Allan Mayer’s Weblog

An Easter Ramble

Posted on: April 9, 2009

In a previous incarnation I was a theologian.

My interest in theology- specifically the Bible- came through my involvement in a local Gospel Hall from the age of eight. I’d just gone with a friend to the Sunday School, then moved on to the youth group and church camps where I had a ‘conversion experience.’

When I was at the hospital A&E last week having trodden on a nail I was asked if I had a religion. I said ‘no.’ It didn’t sound quite right, but the question really means are you affiliated to a major religion, and as I no longer have such affiliations I said ‘no.’ I sometimes call myself an ‘agnostic,’ which means ‘I don’t know.’ I would also say I had ‘Christian Sympathies.’

As a child I could easily accept that God became man then died on a cross to atone for our sins. These days I feel no need to believe that I need that historical event in order to have a relationship with God. So what happened to change the views I had at eighteen, when I was preaching from a pulpit, to the views I hold now?

One aspect was my growing involvement with people with severe disabilities. My novel, ‘Tasting the Wind’ is in part based upon real events, and I went through a stage where I couldn’t recognise the idea of a loving God creating people that he knew would endure what I saw at that time as a lifetime of suffering. Surely Jesus preached that the Kingdom of Heaven was here and now, not just a future event?

Another feature of  my transformation from card carrying fundamentalist to hell-bound heretic  was  the fascination I had with the Bible. The biblical emphasis of ther Gospel Hall led to me taking an academic course which caused me to question. I soon came to realise that the church (that is the type of church that I was involved in) was confusing faith with history by insisting that the Bible was ‘literally’ true.

The Plymouth Brethren (a term never used at the Gospel Hall) have as a central meeting the ‘Lord’s Supper,’ which despite the name took place every Sunday morning. Bread and wine were taken by baptised (fully immersed) members, and participants- that is male participants- announced a hymn, prayed, spoke or read from the Bible as they felt led.

One Sunday I felt inspired to read the account of the Last Supper (which we commemorate today) as recorded in the Gospel of John. I must have taken in nothing of the meeting that morning, because I spent most of it trying to find the Fourth Gospel’s version of that event. It doesn’t exist. In fact according to ‘John,’ the Passover meal happened on a Friday that year*.

This sort of discrepancy, which is one of many,  just doesn’t sit with the view that everything in the Bible is ‘true.’ And it doesn’t have to. People remember things differently, symbolic features creep in. I have no doubt that there is a historical basis for the happenings of Easter week, but if we can’t with certainty say what really happened in recent history (for example, what really happened when J.F.K. was assassinated,) how can we be sure about the events of 2,000 years ago?

But back to the here and now. There is nothing like getting a nail through your foot to focus you on the crucifixion. Despite everything that has happened since my teens there is still a little fundamentalist that jumps up and down inside of me when I say ‘I don’t need Jesus to have died to make me right with God.’

So does the Easter story mean anything to me?

In the story of Christ’s life I see an eternal pattern which, at face value, doesn’t look at all positive. A man goes around doing good. He is one of the best people who has ever lived. He then dies one of the cruellest deaths ever devised. It wasn’t the pain of the nails, it was slow suffocation. A victim of crucifixion had to push down through their legs in order to work the diaphragm. If they lingered for too long the Roman soldiers would break their legs to stop them from doing this.

The crucifixion tells us all that is bad about the universe.

But the story demands that we cannot tell it without the resurrection. Take a look at the Gospels from a structural point of view. They aren’t biographies in the sense that we know them because of the disproportionate amount of space given to the last week of their subject’s life. THE important thing they have to tell us is about the death and resurrection.

I don’t think that I believe now in a literal resurrection. But I do believe in its message, that in this chaotic, nonsensical, often brutal world there is an underlying order. And the creator of that underlying order is good. And,in the end, that underlying goodness will win.

 

 

*For those of you who are interested in this sort of thing, this is because when Jesus is being tried by Pilate,  his  Jewish opponents will not enter because this would make them ritually unclean and prevent them from taking part in the passover that night. It also creates a dramatic backdrop for the crucifixion where Jesus is crucified at the same time as the lambs are being sacrificed for the Passover feast.

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