The MacLamity

The News That Stays News, Reported Live

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

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Rowan Williams might occasionally embarrass himself (two words: honarary Druid) but his Easter sermon shows how much better it is to respond to skepticism with confidence and force, rather than the half-threatening, totally self-pitying tone adopted by Opus Dei:

We are instantly fascinated by the suggestion of conspiracies and cover-ups; this has become so much the stuff of our imagination these days that it is only natural, it seems, to expect it when we turn to ancient texts, especially biblical texts. We treat them as if they were unconvincing press releases from some official source, whose intention is to conceal the real story; and that real story waits for the intrepid investigator to uncover it and share it with the waiting world. Anything that looks like the official version is automatically suspect.

Someone is trying to stop you finding out what really happened, because what really happened could upset or challenge the power of officialdom.
It all makes a good and characteristically "modern" story -- about resisting authority, bringing secrets to light, exposing corruption and deception; it evokes Watergate and All the President's Men. As someone remarked after a television programme about the Da Vinci Code, it's almost that we'd prefer to believe something like this instead of the prosaic reality. We have become so suspicious of the power of words and the way that power is exercised to defend those who fear to be criticised. The first assumption we make is that wepre faced with spin of some kind, with an agenda being forced on us -- like a magician forcing a card on the audience. So that the modern response to the proclamation, 'Christ is risen!' is likely to be, 'Ah, but you would say that, wouldn't you? Now, what's the real agenda?'

We don’t trust power; and because the Church has historically been part of one or another sort of establishment and has often stood very close to political power, perhaps we can hardly expect to be exempt from this general suspicion. But what it doesn’t help us with is understanding what the New Testament writers are actually saying and why. We have, every Easter, to strip away the accumulated lumber of two thousand years of rather uneven Christian witness and try to let the event be present in its first, disturbing, immediacy.

For the Church does not exist just to transmit a message across the centuries through a duly constituted hierarchy that arbitrarily lays down what people must believe; it exists so that people in this and every century may encounter Jesus of Nazareth as a living contemporary. This sacrament of Holy Communion that we gather to perform here is not the memorial of a dead leader, conducted by one of his duly authorised successors who controls access to his legacy; it is an event where we are invited to meet the living Jesus as surely as did his disciples on the first Easter Day.

And the Bible is not the authorised code of a society managed by priests and preachers for their private purposes, but the set of human words through which the call of God is still uniquely immediate to human beings today, human words with divine energy behind them. Easter should be the moment to recover each year that sense of being contemporary with God’s action in Jesus. Everything the church does – celebrating Holy Communion, reading the Bible, ordaining priests or archbishops – is meant to be in the service of this contemporary encounter. It all ought to be transparent to Jesus, not holding back or veiling his presence.