As a change from my usual posts, here is a summary from a talk given by Bishop Rowan Williams at London Bible Week yesterday, 17 July 2017. These are from my own very imperfect notes, but the intellectual content remains the property of Dr Williams.
Bishop Rowan’s talk was entitled; ‘Jesus is Risen; So What?’
First of all, two things that are not true:
1 Jesus is alive after all (ie it was all a mistake; he survived)
2 Jesus is resuscitated (ie he was dead but came back to life)
The Resurrection is a going forward into life, not a going backwards.
9 For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him.
This is the cornerstone of Christian thinking; Christ did not come back from the dead in order to grow old and die one day.
Christ’s real human life is no longer subject to anything in this world. This life is in no sense passive; it is not vulnerable to anything.
In the Passion Christ shows his deep identification with human suffering and vulnerability, but after the Resurrection he is no longer vulnerable.
Christ is not at the mercy of death. He does not succumb to anything; he is active.
‘Jesus is alive’ is equal to ‘Jesus is active’. He is active in a way that is not subject to any interruption or chance; he is simply alive. He is doing what there is to do.
Five aspects of the Resurrection to bear in mind
The Resurrection is a turning upside down of what the world has done to Jesus.
God reverses the judgement of the human court. Those representing the elites of society and the powers of religion treated Jesus as an enemy of the people, as denoted by his shameful death on the cross.
22 And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree:
23 His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God;) that thy land be not defiled, which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.
God reverses that judgement. Christ is no longer the enemy of the people; he is now the friend of the people. God says no to that verdict and yes to Jesus.
God says to the systems of this world; ‘Your standards are not mine. Your failure may be victory to me; your victory may be failure.’
Christ’s very public shame becomes a manifestation of divine triumph; the glory of God’s pure compassion and love declared unambiguously when Jesus is raised from the dead.
God asks whether our own standards of success are the right ones; are we prepared for them to be rebuilt from the ground up?
God reverses that judgement. Christ is no longer the enemy of the people; he is now the friend of the people.
Our assumptions about success and failure are under God’s judgement.
God works by love, not bullying and not coercion.
Jesus is not a ghost
After he is raised from the dead Jesus is seen sitting and eating with his disciples; it becomes the distinctive mark of an apostle to sit at table and eat with Jesus. He is not just seen or heard; he sits at the table and eats. This tells us that matter matters; the stuff of this world is important.
While they were still speaking about this, he stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
But they were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost. Then he said to them, “Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.” And as he said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.
While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed, he asked them, “Have you anything here to eat?”
4 Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.5 He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”
9 When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.”11 So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.”
Jesus is not a ghost, but an embodied word, embodied communication from God the Father. He is not the Ghost of Hamlet’s father; he doesn’t bring us a message from the other side.
The disciples are almost embarrassed to see Jesus and don’t know what to say or do. Jesus says, ‘Have you got anything to eat?’ In effect, ‘Have you put the kettle on?’
We have no categories for thinking about Jesus’ risen body. His connection with his friends is continuous, before and after the resurrection.
Don’t despise or ignore the routine, embarrassingly prosaic aspects of humanity.
After the Resurrection Jesus’ body is filled with Spirit; so alive with the act of God that his touch communicates love without qualification.
We can’t pretend to run away from the stuff of this world; the body of this world.
Jesus’ life is God’s life
Jesus’ risen body is the vehicle of God’s action without being in any way passive or at the mercy of circumstances. The life is the same as that of God the Creator. Nothing has dominion over it. This life looks like the life of God.
We can look back from this life through the prism of the cross and say, if this is one life, one action, then from the very beginning then Jesus was active with the life of God; from the very start.
God acted to overturn the judgement of the world. Jesus’ life is one of endless life and freedom.
It took the church three and a half centuries to put this into words, and the creed is pretty good at expressing it, but we still have to work to get our heads around it.
This life is God’s life.
Jesus is raised to God’s right hand; he stands next to God, sharing what God is. Jesus appears as what he always was.
This has implications for our vision of the world.
The risen Jesus is clearly a Jesus who can be where he wills to be. He is not locked in time and place. He can do what he does throughout the human world and he reaches out to the ends of the world.
There is no-one to whom Jesus has nothing to say. What he does and says is to and for all.
We can’t be relativists; what Jesus is, does and says is something for every human being.
