About the book
Grief-stricken and bereft, the first followers of Jesus were shattered by his death and in no fit state to take on board the astonishing idea that he had risen from the dead. Rumours of Life explores the resurrection stories and finds many things in common with the experience of seeking faith today. There is hope in this. It reassures us that however difficult, wounding or confusing our present circumstances, we can have hope – for the risen Jesus seeks us out as he sought those first disciples and led them to hope and new life.
‘In search of words that raise the dead’
– an extract from the Introduction
‘What gives you hope in a world like ours?
I am not asking if you are optimistic. I mean something much deeper than a capacity to look on the bright side, laugh at problems, smile in adversity or to ‘talk up’ the positives in the face of disaster. That is partly a matter of temperament . I envy such people (though at other times I confess I badly want to damage them). A naturally ‘sunny’ disposition is a genuine gift to have around. But in a culture so chronically anxious and allergic to pain this may so easily be a way of denying and avoiding things we really need to be facing.
To be hopeful is to meet life from a very different place. It involves a tough engagement with life as it really is. To hope means being utterly realistic about what we are facing. And yet somewhere deep within, an improbable belief takes hold. Vulnerable but tenacious, it won’t let us go and we cannot quite shake it off either. It is basically the unsought conviction that all this is part of another story entirely, yet to be revealed. A transformation promised. An unexpected destiny barely glimpsed yet compelling. And all the while the evidence of our eyes points firmly to the contrary.
So what is your hope? Where does it come from? These are, after all, profoundly unsettling times to be living in. The most familiar patterns can no longer be relied on. All is change. How do you hope when so much is uncertain? Two people were discussing this on the radio. ‘The future isn’t what it used to be,’ says one. ‘No’, says the other, ‘and the past isn’t getting any better either.’
Bishop Lesslie Newbigin was one of the great visionary leaders and teachers of the international Church in the last hundred years. Whenever he was asked what gave him hope he would reply that there was only one answer – ‘that God raised Jesus Christ from the dead.’
This book explores the challenge of that startling answer by looking at the stories of the first disciples meeting the risen Jesus in the weeks after the first Easter Day.
For a long while my approach to Christian faith was driven by a certain expectation of what resurrection life was meant to be like. In ‘real’ resurrection life, the air was always clear, faith was certain, bold and exciting. Jesus was unmistakably real and near. Christian testimony was positive and ‘overcoming’. The volume of this faith was always on ‘loud’. Life was peppered with exclamation marks.
I tried very hard and I believe the desire to please God does please him. But this approach often left me feeling exhausted and inadequate. And there was a deeper issue. Like the preacher who would write in the margin of his sermon notes, ‘shout loud here, argument weak’, my understanding and actual experience of resurrection were not in a good relationship. In fact they were not on speaking terms at times. I was throwing myself passionately after an elusive experience, while the truth was actually something quite different. My own life of faith was actually much more contradictory (as it was for many of my friends as well). Oh, I knew the love of Christ at work in my life. But there were times when I also felt very lost and confused, times when risen life seemed very far away. I was trapped in an approach to faith that vigorously proclaimed new life and urged me to forsake the old, but which was not very good at telling me how to get from one to the other. As most of us spend our lives in ‘in-between’ places, this was not very helpful.
The resurrection stories are ‘in-between stories’ that have much to teach about how faith and hope are formed among lost and wounded people.