Father Iain McKillop
How convinced are you that Christ rose from death & that there is life for us beyond death? A survey of Anglicans I read recently suggested that nearly 50% of churchgoers feel uncertain that Christ’s resurrection was true or at least physical, and more don’t feel assured that there is any existence beyond this one. It’s understandable: to believe we need trust that behind the Gospel accounts of Resurrection is truth. We haven’t the physical evidence here, which convinced the first disciples.
To me, one of the greatest evidences for the truth of Christ having come back to life from death is the way the disciples changed between the Resurrection and Pentecost. Think of Peter who lost all confidence after he denied Jesus, or Mary Magdalene who seems to have loved Jesus even more than his best friend John and kept following at the Cross, even when most of the male disciples had deserted him and were cowering behind locked doors. Having lost Jesus you’d expect them to have retreated in grief and fear, lick their wounds, support each other in their loss and return disappointed to a semblance of the lives they’d lived before.
Instead, after the initial shock, they gained confidence and soon were openly celebrating Jesus resurrection life and challenging the authorities who had destroyed Jesus, with a power and confidence beyond anything they’d shown before. Political radicals intent on revolution might do that, with new leaders ready to take over when the leader was overthrown. But the disciples weren’t like that; they’d been trained by peaceful teaching, most of them were working people. Only a few had religious education beyond youthful instruction from the rabbis, which was very different from what Jesus had taught them. Certainty in their faith transformed their ministry & lives.
What sort of confidence do we show in our faith? Searching to find non-naff Easter cards for my godchildren I found that many religious ones mentioned ‘New Life’ but still had chickens and bunnies on them. I wondered what Christians mean when we use the term “new life in Christ”. Does it refer to Christ’s coming back to life, his promise of life beyond death to us, or the life we have now? Some Evangelical or Charismatic churches call them-selves ‘New Life Churches’.
The first Christians realised early that Jesus’ Resurrection means far more than miraculously reviving after an horrific public death. In surviving death Christ in some mysterious way released a power that affects our lives now. That is more significant than feeling assured that our life won’t end at death. The Risen Christ proved that there can be life existence beyond this. But Christ promised something equally important NOW “I am come that you may have life in all its abundance” [Jn.10:10]. And that’s about the present, not just something to happens in the future. We’re supposed to live now in the light of what the Resurrection has achieved for us.
If we truly did try to live in the power and according to the teachings of our Resurrected Christ, that probably really would transform Christian lives and transform the worldwide Church. . We should make sure that any attempt to build the Church is not a ‘vanity project’ like many political initiatives. Transforming us shouldn’t primarily be a way of re-establishing our numbers to make a church seem important in the world or become financial stabile. The only way to truly transform the Church and make us all grow spiritually is to make us Christ-like and to live more confidently, with the power of the Risen Christ in us. People who aren’t confident in what they believe or don’t assured that they are living Christ-like lives won’t encourage others in faith.
Before the Decade of Evangelism about 1 million Anglicans attended Church regularly on Sundays. After all the expenditure and work of the Decade of Evangelism the number of Anglicans regularly attending church had dropped by about 200, 000. This suggests that many church-goers were not convinced by the importance of the church or their faith to themselves or to the world. After the present pandemic crisis, when churches are closed of necessity, will we be more or less confident in our faith? At times of crisis, as in wartime, nominal faith tends to grow; people pray for protection, but afterwards many fall away. It is important that during this time we grow in personal faith and assurance that our own faith is strong and true. But it is important to become assured that true Christian faith has something vital and life-giving for others. True Christianity could help all live more abundant lives; we just need to be sure in what we mean by ‘abundant’! We don’t want to create just a church culture that suits us, but one that applies to all and can spiritually enliven all. All the more reason in this time of enforced contemplation, thoughtful study and prayer, that we grow in understanding our faith and its universal benefits better.
What might transform the church today into the sort of confident outgoing Christians that built the Church after Jesus’ death? They were certain of the Resurrection. We surely need to live in greater inner confidence that our faith is in a living God is real. The Resurrection encouraged the disciples: It assured them that Jesus’ claims were true, that the ways he taught were true and that they needed to keep following the path he’d started them on.
When St. Peter was asked whether he too would abandon Jesus as those did who found his teachings too hard to follow: “Where else would we go? You have the words of eternal life!” [Jn.6:68].
It is important for us to try to develop and encourage that same sort of confidence in the reality and importance of the Christian faith and Christ’s Resurrection. It can assure us for the challenges we meet in this life now and reassure us that our futures are safe with Christ. But the Resurrection also gives us confidence to build the Church as the disciples did, knowing that we have something real. true and exciting to offer our world.