Here are a few paragraphs from an Easter message appearing in the TimesOnline (UK), that religion correspondent Ruth Gledhill describes as an example of “Radical Orthodoxy,” by N.T. Wright, Bishop of Durham.
The Church must stop trivialising Easter –
“The stories of the Resurrection are certainly not â€œwish-fulfilmentsâ€ or the result of what dodgy social science calls â€œcognitive dissonanceâ€. First-century Jews who followed would-be messiahs knew that if your leader got killed by the authorities, it meant you had backed the wrong man. You then had a choice: give up the revolution or get yourself a new leader. Going around saying that he’d been raised from the dead wasn’t an option.
Unless he had been. Jesus of Nazareth was certainly dead by the Friday evening; Roman soldiers were professional killers and wouldn’t have allowed a not-quite-dead rebel leader to stay that way for long. When the first Christians told the story of what happened next, they were not saying: â€œI think he’s still with us in a spiritual senseâ€ or â€œI think he’s gone to heavenâ€. All these have been suggested by people who have lost their historical and theological nerve.
“The historian must explain why Christianity got going in the first place, why it hailed Jesus as Messiah despite His execution (He hadn’t defeated the pagans, or rebuilt the Temple, or brought justice and peace to the world, all of which a Messiah should have done), and why the early Christian movement took the shape that it did. The only explanation that will fit the evidence is the one the early Christians insisted upon – He really had been raised from the dead. His body was not just reanimated. It was transformed, so that it was no longer subject to sickness and death.
“Let’s be clear: the stories are not about someone coming back into the present mode of life. They are about someone going on into a new sort of existence, still emphatically bodily, if anything, more so. When St Paul speaks of a â€œspiritualâ€ resurrection body, he doesn’t mean â€œnon-materialâ€, like a ghost. â€œSpiritualâ€ is the sort of Greek word that tells you,not what something is made of, but what is animating it. The risen Jesus had a physical body animated by God’s life-giving Spirit. Yes, says St Paul, that same Spirit is at work in us, and will have the same effect – and in the whole world…”
“Easter has been sidelined because this message doesn’t fit our prevailing world view. For at least 200 years the West has lived on the dream that we can bring justice and beauty to the world all by ourselves.
The split between God and the â€œrealâ€ world has produced a public life that lurches between anarchy and tyranny, and an aesthetic that swings dramatically between sentimentalism and brutalism. But we still want to do things our own way, even though we laugh at politicians who claim to be saving the world, and artists who claim â€œinspirationâ€ when they put cows in formaldehyde.
The world wants to hush up the real meaning of Easter. Death is the final weapon of the tyrant or, for that matter, the anarchist, and resurrection indicates that this weapon doesn’t have the last word.”