June 2006 Anglican Church Letter
Keith spins a different Christian view on The Da Vinci Code and take a long look at church history.
This is a busy time in the Church's calendar - not just busy - it is a very important and significant time, as we remember and meditate on the anniversaries we commemorate.
As I write, we are still in the 'season' of Easter, marvelling at the story of the Resurrection of Jesus. Some of us are also marvelling at the story of the Da Vinci Code. Personally I found it a cracking good yarn (moreover I read a first edition, before all the brou-ha-ha started, so I was not influenced by anything except the book). Much as the world of Middle Earth was created by Tolkien and we enter into a belief system as we engross ourselves in the adventures of the Hobbits ( except those who cannot stand the stuff, of course), so a world of myth was created by the authors of The Blood and the Holy Grail thirty or more years ago and Dan Brown peopled it with some more imagination. Again, purely personally, I agree with the publishers that there is no need for it to be labelled as Fiction, when that is clearly what it is.
So coming back to Church history, we are coming away from Easter to the time of The Ascension. This falls on a Thursday and so few people, even committed Christians, spare much time for this festival in their thoughts. But it is fundamentally important to the story - it is, in fact, a necessary part of the story. At the time of Jesus' execution as a criminal, his disciples were distraught and dumbfounded. Whatever they had believed in and of him seemed to have been brushed aside by a real event. Jesus was gone - dead - end of story! But on Easter Sunday, he appears to some of them, apparently alive and in his body - by no means a ghost, despite the unfortunate 16th Century translation of Holy Spirit as Holy Ghost, both in the Bible and in the Book of Common Prayer.
For forty days Jesus made it his business, not to preach to the world, but to be with many of his disciples, reaffirming his teaching and proving to them that he was alive and that everything had changed fundamentally for the better. At the end of that time he left them - the Ascension. The whole point of his coming, his staying and his eventual departure was to re-affirm God's Covenant of Love with mankind and then to let mankind try again to live up to his high standards of live and living.
It is very arguable that we are not doing much better than the ancient Jews did - but we have far less excuse! God's revelation through the life and ministry of Jesus is so much more than his previous revelations of himself to Abraham, Moses, the prophets and the Israelites generally.
Following the Ascension, we celebrate Pentecost - the birthday of the Church. This was the day when the disciples (hundreds of them - not just the eleven apostles) were strikingly reminded that Jesus may have left them in body, but the power of God was still with them in Spirit and that from that day forward they had to lead the Church and preach the Good News of Jesus to the world.(if necessary, as St Francis of Assisi had it, using words).
Then following this comes Trinity Sunday. Apart from the time when the Lord spoke to Abraham and then appeared before him as three angels, there is no reference to a Trinity in the Bible. This was a doctrine which grew over the early decades, indeed centuries of the Christian Church I have not checked when Trinity Sunday entered into the Church's calendar, but it cannot have been in the first two or three hundred years. However, it is now a very important festival, when we ponder on and marvel at our Three in One God.
These three festivals all occur in the three weeks starting with the last week in May. They all relate to mystical events or factors - difficult to explain in few and simple words, even to seriously interested enquirers - impossible to convey to those who are not really interested or are downright opposed to this (or any) religion.
Dan Brown could make the same claims about his book. The opposition to it is from committed Christians who fear that too many will take it at face value and accept that the underlying background is factual, even if the detailed storyline is fiction. Mr Brown could say that nothing is provable - there are just strong inferences - he could claim that his version of the story of Jesus is as likely to be true as the one put about by mainstream Christians. Is the story of Jesus ascending to heaven in a cloud any less fanciful than that the members of Opus Dei are ready to commit multiple murder in order to maintain the false story of Christianity?
This is an impossible question to answer properly in this short article. But the evidence of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is actually overwhelming. The documentary evidence for it is far greater than the documentary evidence for much of the totally accepted history of the Roman Empire. There is little strong evidence of the Ascension if you do not accept the Resurrection, but if you accept the Resurrection (for which there is strong evidence) then that Jesus disappeared in some way or another a few weeks later is incontrovertible. There is no evidence for the continuing life of a Jesus, who escaped from his crucifixion in some way, married one of his disciples and had children and lived out of sight and out of mind, completely unlike the way he had lived and exposed himself in the previous three years of his ministry.
So, I will continue to read Dan Brown with much enjoyment. I shall continue to read about the archaeological and other evidence that continually emerges of the life and ministry of Jesus, but that will not strengthen or weaken my faith in that Jesus, which is based on what he was and what he taught, not on just which star could have led the Wise Men or where exactly was the tomb in which he was laid or on whether Simon Peter was himself a fisherman or simply ran a fishing business . . .
For me, the festivals we are about to celebrate are and remain important festivals, which we need to celebrate to remind ourselves of the core beliefs of our faith. It is important to have regular dates for them, so that we remember them easily every year, but it does not matter if the dates are themselves inaccurate (the same for Christmas, etc). For those of us who find it hard to remember these festivals as important milestones, I would ask them to try. Remembering the event is a trigger to remembering what it is all about and why we are here.
Licensed Lay Minister