Saturday, April 07, 2012


So, this is it.

I am not sure, now, exactly what we were expecting.  Some sort of new beginning, I suppose.  It always felt like a new beginning, to me at least, whenever he spoke.  There was something fresh about it, as if I was listening to a voice that wasn't touched or tinged by all the dirt of centuries of human language.  But then again, sometimes I thought it was an old voice - sometimes, perhaps, it felt more like days of old than a new beginning.  Like Elijah, or one of them; those men who spoke so fearlessly to kings and thundered the word of God to Israel.  Except when they came for Elijah, he burned them with fire from heaven.  I cannot hear from anyone that our Teacher put up any fight, or spoke to the governor with any words of power.  It would have been different in the olden days.  They had fire back then.

We had fire, for a little while.  We were hot with it.  But now he is cold in the grave, and we have gone cold with him.

I don't suppose there is any point in hanging around.  Somehow we all gathered together, afterwards, but it was more out of fear than anything else.  Not sure what we would have done if they had come for us.  Probably nothing.  The fire has gone out of us.  We huddled together as if we could maybe - just maybe - feel the last warmth of the dying embers.  But now I think even that has gone.  There will be no farewells, I think.  We are embarrassed in each other's company.  In truth, I do not know these people.  They are not the same people we walked in with, just a week ago.  I dare not look them in the eye; thankfully, they avoid my gaze as carefully as I avoid theirs.

No, we will just slip away, as I suppose every one else will in time, when the truth sinks in, and they see that it is ended once for all.  The world didn't change as we thought it might, and now it's time for us to get back to the world.  Let the dreams die.  At least there will be no packing; he called us to follow him with nothing, and now nothing is all we have with us.  For today, the empty Sabbath, the restless rest.  Tomorrow we will slip away.

It's a long walk back to Emmaus.

Monday, April 02, 2012

(Super)historical Jesus

One of the great things about the annual remembrance of the Passion is that it forces us to recall that Christianity is about events.  That is to say, what we remember is an occurrence, a thing that happened.  The Gospel is not a message based on someone's enlightened thoughts about God; it is not even a message sent straight from heaven.  It is a message about things that took place, in real space and real time.  The Paschal celebration helps us to remember that.  There is time before it, leading up to it, and there is time afterwards, leading away.  We celebrate in a particular place, with particular people - a space that is next to other particular places, inhabited by other particular people.

This is a long-winded way of saying that Christianity is historical.  When Jesus died and rose, he did so in reality, in a moment contiguous with other moments and forming part of a series that includes this moment now, in a space located within that same space in which we live.  The Gospel is a report of that occurrence, coupled to an explanation of its significance.  It is about history.  That is why the only worthwhile apologetic for the Christian is a historical one.  Did this happen, or did it not?  It is this sort of apologetic which is used by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, and before Agrippa.  This stuff happened.  (If it did not, then Christians are pitiful, pathetic creatures).

Having said that, how do we avoid Lessing's ditch?  Lessing's problem was that as a good child of the Enlightenment he felt a universal could not be proved by a particular; specifically, reports of particular miracles, which reach me by perfectly ordinary and non-miraculous testimony, cannot establish the truth of the Gospel.  If all that matters is history, how can I get over the intervening centuries and believe in a report of a thing the like of which I have never witnessed?  If the Gospel is a report of a historical occurrence, why should I believe it when it resembles nothing else in history?

I think part of the answer is to recognise that when the apostolic testimony asserts that these things happened, it does not mean to maintain that they happened in just the same way as all other things.  Perhaps a useful way to put it would be this: the events reported in the Gospel happened within history, but they are not themselves historical events; that is to say, they are not events which stand in an ordinary relation to the other things happening around them.  They are not explicable by reference to their setting, or to the other events occurring at the time.  In fact, whilst at one level the resurrection of Jesus is something that happens in history, at another level it is a thing that happens to history.  This one point in space and time brackets and encompasses all the other points, including this one now.  If there is an epistemological ditch, there is no ontological one.  A historical apologetic can get us to the point of saying: there is a hole here - a thing that does not fit into history.  We cannot explain what came before and after in terms of the ordinary historical sequence.  And at that point, a lot will depend on whether we are willing to consider that history is neither so impregnable nor so linear as we thought.