But just because Jesus is for everyone we can’t simply sign everyone up to the church. We never know quite where he is going to turn up, even among people who don’t know his name. Jesus can turn up anywhere, in anyone. God’s transforming actin can manifest even in ways we might regard as incomplete.
Jesus has something to say to everyone, but we don’t really know when he will turn up.
We have to be careful of deciding that people are not with us because they seem to be different. Jesus rebukes the disciples when they are unhappy with others casting out demons in his name; we don’t know who is really with us.
49 “Master,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.”
50 “Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.”
Death and life.
Jesus was raised from the dead and calls his friends to fellowship with him; he calls them again and re-establishes community with them.
‘Now that I have come through death and am alive forevermore there is no end to that relationship; that friendship.’
Nothing can step between the love of Jesus and those he loves. Death can’t slip in between them.
The God that raises Jesus from the dead; that God revealed in Jesus has the freedom again and again to call us back into relationship.
This is not just a hope that a bit of us survives to the other side.
Jesus reveals God’s liberty to go on establishing relationship with us so that we can be sure of eternal life, beginning now.
Plenteous grace with Thee is found,
Grace to cover all my sin;
Let the healing streams abound,
Make and keep me pure within.
Thou of life the fountain art
Freely let me take of Thee:
Spring Thou up within my heart,
Rise to all eternity!
God in us willing us steadily towards eternity.
Never forget that the victory has been won. Christ has risen.
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This is not a case of; ‘We won’t be as dead as we think we will be.’
God can bring what is from what is not. God has promised to be faithful.
How can we approach our trust in God in a world where death seems to prevail; Death is real. We need to think about it, and prepare for it. Death and loss is real.
Christianity too often says, ‘It is not as bad as you think.’
Our fear of death is shared by Christ in Gethsemane. It is an understandable fear; a very real fear.
The Gospel of the Resurrection tells us that there is something true about God’s freedom to go on loving through and beyond death. We never fall out of the hand of God. We can learn to look through death.
What does this say about God?
What Jesus did in Galilee as healer and proclaimer of God’s mercy, and on the cross absolving the effects of our sin, is what Jesus does.
What Jesus did, he does.
Healing; carrying our wretchedness; promising mercy; taking away sins.
What Jesus does, God does.
God eternally pours out healing & forgiveness, and takes on himself our suffering.
God has unrestrained freedom; God can act whenever God wills. Because of the Resurrection we know God is that kind of God.
What Jesus did, he does.
What God did, he does.
God can be trusted.
The Holy Spirit will teach what Jesus does and what God does. The Holy Spirit does not act as a substitute for Jesus. The Spirit will manifest what is truly happening in the cross and Resurrection.
None of this is automatic; we can make it endlessly difficult for God; perhaps this is what hell is.
But from God’s point of view there is nothing to deflect his faithful commitments. God can be trusted.
If we become the Body of Christ on earth then what has to characterise us is some reflection of that faithfulness of God.
We have to become faithful friends; in our personal and our corporate lives we have to remain faithful. We can’t wash our hands of anyone. And that faithfulness has to exist in our community as well; offering God’s faithfulness to anyone who needs it.
This does not mean we can be triumphalist, or think we have the answer to every situation. Sometimes it is best to be silent.
People won’t hear what the Church has to say unless they trust us. Are we worth listening to? Are we worth trusting?
The Resurrection is Jesus appearing to us as the one who represents God’s promise; his covenant to us. We have to find ways to make that faithfulness a reality.
What matters is who the Resurrection reveals Jesus to be. It calls us to rethink our judgement about success and failure.
In rethinking we respond for ourselves, our neighbours and our world; we can’t ignore any of it. We have to find ways of engaging with others that allows Jesus to speak to them. We have to look through and beyond death and trust God to do what he always did.
The New Testament reveals a pattern of exploring the Resurrection not as a story about someone else but as a story that gives life to the believing community; in this story Jesus and we are woven together. Our faith is in the universal lordship of Christ and a faithful God.
God is not a tame lion.
The life of the Spirit now is the beginning of eternal life. There is a very real continuity of hope. That life is ruptured and challenged and dissolved by death, but we are always held in God’s hand.
Jesus is Risen; good for him; good for us; good for the universe.
We can read what it is that lies behind the Resurrection on every page of the New Testament. None of it would be written without the Resurrection, without God’s reversal of the world’s judgement.
1 Corinthians 15:14
And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.
Never stop at the end of Romans 7.