A Letter from your Lay Reader
When I am preparing a sermon I always remember, and offer thanks, that I have available to me a book that tells me all I can ever need to know about God and his son Jesus Christ. I think that as Christians we sometimes take the Bible for granted perhaps, thinking that it has always been there, and of course, it has, but sadly, not necessarily in a form that was readily accessible to all believers or potential believers. It was not until the early sixteenth century, nearly fifteen hundred years after the Resurrection that the first reliable translation of the Bible in English became available. This was probably the translation by William Tyndale, but nearly another century had to pass before the English Church had a formally approved Bible, the King Jamesí version of 1611.
I often think how much easier the job of the Apostles, and particularly St. Paul, might have been had there been a written version of what we now know as the New Testament, or at least, the four Gospels available to them. But, of course, we forget that when Paul was writing to all those early Christian Churches, the four Gospels had not even been written, so he was left to rely on his own experience and witness, and what he had learnt from others as the basis of his preaching and teaching.
Over the period of Passiontide and Easter, we would be lost without those familiar accounts of the period between the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem and that first Easter day and the many post Resurrection appearances of Jesus to his Disciples and others. We probably rarely think about how important it is for us to have an easily accessible version of those Gospel accounts of the Crucifixion and Resurrection. Without them what would we have upon which to base our faith?
It is therefore quite remarkable that without the aid of a written bible, St. Paul was able to set forth the theology of the Resurrection with such clarity. In his first letter to the Church in Corinth Paul does not mention the empty tomb or those early Easter morning experiences of the Disciples. He goes straight to the evidence of those who saw the resurrected Jesus. He refers to the Lord appearing to Peter, then to the Twelve. He tells us that Jesus appeared to James and all the Apostles, and to more than five hundred brothers and sisters, and finally to Paul himself.
Paulís message was quite simply that the message of the death and Resurrection of Jesus was the only message that needed to be preached. That message is about God reaching out to us and giving us his son. It is about Jesus dying so that our sins might be forgiven. If we take nothing else away from our Passiontide and Easter readings and devotions, we must take with us the message that the Crucifixion and Resurrection stories as told to us by the four Gospel writers are fundamental to our faith. Without that message our faith probably means nothing.
We still have two or three weeks to prepare for Easter, so there is still time to take up your Bibles and read the accounts of Jesusí Passion, Crucifixion and Resurrection. If possible try to read two or more different Gospel accounts just to see where they differ, and as you read those accounts, say a prayer of thanks that those Gospel stories are so readily available to us all.
May I wish you all a very happy and blessed Easter.
With all good wishes, Malcolm Harper