The Resurrection

Many years ago I heard of a man who found his faith from reading the Book of Numbers – you might think this unlikely. So did I, until one day I was given an insight into what might have caused his epiphany.

Numbers is a bureaucrat’s delight: census results, rules, instructions and lists of squabbles, infringements and penalties. Plus a few slipped in joke-over-a-pint-extras like Balaam and his talking ass. But in all this it conveys a sense of individuals, families and groups doing the best they can and often getting it wrong. It lists who went where and who did what. There is something very ordinary about it, and a sense that they were, like me, making their own personal journey. Not always getting it right – not even Moses, Aaron and Miriam.

In a similar way I came to understand the resurrection through an account in which the event itself is hardly mentioned. Mark, who among other things was Peter’s interpreter in Rome, wrote an action packed account of Jesus’ ministry and execution about thirty years after it happened, but with very little about the resurrection.

According to Paul, Jesus’ resurrection and later appearances were witnessed by over 500 people. Quite a few were named. Most were still living when Mark wrote his gospel, and still living when John’s writings were put together at the close of the century. Long before John’s account the number of children, grand-children, friends and acquaintances of first-hand witnesses would have been in the thousands, assuming only moderate family sizes and sharing the news. Where are the ones saying, ‘ My grandfather/boss/mother etc. was there and it didn’t happen?’

There were some. Matthew’s account of the ascension says some doubted, but nevertheless the consensus confirming it was overwhelming. In spite of that, knowledge of Jesus’ earlier life and ministry would have been limited outside Palestine. Mark’s account, written in the mid-first century, was addressed to Christians in Rome who, however convinced they were by the resurrection, would have known little of what lead up to it.

Its opening words read like a title: The Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Some manuscripts, including two of the most respected, end at the eighth verse of chapter sixteen with the empty tomb. This is usually regarded as its last verse. Others have marginal comments pointing out that earlier Greek copies ended there, and some indicate the extra text as spurious. Verses from other manuscripts with extra endings are included in most bibles. They read differently to the rest of Mark and seem to be later additions. In any event these extra endings, even the so-called ‘longer ending’, are very short.

It is unlikely the Gospel was let unfinished, or that an ending was lost before it was copied (the end of a scroll is harder to come adrift than that of a book). The author appears to have stopped here deliberately, feeling no need to add something already well known to his readers. The extra endings are almost certainly later additions, not by the author and not in his style, and do not fit with his stated intention in his title of presenting an account of the beginning.

People in Rome, like those in the Book of Numbers, were much like you and me but something, perhaps the large number of astonished eye-witnesses, convinced them. For me Mark’s Gospel, filling that desire for more background and yet needing no further evidence of the resurrection is strong evidence in itself.

Hazelnut Forest

This perhaps should come with the warning, ‘Let the reader who can, understand.’
(Why a hazelnut forest? LHC? Who was the Sybil of Cumae?)

Small clues: LHC is the Large Hadron Collider, the largest machine ever built on Earth (27 kilometres across) with which many new particles, some expected, some not, have been discovered. Other clues are hidden in the tags, but not in the correct order (WordPress shifts them into alphabetical order).

Some time in April (I promise!) I shall write an explanation. I also promise (don’t look at my crossed fingers) that the explanation will not itself need explaining.

λ = 2πħ/p

How small is the forest?
How tiny its leaves?
Where the pattern of branches
tosses and weaves;
and the canopy sways,
and the summer winds moan,
until shortening days
say summer is gone.

Halfway in the forest
its deepest heart;
where calling birds fly
to its farthest part,
and the leaves’ rustling sigh
gives place to the sky,
and the height of the trees,
and the birds’ flying free,
and the tiniest leaves,
are the forest to me.

How Small is The Forest?

How far is it from constancy
to Heisenberg’s uncertainty?
A tiny length defines
a volume that we find:
the smallest we can know.
A fundamental distance
that we call Planck’s length (L)
shows there is a thickness
we cannot go below.

A circle has a volume just like a carousel
the volume of a circle is pi times r squared L,
(by this we come to see
there is no ‘true’ 2D
and a circle without volume,
is an anomaly).

A Circle With a Volume

This volume hides a mystery.
How small can it be?
How can it be measured,
a space too small to see
by eye or LHC?

