Monthly Archives: March 2013
appropriate for this most Amazing day of days – Easter
A little boy, growing up in a village where his father was the local minister was outside playing. He was doing all of the things that a little boy does. He was climbing trees. He was swinging on the swing set and jumping out. He was rolling and playing with his dog. His mother called him for dinner and all of the family gathered at the table. His mother looked at him and said, “Young man, let me see your hands.”
There was some rubbing of his hands on his blue jeans before he held his hands up. His mother looked at them and asked, “How many times do I have to tell you that you must wash your hands before you eat? When your hands are dirty, they have germs all over them and you could get sick. After we say grace, I want you to march back to the bathroom and wash your hands.”
Everyone at the table bowed their heads and the father said grace. Then, the little boy got up and headed out of the kitchen. He stopped, then turned and looked at his mother and said, “Jesus and germs! Jesus and germs! That’s all I ever hear around here and I haven’t seen a one of them.”
Our hands can be an identifying characteristic. As you know, every one of us has a different set of fingerprints. (and that’s true apparently even of identical twins) We are all different, yet we can be identified by our hands. And the same was true for Jesus. On that first Easter, Peter and John gathered with the other disciples in that upper room to talk about the empty tomb and the possibility of the resurrection.
As they were talking, Jesus came and stood among them. They were frightened, but Jesus reassured them by showing them his hands and feet. How often had the disciples seen those hands of Jesus touch blind eyes so they could see?
How often had they seen his hands bless little children? How often had they seen him reach out hands and lift the cripple up and say, “Walk.”? They saw the hands of Jesus and they knew that he was resurrected from the dead.
The hands of Jesus remind us of his suffering – and they remind us of his love.
In the 1930s, there was particular a man who was an engineer.
He had built up a good business in London, but his main interest was lay preaching.
One day, in the course of his ‘day job’ he had to visit the railway works at Swindon where the great locomotives were built.
A young manager showed him round and after a tour of inspection, the two men walked to the gate of the factory. There they stood for a few minutes chatting, and then the visiting engineer thanked the young manager for showing him around.
Then he stretched out his hand to say goodbye. The young man also stretched out his hand.
Almost immediately the engineer dropped it – the younger man’s hand was such a cold, fishy sort of hand.
Quickly he realised his mistake for the other man looked embarrassed.
The young manager then explained that when he had become an apprentice he had met with an accident. A nail was driven through my hand, he said, and I’ve never been able to close it since then’
The engineer gently laid his hand on the young manager’s shoulder and said:
Nineteen hundred year ago there was a young carpenter in Nazareth. They drove a nail through his hand, and he too has never been able to close it since!
Some years ago when I was a Parish Minister, I happened on this particular occasion to be at the western General Hospital in Edinburgh visiting my new parishioners
I went to see Mrs Bloggs. I located the ward and the bed. “Hello, there, Mrs Bloggs, and how are you feeling today? “Not so bad, thanks, but I’ve got a bit of pain…about here” and she indicated her abdomen, and then proceeded to go into what I think can only be termed as very personal and indeed private, if not intimate detail about the effects of her recent surgery.
I was getting a bit hot under the dog collar by this time, and especially when she said that she would like to show me her operation scar.
“I think I’d better get a nurse, Mrs B”
“Right, DOCTOR” she answered
That’s when the penny dropped. DOCTOR a case of mistaken identity.
Needless to say, I made my excuses and left.
Mistaken identity. It happened on another occasion, back in the 1970s. I called upon this elderly lady, who opened the door, and said “I’ve been waiting in all day for you to come and convert me” A strange kind of remark
“It’s over here” she added and showed me a cupboard where the gas meter was situated.
“Have you not brought any tools with you?” she then asked.
Perplexed I was thinking ‘what tools?’ a bible? maybe a communion kit?,
And then the penny dropped – no, it clattered. She thought I was from the gas board and had come to covert her supply to the then new North Sea gas!
Let’s pause for a moment and think about these two incidents – in the hospital, the patient has been expecting to see a doctor; perhaps it was the time when he did his rounds – hence the mix up.
In the other case, the elderly lady had been anxiously waiting all day for the gasman to come; no doubt, she was a bit flustered; maybe her eyesight wasn’t as good as it could have been. She was expecting someone else – not a minister, even although I was wearing my collar; so…. when I turned up on her doorstep: Behold the Gasman cometh!
On that first Easter morning, Mary Magdelene went to the rock tomb where Jesus has been buried on the Friday, having been taken down from the Cross.
She was in a highly emotional state. She certainly wasn’t thinking straight.
