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He is Risen indeed, alleluia

An occasional series on the 39 articles


Introduction

As mentioned in our previous post, (Councils err) the 39 Articles of religion are not only part of sixteenth century church history but continue to this day to be a source of wisdom and practical relevance to the Anglican church.


Last time we looked at article 3. So, it seems reasonable to head on to article 4.


ARTICLE IV. OF THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST


CHRIST did truly rise again from death, and took again his body, with flesh, bones, and all things appertaining to the perfection of Man's nature; wherewith he ascended into Heaven, and there sitteth, until he return to judge all Men at the last day.


As with article 3, the content of this article is not complicated. Jesus rose, bodily, from the dead, in a perfect body, ascended into heaven, and is coming back. It is at the core of the Christian faith, and comes early in the sequence of articles as that which all true churches agree upon. (or at least, all agreed upon in the sixteenth century.) As 1 Corinthians 15:12-22 remind us, without the resurrection of the dead which begins in Christ, we have no hope. And yet, I suspect many of us whilst personally persuaded of the truth of this article, find speaking about it to those outside the church a challenge, because we are told that people can’t believe this kind of thing anymore. So let me offer three encouragements as we speak about the Resurrection.


First, notice that doubting the bodily resurrection is not new. Paul deals with in 1 Corinthians 15, and the article emphasises bodily resurrection, against those who would argue for some form of ‘spiritual’ resurrection. In the ancient world, many people hoped for an afterlife that involved an escape from the body. There is nothing new here, even if it is the nature of each new generation upon eating the apple of rebellion against God to feel that they, that we, are discovering something for the first time and now we will truly be like God. Doubt is not a new thing, and it is to be met, as always, with a patient exposition and explanation of the truth.


Second, in more recent years I have found myself asking this question of those who would have questions about the bodily resurrection: what is the most plausible historical explanation for the belief, even unto death, of those early Christian that Jesus had truly risen? There are many theories, from mass hallucinations, from Jesus reviving from near death, to a stolen body. Matthew’s gospel deals with the issue. Many theories, all of which have significant weaknesses. Perhaps some of them are just about possible, just as many conspiracy theories are just about possible, but they are not very likely. By far the most historically plausible explanation for the evidence we have from the first century, in the gospels and beyond, is that Jesus rose from the dead. As many have demonstrated, there is no historical reason to reject this. the rejection is philosophical, a presuppositional rejection of the possibility of miracles, which cannot be historically defended, which then takes refuge in what are, fundamentally, conspiracy theories. The Resurrection is good history.


Third, the resurrection is our advent hope, that Jesus is coming back on the last day. It is the season of Advent, and whilst the preparations for Christmas has begun, and many will have their first Christmas services in early December, it is good to at least try to have some focus on Advent Hope. A hope, not of the return of a baby in the manager, but of the coming of the judge of all on the last day. A penitential season? At least a sobering one as we look to the day of the LORD. I have noticed over the years that everybody loves the baby in the manger who brings love and hope. The peace child. But amidst the nativity stories which focus on the innkeeper, or the donkey, or the animals in the barn, love hope and peace can become very subjective. We need the Resurrection at Christmas to remind us that the one who was born in a manger died on the cross for us, and that one day he is coming back to hold us all to account for how we have responded to him.


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Revd. James Hughes is Vicar of the United Benefice of Duffield and Little Eaton. He is vice-chair of the Latimer Trust.


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