Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video. I’ll continue to wish you a happy Easter as we celebrate the resurrection over these weeks leading up to Ascension Day. The resurrection has always been the centre of Christian proclamation. Gospel is shorthand for good news. All the accounts of preaching in the New Testament always talk about good news or the gospel. Former Archbishop Rowan Williams described the gospel as news, not advice. As with many of the things he has said, that bears some close reflection. The Christian message isn’t fundamentally a set of rules for living, even though much of what Jesus taught was a clear distillation of the law of the Old Testament. Neither is it a formula or a prayer that acts like a heavenly insurance policy against future judgement, even though Jesus also said that he expects a response from us. Its also much more than the message of God’s love. Many people seem to think that God’s job is to accept us unconditionally, without making any demands, even though Jesus words imply that whilst he does indeed love us as we are, he loves us far too much to leave us there.
The tragic thing is that the Christian faith is increasingly regarded as anything but good news. In the world of academia and amongst young people there is a growing hostility. An ignorance of what faith is actually about makes it much easier to construct straw men and knock them down, rather than engage with the message as it is.
The message of good news undergoes an evolutionary shift in the New Testament as the gospel moves from a cultural captivity in the Jewish community to an acceptance in wider non-Jewish culture. Jesus and the disciples proclaimed good news as a fulfilment of the prophetic writings of the old testament. Jewish people at the time were expecting a decisive intervention by God in human affairs: a chosen person or messiah who would liberate them and restore their historic theocracy. This was the kingdom of God, the community where God was allowed to reign, bringing a political and spiritual renewal; where there was justice, an end to oppression and indeed a healing of people and the earth. What was so extraordinary, and what eventually got Jesus killed, was that he pointed to himself as the fulfilment of this expectation. When he began his work and said, “the kingdom of God is here”, blind people seeing again, the deaf hearing, the lame walking and the inclusion of the outcast was rather compelling evidence that he was telling the truth.
When Paul turned his preaching to non-Jewish people there was a subtle shift in emphasis. This was understandable as this new audience didn’t have the same knowledge of the Old Testament background. The good news is still centred on Jesus Christ, but now it becomes Jesus as the one who truly reveals what God is like. When he speaks to the Athenians in the book of Acts the message is about the true God who created everything, as opposed to the pagan idols worshipped across the Roman empire. As we read between the lines we hear that just as Jesus’ works gave evidence of the truth of what he said, the same was happening amongst the apostles. As Paul said to the Thessalonian church, “the Gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction.”
What links them is an utter conviction of the historic truth of the resurrection and all that flows from it. As Paul writes to Timothy, “Christ Jesus has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel.” In a world of hopelessness and anxiety, that seems to me to continue to be very good news indeed.
As we come to Prince Philip’s funeral on Saturday the triumphant words will ring out, “I am the resurrection and the life,” says the Lord. “Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”
All funerals remind us of our own mortality. The resurrection of Jesus is our guarantor that this life is but a preparation for the eternal life that is to come. The great prayer of commendation towards the end of the service will say,
God our creator and redeemer,
By your power Christ conquered death
And entered into glory.
Confident of his victory
And claiming his promises
We entrust Prince Philip to your mercy
In the name of Jesus our Lord,
Who died and is alive
And reigns with you,
Now and forever.
Very good news indeed!