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Pastoral Letter

From the Rector - The Reverend Geoffrey Smith

1 April 2019

In a previous parish of mine, the Irving family were much valued members of my congregation. Their father, David Irving, who didn’t live locally, was the historian jailed by an Austrian judge for his denial of the Holocaust; for claiming that Hitler’s murder of millions of Jews was a myth. In court, Irving insisted he’d revised his views. “I made a mistake” he admitted, “when I said there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz.” Earlier he’d told reporters: “History is a constantly growing tree - the more you know, the more documents available, the more you learn, and I have learned a lot....”

But history is much more than documents; it includes the witness of ordinary people, whose lives were affected by the events that later generations were to call history. And surely, it was the testimony of those survivors of the death camps that was the most powerful evidence of all.

Documents in our New Testament record the resurrection of Jesus on Easter day. But even before those first documents were written down, about 40 years after the crucifixion, the letters of St Paul recorded the widespread belief in the Resurrection. Then, witnesses were still alive. However, some of the written testimony in the Bible is confusing and even contradictory. For me, this adds to its authenticity. Any police officer will tell you that people see details of an event that are particularly relevant to them. When several witnesses all give the same word for word evidence it suggests collusion and is less likely to be true.

But for me the most powerful evidence for the Resurrection is in the effect it had on those witnesses. A small group of ordinary people whose faith in this new teacher had been completely shattered by the events of Good Friday, who had ran away from him on his arrest and even denied ever knowing him, went into hiding afterwards, terrified of being arrested as his followers. Yet in a short period of time those same ordinary people were openly preaching the Resurrection of Jesus, flouting the authority of the Temple and their Roman overlords, often leading to their own deaths and they started a movement that was to change the known world. Something happened to those men and women, something quite extraordinary – and it wasn’t belief in a lie!