The person in whom she had put her trust had been put to death. That was fact. Dead & buried.
Then, coming to the tomb early in the morning of that Easter day, she finds the stone rolled away. She tells Peter and John of her discovery; they run ahead of her to assess the situation.
Mary goes back herself, standing outside the empty tomb weeping.
We’re told that she sees angels who talk to her and ask her why she is crying.
This is an obviously emotionally charged situation. This poor woman is confused and disorientated.
And even although the signs are all there – the empty tomb – the angels (a sure symbol of divine activity) , her expectation level is low – the last person she would possibly hope to encounter is Jesus.
But she’s in a garden. Who else but the gardener should approach her and speak to her “Woman, why are you crying?” He may have looked like Jesus, and sounded like Jesus – but Mary, her eyes blinded by tears, her mind confused, expecting to see a gardener, sees a gardener. And thinking that he is the gardener, she asks him where they have put the body of Jesus.
But then he speaks her name, “Mary!”, and she knows…she knows.
Mary was seeking a dead Christ on Easter morning.
So do so many many others so often.
They say that he was a good man or a good teacher, a guru or a prophet…..but long since dead and gone. They do not realise – do not want to acknowledge that our Christ reigns forever. He goes unrecognised.
But he is alive! And once we know that, we see all the glory…..and like Thomas later in the Easter narrative, we too can say of him and to him “My Lord and my God”
“Faith’s supreme drama tells of three days which form the centre and the turning point of history. Yet ironically the centre of the drama itself is an empty space… The second day appears to be a no man’s land, an anonymous, counterfeit moment in the gospel story, which can boast no identity for itself, claim no meaning, and reflect only what light it can borrow from its predecessor and its sequel. The midway interval at the heart of the unfolding story might itself provide an excellent vantage point from which to observe the drama, understand its actors and interpret its import. The non-event of the second day could after all be a significant zero, a pregnant emptiness, a silent nothing which says everything. We shall see.”
Easter Saturday, he concluded, was not a day of drama like the day before, or of celebration, like the day after; instead it was one of quiet endurance. It was the day in which we all must live our lives as we all eventually pick our way through suffering and death. Describing the cancer treatment, he said he endured “such losses of appearance and identity, of dignity, control and almost life itself, brought ‘Saturday’ moments of farewell, grief and preparations for the end. For like the first Easter Saturday, this was a time of unbounded waiting, of hanging on – sometimes by the hour –without any guarantee of a future to be hung on for.”
“What, finally and realistically, can be said and done when everyone involved feels so impotent and tongue-tied before tragedy, grief and suffering? Little that is meaningful, this author can testify, as both victim and perpetrator of gross, sometimes hilarious, pastoral ineptitude! Little, that is, beyond a Christ-like, cruciform togetherness which weeps with those who weep and rages with those who rage. But perhaps when we do that, we do everything. If we allow our words, our manner, our status or professionalism, or – deadliest of all in certain circumstances – our breezy faith and heroic confidence, to distance us from those who doubt and stumble, weep and hurt, we surely betray the God of the cross and of the grave, obscuring the truth that their vexation is but a shadow of God’s own anger, and their tears an earthly drop on the ocean of heavenly grief.”
Born in Belfast, Lewis was a student at St Andrews University, where he studied classical Hebrew under Professor WB Honeyman, an atheist who had to be ordained in order to secure his position, such was the academic system when he began his career in the 1930s. He went on to lecture at Edinburgh University, where he quickly developed a reputation as one of Scotland’s finest theologians.
In 1987, he was poached by the Austin Presbyterian Seminary in Texas with the offer of the chair of theology, but during the medical a tumour was discovered. For the next seven years, he embarked on two wearing, attritional experiences, the first was a struggle to endure the pain and despair of a terminal illness, while longing to stay with his wife and see their son grow. The second was an attempt to bore down through the layers of meaning that had coalesced for two millenniums around this strange day, which, for the faithful, was the fulcrum on which human history swung from darkness into light.
(The Scotsman, article – 30 March 2013, Holy Saturday)
- Holy Saturday (kenarah.wordpress.com)
- Good Friday and Holy Saturday: Waiting for the Resurrection (christianthought.hbu.edu)
- Holy Saturday: The Reality of Death (newwaysministryblog.wordpress.com)
Good Friday is called good only in English. In its entry on Good Friday, the Catholic Encyclopedia notes that:
The origin of the term Good is not clear. Some say it is from “God’s Friday” (Gottes Freitag); others maintain that it is from the German Gute Freitag, and not specially English. Sometimes, too, the day was called Long Friday by the Anglo-Saxons; so today in Denmark.
