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Bishop Richard's Weekly Video Message - Transcript 22/04/21

Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video and I hope you are continuing in a happy Easter.

One of the many bits of evidence pointing towards the actual bodily resurrection of Jesus is the nature of the accounts themselves. The gospels each give us four slightly different perspectives. These accounts are very difficult to harmonise completely. John Wenham made a valiant attempt in his book the Easter Enigma, but on the surface at least some details don’t completely square up. This is understandable if we see them as eye witness testimony to an entirely unexpected, dramatic and supernatural event. The nature of this testimony has helped a number of lawyers over the last few years. People who are used to sifting evidence to uncover the truth beneath have started suspicious and ended up converted! So much of the difference is explained by the different backgrounds and life experiences of these witnesses. The women were overwhelmed during Jesus’ earthly life by his kindness and inclusion. They lived in a culture of double oppression; firstly, by the Roman occupiers, and secondly by their cultural patriarchy. To find a Jewish Rabbi who valued them equally to men, and even found space in his group for those like prostitutes who would have been excluded everywhere was overwhelming. Its not surprising their accounts major on his kindness and the simple joy of his presence with them again. The disciples, called as they were from a life of labour to a higher purpose, seem to major on the commissioning aspect of the accounts. All the Gospels include some form of instruction to share the good news as a response to the resurrection. This was not to be a private inward-looking faith, but a very public, active and world transforming one. It would need people of courage, full of conviction of its truthfulness, prepared to sacrifice even their lives in the cause of love.

By contrast, the enlightenment, or age of reason in Europe in the 17th and 18th century, advocated objectivity, the sovereignty of reason and the evidence of the senses as the primary source of knowledge. Thinkers like Bacon, Descartes and even Isaac Newton saw themselves as escaping the medieval world of superstition. This movement led to so much of our modern world, modern medicine; scientific and technological progress. I’m very grateful for all of these things. However, the flip side of this, a legacy we are now having to confront, is environmental degradation, colonialism and a cultural marginalisation of faith to the private sphere. If you are convinced you have access to absolute objective truth through your own rationality, it leaves little room for diversity of opinion. Our ancestors who colonised other parts of the world, felt they had an almost divine mission to civilise the globe and impose a western way of life on other people, a way of life they simply ‘knew’ objectively to be superior.

In the last 50 years we have come to realise that many (although not all) aspects of truth depend on your starting point. Whilst this has become faintly ridiculous in some modern thinking, none the less our predisposition to accept certain arguments is often more to do with our experiences and background than rational argument. Just like the first witnesses to the resurrection, we can view the same event as another person and come up with a completely different perception of it. Those who are involved in conciliation see this all the time. At the start of the process they have to weigh up conflicting perceptions of events and try to help the protagonists see things from the other point of view.

This Thursday, the Church of England published a report on our response to continued racial injustice in our own Church. It is very hard for those of us from white majority culture, steeped in the thinking of the enlightenment, to truly get inside UKME people’s experience. Working overseas, I have experienced mild prejudice but as nothing compared to the systematic injustice reported by some of our brothers and sisters in our own church. I’ve no doubt I shall get correspondence arguing

that such a report is a distraction from the work of the gospel, a sign that the C of E has gone woke – which is usually a caricature to avoid engaging with the real issues such reports identify. I’d argue that issues of justice are absolutely at the heart of what it is to be a Christian. The Old Testament prophets made very clear that a religious observance that didn’t produce holiness of character, and inflame a desire for justice wasn’t the faith of the Bible. I hope that as we discuss these issues our knee jerk response will not be to see it through filters based on our own experience, but genuinely try to walk a mile in the shoes of another. Paul’s vision of the Church was of a community where all cultural barriers to community were removed and no-one had a power advantage. He had some severe things to share with the church in Corinth where social injustices were not only ignored but perpetuated by their religious practice. My prayer is that our reflection on these things across the whole church will lead to some significant changes that help us to reflect more faithfully the multifaceted jewel that God intended his church to be.

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