Tag Archive: resurrection


AMDG

Linda Woodhead is a sociologist of religion based in Lancaster in N.W.England. She is particularly interested in examining how religions confirm or challenge power relations in wider society.  Recently she has focused on showing how new ‘post-confessional’ ways of being religious have eclipsed a traditional ‘Reformation style’ of religion in Britain. Her observations are always worth reading and I enjoyed recently finishing her ‘Christianity – A Very Short Introduction’.  It is actually not that short, about 120 pages, which in our attention-deficit age is reasonable. It is one of the excellent ‘VSI’ series (very short introductions) that Oxford Uni Press produce, which currently numbers over 510 titles. My main ‘takeaway’ from the book is her theory about the ‘two modernities’ and how Christianity has responded to them.

The first modernity – often referred to as ‘The Enlightenment’, dominated Europe in the Eighteenth Century.  Woodhead explains how this led to the rise of ‘Liberal Christianity’. Challenged with a development in historical sciences, driven by the concern that modern people would be alienated from Christianity, the Gospels underwent a process of demythologisation by influential liberal theologians such as Rudolf Bultmann.  This was controversial and lead to the ‘explaining away’ of miracles and an undermining of the supernatural. According to ‘form-criticism’, the events narrated in the gospels had their origin in preaching, so the actual narrated event is secondary, a mythological development. So for instance, many liberal Christians would question the need to believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus.  I remember studying theology in Edinburgh and was in a minority in the undergraduate class who believed in the historicity of the resurrection, the others believe it only had a symbolic or even metaphorical value.  The emphasis of this liberal current in Christianity was rational & ethical.  This was the Christian response to the intellectual flourishing of the enlightenment and according to Woodhead was successful for a hundred years, but it seems now that this form of Christianity, particularly liberal Protestantism is in crisis, perhaps even dying.  Recently it has been Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict) who has offered a credible critique of this method.

The second or ‘late modernity’, started in the 1960’s was a rejection of all authority and a turn to the individual and subjective. Church-going started to fall precipitously, as a result of this, as religious and moral duty and social conformity no longer had any ‘pull’.  Liberal theology found itself on the defensive, and conservative Bible-based churches started to grow, with the emphasis being on personal-experience.  A Christian ‘sub-culture’ started to emerge and grow, fundamentalism started to thrive, with radio and network channels and held its own against the corrosive influences of popular culture and became more and more politically influential.  Evangelicals started to grow in this climate too – reinforcing family values, dissolving confessional differences, focusing on the ‘born-again’ experience.  Charismatic Christianity started also to emerge in this climate.  Christianity – once part of the establishment has become a conservative counter-culture.

I find Woodheads account much more nuanced and convincing that the blanket ‘narrative of decline’ that I often come across in the UK and even more sharply in Ireland.  If you have time to read this accessible and fairly cheap book I would recommend it.

AMDG

One of the great treasures of our faith are Christs’ Glorious Wounds.  The Counter intuitive Jesus’s risen Glorified Body still bears his wounds.   These glorious wounds of Jesus – divinely resurrected – humanly wounded….  Are a mystery that is worth pondering and praying over.  This is the same man who hung on the cross – yet now he is different.  Why keep his wounds? If he has defeated death – why still carry the holes in hands and his feet – the terriWounded-Handsble wound in his side….

Of all the post-resurrection narratives this encounter with doubting Thomas is one that we can especially sympathise with –  Thomas has been devastated by Jesus’ death – he loved him – he left all he had to follow him…  his sense of loss is bewildering.  As they say, once bitten twice shy, he doesn’t want to get his hopes up just because the others are talking about ‘seeing’ him, he isn’t going to be taken on that emotional roller-coaster again.   We have all been their – we have been hurt, let down, sometimes it is hard to trust again. Thomas’s reaction is beautiful in its humanity – the struggles with faith, the dark clouds of doubt that can sometimes seem to accompany us,  all of this is so real to us.

Caravaggio_-_The_Incredulity_of_Saint_ThomasBut note Jesus’s reaction – his gentleness – the intimacy – he doesn’t scold Thomas – no impatience with him – no wagging his finger at him.  Jesus knows that he is upset because he loves him. ‘ Here are my hands – Touch my side’. If we think of the wounds of his passions – the holes in his hands and feet were he was nailed to the cross – it is perhaps the wound in his side that is most significant.  The Romans wanted to see if he was dead – they broke the legs of the two thieves crucified with Jesus  – but with Jesus – so as not to break his bones as Isaiah had prophesied – the centurions lance had opened his side and pierced his heart – and blood and water had flown out from his side, baptising the Centurion.

