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Wednesday, 6 August 2014

In grateful thanks to a resurrection-rumourer

It was a privilege for me to sit at the feet of Paula Gooder, the biblical theologian who addressed the recent clergy school in Rotorua. This is the second time I have sat at a Paula Gooder seminar, the last being in Darwin two years ago.  She is an outstanding teacher, enormously compassionate, engaging with those who see the world through different lenses to hers. It is for good reason that she is one of the consultant theologians to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Critical to Paula’s reading of the New Testament is her near-namesake Paul’s constant emphasis on the centrality of the resurrection. For some this is a hard pill to swallow, and certainly in the 1950s there was a rationalist tendency to put the resurrection of Jesus and the future resurrection of the dead into either the “piffle” or the too-hard basket. It became trendy to note that neither Mark nor Paul tells the resurrection story, and therefore to surmise that Matthew, Luke and John got out their respective creativity-pens and made up a jolly good yarn or three.

That trend, in academic circles, lasted for a decade or so. Gradually though it crumbled under pressure from historical and liturgical and even pastoral theology, amongst other directions. Slowly the argument that the first Christians were unlikely to risk life and limb for a pile of piffle came to reassert itself. So too did the not-so-minor point that both Mark and Paul in fact demonstrate a very strong narrative commitment to the resurrection. Mark shows this by placing us in the shoes of the frightened women who were the first witnesses (Mk 16:8) who despite their fear nevertheless went on to stutter the Good News (See Mk 1:1), so that even we have heard it. Paul, who probably influenced Mark considerably, takes a different route: “if for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we of all people are most to be pitied” (1 Cor 15:19).

In some small theological circles there is still a tendency to suggest that Paul and Mark were clearly a little naïve, and that we know much more in our scientific world. This is a dangerously paternalistic view. If I learned one thing from working amongst Indigenous it was that we should not trivialize the pre-scientific, pre-Enlightenment world view. As I read of the methane explosions currently beginning to shatter scientific complacency in North Siberia I suggest that scientific method may not be Good News, after all. From that realization I find myself committed to eco-issues, but more of that another time.

Sometimes, when I preach, I fear you must get tired of someone banging on about resurrection and all that stuff. Must every sermon spiral its way back to Easter Sunday? It must: however much we care about justice for minorities and the oppressed, for the environment, for fiscal responsibility and global economics, we do so from the strange starting point that, 2000 years ago, God breathed light into human darkness, and commissioned us  to “go, tell it on the mountain.” We feed the hungry, clothe the naked, release the captive so that they too can feel the heart-warming resurrection-touch of Jesus.

All this was made clear once more to a gaggle of clergy gathered together in Rotorua. Thanks for letting me be there.

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