April 2017

Words, words, words

Last month, I rambled on about the origins of the word ‘Lent’, and, as time has now moved on and we are approaching Easter, I thought I would look up what the origins of that word are. And the short answer is that nobody has a clue. And I quite like that. After all, in Lent we focus on ourselves - in a constructive and positive way - and examine that which we know. A group of us is following a course based on mindfulness, and I for one am finding that hugely helpful - and enjoyable. But the crucial thing is that out thoughts are centred around that which is, for us, utterly comprehensible.

The same cannot be said about Easter. We can say - and I hope we do say - ‘Alleluia! Christ is risen!’ But if we were to be asked what that actually means in itself and for us, then I suspect that some of us might start to struggle. The great and misunderstood David Jenkins, former Bishop of Durham, used to get into all sorts of trouble for saying things which made people think - which, I fear, too many people, when it comes to their faith, do not like having to do. He once said that the Resurrection was ‘much more than a conjuring trick with bones’. Alas, too many people chose to ignore the first three words, and proceeded to lambast him for something he never meant. Because the truth is that the Resurrection is much more than a conjuring trick with bones. The Resurrection changes the world and the way in which we see it. That is what we are preparing for in Lent: to look at the world in a different way. And that is challenging and mysterious: challenging because it makes us rethink our values and mysterious because it leads us into places which lie well beyond our human comprehension.

At the heart of our Christian faith, there lie two crucial mysteries: the first is that God, in the form of Jesus Christ, became a human being who lived a human life; the second is that, by rising from the dead, Christ defeated death and opened, for all of us, the glorious fact that life is eternal and love cannot die. And we cannot expect to enter into the heart of those mysteries unless we are prepared to look at the world - and ourselves - in a different way. At the very least, we need to ask about our values: do we, for instance, treasure money and wealth above Christ?

Jesus himself recognised that this is challenging, which is why he remained with his disciples for forty days after the Resurrection. And then there came the Ascension. Now here we are obviously on safer ground, because we all know that ‘ascension’ means ‘ rising up’. Unfortunately, it is not as simple as that, which is why so many people still seem to think that heaven is ‘up there’ while hell is ‘down there’. But that is, perhaps, a subject for another time.

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