Welcome + Worship + Witness

The Rector: Is belief in the Resurrection wishful thinking?

Easter Sunday
4 April 2021
Sung Eucharist

Revd Nicholas Mercer

One of the greatest joys in my life has been what I have termed “unexpected pleasures”

For instance, I never expected that my sons would enjoy playing fives as much as I did

And that I would play against them – and with them – whilst at Sherborne

Equally, I never expected that both my elder son and daughter would read Theology at University

I have enjoyed helping them with their academic work over the past couple of years and learning from them at the same time

Last Christmas, we had a discussion about the Christian faith

And the discussion boiled down to Easter Day and what actually happened on Easter morning

My belief was, and remains, that Jesus rose from the dead

But my children, with their fresh and critical minds, put me to the test

Was I justified [Father] in reaching this conclusion or was it just wishful thinking?

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is an event like no other

We don’t have Jesus’ body as it did not remain in the tomb

And therefore, there is no chance of any scientific investigation of the facts

There is a tendency, prevalent across all ages today, which assumes that science will come to the rescue of every debate to confirm or deny

And therefore it is only a matter of time before faith is swept away

Indeed, some philosophers state that you can only say something is true or false based on empiricism

However, as I pointed out to them, this argument is flawed

First because the hypothesis itself can’t be proven empirically and is therefore flawed

Secondly, science is, at best, only ever a philosophy and settles nothing conclusively

And finally, there are some Christian beliefs which can never entail scientific facts – and this is one of them

So far so good

But when it comes to matters of faith, people can hold a faith for all sorts of reasons, or none

They may have faith without any reason

This is fine, but it is more open to the charge of wishful thinking

Alternatively, they can have faith because they have good reason -which is the position I hold

Furthermore I believe that these reasons are persuasive to the extent that they cannot said to be simply wishful

The first reason is because/although we are dealing with an event science can’t interrogate/ we are not concerned with a remote scientific possibility either

We are talking about the Jesus of History

A man who lived and died on earth and was seen as the embodiment of God’s plan for the world

A plan revealed to us in revelation and recorded in the Bible

As one writer put it, this is “not a remote uncheckable events at the back of the moon” but a matter of human history

Furthermore, within the context of this earthly history, the Resurrection, far from being improbable, was just what came to be expected

And whilst this does not settle the issue, at least it anchors the debate

Secondly, within this historical context, there is evidence of the resurrection itself

The immediate events surrounding the Resurrection are witnessed and recorded by some of those who were actually there

As we heard from Mark this morning, and from the other Gospel writers

When they came to the tomb on Easter morning/ it was empty/the stone had been rolled away/John tells us that the burial shrouds were neatly folded up/ and they met with the risen Christ

As the philosopher Keith Ward neatly put it “were the disciples lying?”

But it is not just the immediate events of the empty tomb – it is the events afterwards too

The disciples met the risen Christ thereafter / in the locked room/on the road to Emmaus/ and on the shore of the Sea of Galilee

They ate and drank with him

It is indeed remarkable that those who were convinced he was dead, were now equally convinced that he was alive

So convinced that they were prepared to go to their deaths for their beliefs

And convinced that they had been filled with the spirit of God as a result

And this spirit of God which is /perhaps/ the final piece of the jigsaw

God has imbued us all with divinity as a gift

This sense of the divine draws us to this holy place this morning and imbues our worship

This is not a gift which we have got from nature – but from God himself

We stand alone in creation with a gift which allows us to share in the knowledge and love of God

When I was a student, like my children, I was studying the Passion narrative over Easter 1982

And it was whilst I was studying the text in Greek that I was suddenly overwhelmed with joy

A joy so intense and powerful that I have never forgotten it to this day

For reasons which I cannot possibly know, it allowed me to read the Bible afresh, as if scales had been removed from eyes

But above all, I felt that I had personally encountered the Risen Christ

So returning to my children and their question as to whether my faith in the resurrection is merely wishful thinking

Thank you for your excellent question – but I would like to gently rebut your charge

My faith is not based on science, nor could it ever be

It is not faith without reason either and it is not based on reason alone – because that would no longer be a matter of faith

But it is based on revelation, reason – and my personal encounter with the Divine

Wishful thinking it is not

Furthermore, if I am right [my children] – and I sincerely believe that I am – then this is the most remarkable day in the history of the world

This is the day when we know, not only that God came to earth and lived amongst us,

But the day that God defeated death itself

Allowing us to live our lives in the sure and certain hope of the Resurrection

It is not just an unexpected pleasure/but the greatest joy of all/in all our lives