This encounter with Thomas shows forth the power of Jesus’s mercy – ‘Doubt no longer but believe’ …..  and that this wound, particularly on the side of Christ – which Thomas was invited to inspect with his fingers ….  This wound became very important in the development of Christian devotion. In the first millennia of the church the devotion to the Holy Wounds grew – but it wasn’t until the twelfth century that that grew into a devotion to the Sacred Heart in the Benedictine and Cistercian monasteries.  The wound on the side of Christ – gave us access to the heart of Christ  – it revealed to us his sacred heart, full of Love for mankind.

faustine2At the beginning of the twentieth century – The Polish mystic Sister Faustina reportedly had a series of visions &  inner locutions (conversations with Jesus) . She was declared a Saint of the new millennium when her compatriot, John Paul II canonised her in the year 2000, thus showing official church approval for her claims of mystical experiences. Perhaps the most important of those was in 1931 – in the short lived peace between the devastation of the Two World Wars. Faustina wrote that Jesus appeared to her as the “King of Divine Mercy” wearing a white garment with red and pale rays emanating from his heart and was asked to paint this image. Further instructions to venerate the image came including the desire to mark the first Sunday after Easter as ‘Divine Mercy Sunday’. Which the Pope also officially declared at the start of this millennium.Vilnius Original.Nancy'sMain Image

Perhaps what is most instructive an entry in Faustina’s diary – where she was told that –  Humanity will never find peace until it turns with trust to the Divine Mercy.  In these times of terror and widespread fear, particularly for many Christians around the world – we feel the need for peace.  In the Extraordinary Year of mercy – we are asked like Thomas and Faustina to find peace and healing in the wounds of the risen Christ.  That our own wounds and our woundedness does not make us bitter, angry, isolated but that they too can be transformed into channels of God’s grace.

As Simon touched Jesus’s wounds – we are invited in this Holy Year of Mercy to invite the Lord to touch our wounds…. Instead of finding more and more inventive ways to hide our wounds from him, to pretend everything is fine – that we can cope – let’s remember those who couldn’t hide from Jesus or society and their encounter with him.  The lepers whose wounds were so obvious – no makeup could disguise their rotting bodies. As they presented their disfigured flesh for Christ to touch and cure, we can present our disfigured souls, asking him to touch and to cure. St. Faustina would say that all that is necessary is for us to leave the door of our heart ajar and God will do the rest.  Then in astonishment and joy we can reply as Simon did, ‘My Lord and my God!’

This is the transforming power of Easter – this is our hope in the resurrection – represented by the beauty of the light of the Paschal Candle here amongst us.

Homily Given in Holy Name Manchester – 2nd Sunday of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday –  April 2nd 2016

Remembering with Hope

AMDG

disciples-empty-tomb-wallpaper   Taken from Todays Homily

Physical death is inevitable for all of us.  One day our hearts will stop beating, our brains will stop working, our bodies will become stiff and cold, and start to decay. …….  I thought that would cheer you up!  ……..  But that is not the end of the story for us.  Our faith leads us beyond death.  Biological or physical cessation does not mean spiritual death for us.  So this November as we remember the dead…..we must always we remember that our faith is built on the rock of the physical resurrection of Christ – his defeat of physical death.  We can historically prove Jesus’s death. Historians tell me that even the empty tomb of Jesus can be historically proven with recourse to divergent and non-Christian Sources.  But the physical resurrection of Christ is a matter of faith.   It is the physical resurrection of Jesus that gives us hope in the face of our own death.   Some theologians have tried to water this down – but we remember in the gospels that Thomas touched the risen Jesus’s side, that the risen Christ ate with the disciples –these physical details matter.   The  physical resurrection of Christ – this allows us to make sense of death.  In today’s Gospel Jesus encounters the  Sadducees who do not believe in the resurrection.  Jesus is talking to their unbelief  and says  that God is not the God of the dead but of the living; for to him all men are in fact alive

mem-127aOur belief in the resurrection and in eternal life  allows us to hope even in the face of terrible killing and slaughter on a massive scale.   Today we remember those who have died in the terrible wars of  the twentieth century – In this country it is called Remembrance Sunday.  It is today because of the end of World War One – On the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month. Here in the Holy Name in Manchester we have a war memorial with 226 names on it, 226 young men, sitting in these pews who were killed.  Today we remember them especially.  I will ask someone you all know, Michael Keneely to come and lay flowers by their names.  You may not know Michael by name – but you will recognise his face.  Michael is the old man that welcomes you at the back of church when you come to mass.  He was a marine in the Second World War and took part in the D-Day Landings on Sword Beach in Normandy.  It was the D-Day landings that led to the liberation of Europe.  Michael’s brother was later killed in Palestine.   Let’s give him a round of applause as he brings the flowers forward.