Thursday 27 October 2016

Michael Collins: Easter and resurrection can be a hard sell for God's salesmen

Michael Collins

Published 30/03/2013 | 05:00

Polish catholic devotees re-enact the
Polish catholic devotees re-enact the "Way of the Cross" on Good Friday as part of Holy Week celebrations near Gdansk, northern Poland

CHRISTIANS believe in a lot of extraordinary things. Many are easy to believe in: being honest, generous to the poor and kind to the sick. These are indeed human characteristics to which virtually all of us aspire.

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However, there is one thing which is really hard to believe in, and that is the resurrection. The idea that Jesus of Nazareth, a man who lived 2,000 years ago, rose from the dead is a challenge.

It was, however, like that from the beginning. The Gospel writers honestly relate the dismay of his followers. When reports began to circulate that Jesus had risen, the Gospel writers indicated that some thought the body had been stolen from the grave.

Two of Jesus' followers failed to recognise him when he joined them on the road to nearby Emmaus following his death and resurrection. Sharing a meal with them that evening, he explained how the Hebrew scriptures had been fulfilled in his life and death.

A week later, Thomas the Apostle refused to believe unless he could put his fingers into the holes the nails and spear had made.

Another early, near-contemporary writer, Paul of Tarsus, claimed that Jesus' resurrection lay at the root of his mission. Writing to a Christian community in Corinth in the mid- 1st Century, Paul stated that faith in Christ's resurrection was vital for his followers.

He claimed that sins were forgiven through the death of Jesus, and that if he had not risen his followers would be the most pitiable of people.

Rebirth and new growth are found all around us, especially at this time of year. Although the concepts of resurrection or rebirth occur in some other religions other than Christianity, the idea of an afterlife with God is one of the faith's keystones.

Spare a thought for priests this Easter. It is hard being a salesman for property which can only be entered into after death. Imagine selling real estate and telling the customer to accept it on faith. Pay your deposit. When you close your eyes for the last time, you will wake up in Paradise. It is a hard sell.

Many musicians, artists and writers have extolled the beauty of this unseen heaven, the homeland of the Christian for eternity.

Horatio Townsend, author of 'An Account of Handel's Visit to Dublin', published in 1852, recounts how an assistant found the German composer in tears as he completed the 'Hallelujah Chorus' from 'Messiah'. "I did think I did see all heaven before me and the great God himself," said Handel.

Artists depict the risen Jesus but cannot do justice to what heaven could be like. It is a state of existence rather than a geographical place.

Easter is a feast celebrated by all Christians, even if the exact date does not coincide. In that way, Easter is an annual reminder of the shameful divisions which must be overcome on the uneven road to unity. For Catholics, this Easter is somewhat special.

Catholics will visit their local churches to participate in the ceremonies marking the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Whether in the imposing Gothic cathedrals of Europe or the tents of Ethiopia, the heart of the ritual will be the same.

In recent years, many Catholics have been battered by waves of scandals. Many in roles of leadership have let them down, negligent in the face of crime and corruption. A vast number of Catholics fail to find words to express their frustration and anger with the upper echelons of the government of the church. Vast numbers simply left.

For this reason, many welcome the advent of an elderly Jesuit from Latin America who has become Pope Francis.

On Thursday he left the Baroque grandeur of the Vatican to celebrate the Mass of the Lord's Supper in a detention home for young offenders in Rome's poorest suburb.

After the Gospel, he washed the feet of young people, imitating Jesus' example at the Last Supper. The 49 teenagers had been forced into crime by their upbringing. For Francis, these were young people to encourage, to help and support. Nobody could miss the respect he had for them.

He finds that gestures are easier than words.

Fr Michael Collins is a curate and church historian and author

Irish Independent

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