THE ANGLICAN Bishop of Durham has become nearly as famous in a matter of months as was once the Anglican Bishop of Birmingham, Dr Barnes, who shocked his own generation by his apparently revolutionary theories about certain supposedly "accepted" Christian truths.
Perhaps because of inevitable media "shorthand", however, the Bishop of Durham has been accused of doubting, or even "denying" certain beliefs even though he claims hy no means to be so doing. Too many Christians, meanwhile, whether Catholic, Anglican or other, may have leapt to the conclusion that any theory which takes the principal accent away from the bodily aspect of our Lord's Resurrection must automatically be suspect, and of new, if not "modernist", origin.
Such Christians have often not read carefully for themselves what the actual words of the four gospels say about that central belief of Christianity — the raising from the dead of Jesus by His Heavenly Father. Still fewer Christians may have bothered to make a close comparison between the four accounts of the Resurrection. But to do such things is a great bolster to personal belief in what the Resurrection really was and what it meant.
Perhaps the most succinct description ever given of Christ's Resurrection is the sentence "In llw body He was put to death, in the spirit He was raised to life."
The words are not those of some twentieth century popularising theologian, but of the man Catholics look to as their first Pope, St Peter. In his First Epistle he goes on to say (2:18) "And, in the spirit He went to preach to the spirits in prison."
A comparison of the evangelists' texts, meanwhile, shows that for each writer the Resurrection appealed more in one aspect than in another. They were as amazed, being so near the event, as we are when we bring ourselves to meditate deeply on the awe-inspiring implications of what the raising of Jesus from the dead meant — that is life after death but in an entirely new form, in an entirely new body.
Thus we may he thankful for contemporary promptings to think more deeply about the profoundly spiritual and eternally mysterious aspects of the Resurrection. And we need not be shocked by the reflection, in no way irreverent, that Jesus had a sublime sense of humour and, because of this, has made unforgettable one in particular of his post-Resurrection appearances to His friends.
Why did He not immediately make Himself known to those companions on the road to Emmaus who did not recognise Him? How could they have possibly failed to do so? He allowed them to remain in doubt on purpose. He was — and this can be said in total respect — playing them along in order to test their faith and gauge their sorrow at the horrific events of the previous Iwo to three days.
Only when their eyes were opened as He broke the bread, did their faith enable them to recognise Him. And at that very moment He disappeared. He vanished completely from their sight.
Without faith — for those who read this story 20 centuries later — there can be no true comprehension of the fact, behind all the mystery, that Our Lord had been raised, indeed, to life, hut not to His old mortal life on earth.
He did not once more take up his daily routine with his disciples. He was taken — as Luke's account makes clear — straight to Heaven on the very day on which He had been raised from the dead and appeared to His friends. His was now a glorified body and, as such He appeared on many more occasions to those who believed in Him, so that such faith might be confirmed and still further strengthened.
We can be consoled, if doubts ever attempt to intrude themselves, that the apostles themselves were no less troubled by doubts and fear in the face of this overpowering phenomenon. We, like they, need the Spirit to confirm us in our faith. But for this we need not look forward in hope, because we know it is already ours. Christ rose once and for all. The spirit descended on his infant Church — once and for all.