JOURNEY INTO LIFE
John 20:18 says: Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
Easter Sunday. The interface between a decaying earth and a new one. First contact with the world to come. We’ve had plenty of time and scriptural help to make sense of this, but for Mary Magdalene, the encounter with Jesus had nothing of this overlay. The moment was raw and strange. Wonderful, too, but chaotic and unsettling. People didn’t rise from the dead then anymore than they do now.
Her first instinct was to tell the others. It was, if you like, the first piece of evangelism round the resurrection. Mary didn’t hold back, but if she’d been self-conscious she would have, because her testimony as a woman simply lacked the credibility it deserved in that era.
Interesting, that our faith hinges on evidence that can’t definitively be proved but can’t be disproved either. We are left with a civil standard of proof: on balance of probabilities, did the resurrection happen or not?
In 1981, on the verge of taking my A levels and leaving home, I was confronted with this question. And I made a meal of it, tying myself in knots, trying to decide whether it was credible or not. Acting like the twentieth century man I was. Looking at the evidence, using logic, examining loopholes, moving in a linear way to a conclusion. Having exhausted myself trying to dodge God, I used the tract Journey into Life to make a personal commitment of faith, quietly, away, from the gaze of others.
Journey into Life, the slim booklet written by Norman Warren, Archdeacon of Rochester, in the study I would come to occupy decades later because of what he wrote there. The novelistic coincidence that God sometimes uses, on a frequency specially for you.
It feels like we’ve become less interested in evidence in the 2020s. It’s the era of assertion: it’s true because I say so. No evidence needs to be provided, you only need to shout loud enough and long enough and get other people to retweet or share your story with others and, bingo: the wards are empty, the election was stolen, the earth is flat (trust me, someone said that to my face recently).
We place a lot of emphasis on personal experience in telling our Christian story, and that’s a good thing. It’s authentic and real. And as it says in Revelation (12:11), the faithful overcome by the word of their testimony. But our story is rooted in his story. If we can only say, it’s true because I feel it’s true, we are closer to the new conspiracy theorists than is comfortable. We should call on evidence and help people face up to the logic: if the resurrection happened, it means Jesus is who he said he was and the only honest response is to turn to him. If it’s not true, then we can quietly turn out the lights, close the door and go home. It is that defining a question.
This is a much neglected task of evangelism that takes us right back to that first, strange Sunday in Jerusalem.
But part of the evidence trail we leave for others is what difference the resurrection makes in our lives. Can someone see it in us? Or are we indistinguishable in an identity parade of suspects?
That may be the biggest calling of all. And it kind of makes sense. When you think about the people you know, you rarely recall the things they’ve said, but you remember how they make you feel. It’s like we’re all walking with a sandwich board around us. The question is, what’s written on that board for all to see?
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