Rowan Williams: The truly frightening thing about resurrection

From the Easter sermon by the Archbishop of Canterbury, delivered at Canterbury Cathedral, Kent
Click to follow
The Independent Online

A good few years ago, I heard a distinguished American scholar of ancient history commenting on the proclamation of the resurrection as it would have been heard in the classical world. "If an educated Greek or Roman had been told that someone had been raised from the dead," he said, "his first question would have been, 'how do you get him back into his grave again?'."

A good few years ago, I heard a distinguished American scholar of ancient history commenting on the proclamation of the resurrection as it would have been heard in the classical world. "If an educated Greek or Roman had been told that someone had been raised from the dead," he said, "his first question would have been, 'how do you get him back into his grave again?'."

The point was that most of those who first heard the Easter gospel would have found it grotesque or even frightening. Resurrection was not a joyful sign of hope but an alarming oddity, something potentially very dangerous.

We forget so readily what Christianity brought into the world; we are so used to it that we think it is obvious. In the ancient world there was absolutely no assumption that every life was precious. Fathers had the right to kill their children in certain circumstances, masters their slaves; crowds flocked to see criminals or prisoners of war killing each other in the theatres; massacre was a normal tool of war. Some philosophers defended a theory of abstract human equality, but they were untroubled by the political facts of life in which lives were expendable in these familiar ways. It is a shock to realise just how deeply rooted such an attitude was. And when all is said and done about how Christianity has so often failed in its own vision, the bare fact is that it brought an irreversible shift in human culture. Human value could not be extinguished by violence or death; no one could be forgotten.

Comments