Skip to content ↓

Walking Through The Door

They say that great minds think alike, and while I’d be the last person to claim to have a great mind, I was fascinated by the words of Fr Alexander – who definitely does have a great mind - in our beginning of term Mass on Monday. If you remember, he spoke about the incredible Shroud of Turin and how it represents physical evidence of the Resurrection of Jesus as a historical event. I didn’t know what Fr Alexander was going to say on Monday, but when I heard his homily I realised that I had been thinking along similar lines to him in terms of what to say to you at the start of this term.

I haven’t yet had the opportunity to say ‘Happy Easter’ to you. Happy Easter! And it is still Easter and will be until the Feast of Pentecost, 50 days after Easter Sunday.

On Easter Sunday, in this church, the Abbot of Ealing reminded us that, for Christians, Easter Sunday is the most important day of all – even more important than Christmas, which our society makes much more of a fuss over. Why is Easter the most important feast in the Christian Church? Well, as Fr Alexander told us, it’s because it commemorates the Resurrection of Our Lord, and without that event the Church would not exist.

As I often do at the weekend, last weekend I was thinking of what to say to you this week, as we begin the new school term, which for some of you will be your last at St Benedict’s. In between preparing for the new term and enduring my football team’s terrible performance on Sunday, I read a really interesting article in the newspaper. The article was about the scientist Richard Dawkins, the author of the book The Selfish Gene, and who is perhaps the most famous atheist in this country.

The article recounts a conversation between Dawkins and someone who is unsure of the claims of Christians. He asks her: “Do you actually believe that Jesus had a virgin for a mother? Do you actually believe he rose from the dead?”

I quote from the article: “With the scalpel of science, he seeks to cut away all superstition. She responds with personal experiences. She speaks of visiting churches and feelings of transcendence. Dawkins is having none of it. “I don’t believe Jesus rose from the dead and I don’t believe that you do either. Do you?” The other person slumps a little and admits, “Well, that’s biologically impossible, isn’t it?” “Yes,” Dawkins grins.”

Now it may well be the case that, if asked these questions, you too would conclude that no, these things didn’t happen. On Saturday, when I read this bit of the article, not for the first time, I stopped reading, looked out of the window and asked myself this question: “do I really believe that this man called Jesus rose from the dead, flesh and blood?” For what it’s worth, my answer was “Yes, I do.”

You’ve probably gathered by now that I rather like poetry, and there’s a wonderful poem by John Updike called Seven Stanzas for Easter, in which he says that, if Jesus rose from the dead, it was as a real biological phenomenon, not a metaphor or a symbol. I don’t have time to read the whole poem now, but here’s a little bit:

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse,
the molecules reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths
and fuddled eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that–pierced–died, withered, paused,
and then regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

I think of it as a poem for scientists, with its references to animo acids, cells and molecules; at one point Updike even mentions Max Planck, the father of quantum theory. I’d like to think that Richard Dawkins, as a scientist, would appreciate the poet’s method, even if he can’t accept its argument.

Happy Easter, and have a great term. Make the most of it.