If Good Friday were called good because English adopted the German phrase, then we would expect Gute Freitag to be the common German name for Good Friday, but it is not. Instead, Germans refer to Good Friday as Karfreitag—that is, Sorrowful or Suffering Friday—in German.
So, in the end, the historical origins of why Good Friday is called Good Friday remain unclear, but the theological reason is very likely: Good Friday is good because the death of Christ, as terrible as it was, led to the Resurrection on Easter Day, which brought new life to those who believe.
Jesus was lucky to have a snappy hack on his team
by Kenneth Roy
Matthew, an excellent journalist
For this, the last edition before the holiday weekend/religious festival (delete according to belief), I had contemplated asking a cross-section of prominent people a deceptively simple question: ‘What does Easter mean to you?’ I tested it out on the focus group next door. They dismissed it at once, predicting that it would merely elicit a parade of the usual prejudices on the subject.
It was almost a relief to have the disapproval of my colleagues for this batty notion. I had anyway more or less decided that, since it is easy to write intelligently about religion but extremely difficult to write intelligently about faith or the lack of it, the project would have been doomed to fail. But then I went home and did something I hadn’t done in years. I read the Gospel according to St Matthew, or that bit of it concerned with the events of this weekend.
Here is a typical passage from his report of the last supper:
Now when the even was come, he sat down with the twelve. And as they did eat, he said, Verily I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me. And they were exceeding sorrowful, and began every one of them to say unto him, Lord is it I?
It is hard to find fault with this as a piece of writing. The writer knows what he wants to say and says it. There is a palpable tension in the air; we want to know what happens next. Miss Brotherston (primary 6) would have objected no doubt to two sentences – or any sentence – starting with the word ‘And’. Miss Brotherston was scrupulous about such matters. But – she wasn’t too keen on sentences starting with ‘But’ either – I would ignore such pedantry and recommend Matthew’s prose style to any young journalist who is interested in language.
Matthew’s gripping account of one of the great historical events – the crucifixion and burial of Christ – is accomplished in around 2,000 words with scarcely a wasted one. He has the resurrection done and dusted in 600. His language is consise and punchy, yet full of stylish imagery, some of which catches the reader’s breath. It is essay writing of the highest quality and it has the merit of brevity.
Consider what the modern novelist would have done if he – or more likely she – had been a fly on the wall at the last supper. In place of Matthew’s pacey narrative, there would have been a detailed description of the food, an exploration of the psychological motivations of the characters, and endless speculation about the identity of the traitor.
Everyone over-writes these days. A member of the focus group next door, the deputy editor no less, brought to the office the other day a 1,000-page tome on humanity and violence; she announced proudly that she had reached page 84. I peeked inside and discovered that the type was too small for me to be able to read it without a magnifying glass. I calculated that this book by an American academic must amount to three quarters of a million words. If Matthew could do the death of Christ in no more than twice the length of this editorial, American academics should be able to exercise a little self-discipline.
Hilary Mantel’s early novels were short and sharp. Her vignette of the Arab world was a page-turner. But the more successful she becomes, the longer she writes; it seems to be a rule of the trade.
J K Rowling, always an over-writer, recently produced an adult first novel, a slight thing but drawn out at inordinate length; I still see piles of it hanging around W H Smith. There comes a point when authors decide they no longer need an editor. That’s the ultimate moment of self-delusion.
What is true of fiction is also true of fact. We should be eternally grateful that Christ died before the advent of 24-hour rolling news. Otherwise the women outside the empty tomb would have been there all day servicing the requirements of the embedded press corps. While Matthew did it in 2,000 words, the Sunday papers would have required a special souvenir supplement. For them 2,000 words is the going rate for a routine piece about the latest inappropriate behaviour.
I see that I have successfully avoided any discussion of personal belief. Enough of diversionary tactics. At this time of year, I think always of the writer Joan Ure, whose work I once published and produced, who told me something worth remembering: ‘If you can make it to Easter, you’ll be all right’. One year she didn’t make it to Easter. She had this much in common with Matthew: she never over-wrote. Her natural length in the theatre was the uncommercial hour; she wrote short short stories, and short lyrical poems.
The risen Christ? Joan Ure, a deeply thoughtful person, an artist, did not regard this proposition with the implacable hostility of all my atheist friends. I think she found it intriguing and attractive, as I do myself. The strangest things happen all the time. Why not this? But I admit that it pays to have a snappy hack like Matthew on your team, someone who knows how to hold an audience for 2,000 years.
Kenneth Roy is editor of the Scottish Review