Holy Week 2013

Easter Vigil

An age of electricity can never attune to the metaphor of light and darkness as closely as its candle-lit precursor; perhaps the only time we come close is during a sudden power cut. And yet there is still something uniquely thrilling about the procession of the newly-lit Paschal Candle while we proclaim: "Light of Christ"

But while we might be comfortable enough with the metaphor of the light of Christ, what do we think about the Resurrection? We can empathise readily enough with the birth of a child and proceed from that to a doctrine of Incarnation; but can we similarly empathise with a coming back to life, in whatever form, and proceed to a doctrine of Resurrection? Or, after a week of uncertainty, are we still in a twilight zone between darkness and the light of Christ in Resurrection?

The clue is in the required level of trust: we may be sceptical about Luke's nativity story with Matthew's appendix but we can easily project backwards from the adult Jesus to his birth, while never forgetting that the 1.5 millennia Incarnation doctrine is easier for us than it was for the earliest Christians. Paradoxically, perhaps, that Jesus in some way rose from the dead was never so hotly contested in the early church as was the dual nature of Jesus as both human and divine. Whatever the state of the reincarnated Jesus, neither wraith nor conventionally enfleshed, enough people were convinced that they saw him to establish the belief that Jesus rose from the dead; it was too improbably a doctrine to be made up, not just through the particular circumstance of its following the criminal crucifixion of Jesus but in more general terms because neither the Jews nor the Greek Gnostics had developed anything like a similar idea; this was a one-off.

Saint Paul, the architect of Resurrection doctrine, says that if Christ did not rise and conquer death then the Easter religion of Christianity is of non-effect. So what do we do if we find the idea difficult? The simple answer - and our culture is deeply ambivalent about simple answers - is that Jesus promised and if he did not rise from the dead then that is the one promise he broke, an unlikely promise to have made; and an unlikely promise, therefore, to break.

By lunch time on the day of Resurrection, the picture was still not clear, though it certainly looked better than the day before; but there was one more piece to be fitted into the salvific jig-saw.