing suns leads to illusion and eventually disillusion. Christianity is not about escaping from reality but coping with the hardness of life on a fragile planet in a fragmented global community. The philosopher Thomas Hobbes said “the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” – and C.S.Lewis recognised that our inbuilt sense of the need for justice postulates that there must be something more than what we experience here. Neil McGregor described the beauty of an ancient copper vessel that was evidently designed for ceremonial feasts, near burial sites. By these feasts participants obviously believed that they were partying with their dead.
Which is the opposite of what Christians do every Sunday. Symbolically we meet to feast with our LIVING LORD.
Ian Robins