The smallest space we cannot see:
the rings inside, the rings inside,
the rings inside a tree,
is found from four-thirds pi
times its depth to power of three.

This volume, this conundrum,
too veiled for us to see,
a mystery its diameter,
its radius an enigma,
the Sybil of Cumae,
time in eternity.

Radius is half of width,
we know that very well
but half a fundamental
is a word we cannot spell.
Diameter equals radius,
it flickers to and fro,
in the tiniest of instants,
the shortest we can know.

Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold.
Fission and expansion, a cosmos to unfold.

A whole that ever seeks
the shimmer and the chime,
Infinite from finite
in the infinite-finite rhyme:
the Word that ever speaks
at the birth and death of time.

Forgiveness

We are drawing near to Easter, the time of the sacrificial love of our Father, God in Jesus, Christ, the Son of God, the Son of Man.

God’s children often see the cross as punishment taken by Christ upon Himself, dwelling so much on punishment and guilt (which were inflicted and caused by mankind) that we miss the much greater love that He showed.

I wrote of this love in How we Love Children, The World God Loved and So Loved, and today begin a series of posts which you will find under the ‘Dame Julian‘ tab above. Dame Julian had a wonderful revelation of our Father’s love for us which I am trying to put into modern form interwoven with thoughts her writing inspired in me.

I will still continue my usual blog posts every two weeks or so. Today I want to pass on something that causes problems for many people – the difficulty of forgiving and our sense of failure when we cannot forgive.

How often have we heard someone say, ‘I can forgive but I can’t forget’? How many little incidents are there that memory, like an internal vicious gossip, brings to the fore? undeserved slights, retorts we should have made but were just not quick enough, ill treatment or slanders against those we love?

Forgiveness is not easy. It comes hard. For hard reasons. It is hard to do. So much so that when parents forgive the killer of their child, or the victim of an atrocity forgives the perpetrator, it makes headline news. We may find it hard to believe.

And Easter, when ‘Christ died for our sins’ (our sins, but why can’t I forget theirs?). Does that wipe it all away, or does it all return like chronic pain?

‘If you are bringing a gift to the altar and you have enmity with your brother, leave your gift at the altar. Go and make peace with your brother and then return and offer your gift.’

We cannot buy peace of mind with a gift to Christian Aid or the church building fund. It has been bought already, at great cost. We need to pass it on.

‘Yes Lord, but some things are too hard, or have been borne for too long, or it is too late, or I JUST CAN’T DO IT!’

What can the Cross possibly offer for that? Every Easter we bear a cross of our own, on which our lack of forgiveness is nailed. What does Christ on the Cross offer us for that?

One thing. A little, tiny thing, so small that no-one else seems to have noticed it. Come with me to the foot of the Cross and I will show you.

Listen. What did he say about those who crucified him? Don’t listen to what people tell you he said. They will tell you he forgave them. But listen. What did he say?

He said, ‘Father forgive them…’ not, ‘I forgive them, Father…’ He committed their forgiveness to his Father. You may take from that whatever it gives you but one thing it cannot give us is the power to do more than he did in that moment. There are times when forgiveness can be, and needs to be, placed into our Father’s hands. Whatever our weakness, He is strong. His  crucifixion was an act of sacrificial love. All forgiveness must be born of love.

We are not Christ but at Calvary elements combine: The crucifixion is the greatest thing a man has done for all humanity, the greatest thing a man has done for God, and the greatest thing our Father, in Christ, has done for us. He and the Father are one in love, and want, more than anything, that we share and return that love. If we are to be changed by the Cross it is not only from our sins, but from our failure to forgive the sins of others. If we surrender this to our Father, not with an angry, ‘God forgive you!’ but with an anguished desire and a regret for our own failing, we may find we are less troubled by our inability.

There is another element to this. Peter once asked Jesus how many times he should forgive someone who wrongs him and asks to be forgiven, quoting a figure more than double that mentioned in Amos and was effectively told the number was unlimited. The salient point, however, was that forgiveness had to be asked for. There are times, and the crucifixion was one, in which forgiveness was not asked. Then it had to be entirely committed to God.

When we are tempted to say, ‘I may forgive but I cannot forget.’ we usually mean we can neither forgive nor forget. Do not try to forget, forgetting may not be possible. Remember the most important thing and commit forgiveness and your inability to forget, humbly to God.