Exploring the Nicene Creed

JESUS . . . “on the third day he rose again”

This is the foundation stone of the Christian Faith and Religion. It’s the truth of faith upon which all other Christian beliefs depend and hold together. It’s the fulcrum or heart centre of Christianity. If it was not true there would have been no Christian Church at all. And I would not be writing this article! Jesus was indeed raised to life again after that terribly cruel unjust death; had met his disciples as he had promised giving them determined conviction and assurance to continue the work he had begun. Without that glorious realisation those dispirited followers would have given up entirely, and it would have been the end of the story! But it was not so! See Acts 1:1-3; 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 & 12-14; 1 Peter 1:3-4. Hence this Creed firmly asserts: “In accordance with the Scriptures” of the New Testament and also in fulfilment of the Old Testament. See Luke 24:13-27.

The Gospel story is a full honest account of those 1st Century earth shaking events. It tells the story exactly as it happened hiding none of the injured feelings, the wounded expectations or shattered hopes of those men and women who had given their all for Jesus. They had risked their reputations, their very lives and livelihoods too. And though Jesus had plainly told them he would be raised to life after his crucifixion and death, it had not really sunk in. They simply hated the whole idea. See: Matthew 16:21-23. And worse, most of the disciples deserted him at the end; Judas betrayed him; even their leader Peter denied him three times. They did not want to see the Master they had come to love so much, humiliated, tortured and crucified; the one with such wonderful teachings; such generous love and compassionate concern for all others. At the close of that day we now call Good Friday (and the bleak Saturday that followed), those saddened men and women must have felt all they had set their hopes on was total failure, appalling disaster, a dreadful end. They had still to learn that the Sacrifice Jesus was prepared to make was far from being a total let down and tragedy, but a Salvation Victory of the widest impact and importance. See 1 Peter 3:18.

On that first Easter Sunday morning it was the women who had always faithfully cared for Jesus and the disciples (especially Mary Magdalene healed so tenderly by him), that made the first approaches to the tomb. They did not expect to find it empty! Their sheer love for Jesus was to do the only thing they could still do, to anoint his body in accord with gracious custom. The empty tomb was the greatest surprise of all possible surprises. Then next, joy of joys, for a few fleeting minutes later that morning, to actually meet and see Jesus fully alive with a now transformed body; and to hear him speak to them reassuringly. That lifted their hearts and souls to heights of pure joy, renewed faith, hope, and undying love for him. Then soon after many of the men folk also visited the empty tomb, received the great surprise, and awaited Christ’s visit to them. Mark 16; Luke 24; Matthew 28; John 20.

That wonderful experience of Christ’s Resurrection would carry them all into new deeper dimensions of faith, brand new life, wider purpose and goals, and the building of Christian Fellowship and Church that would go on and on century after century until the end of time. We must never lose sight of the fact that it was mostly the women folk, with Mary Christ’s mother, who held firm in that terrible time; and though scarcely believing that their Lord would be resurrected, nevertheless showed love and loyalty to the end. The Eastern Churches have long called Mary Magdalene the Queen of the Apostles, for she (perhaps in reward for her great love) was the first chosen witness of the resurrection of Jesus.

John 20:11-18. It has however taken the Church a long long time to give women a real apostleship or episcopal role in Christian Ministry; and even now not all Churches have taken this step. Steadily it is happening and some Churches now accept women in ordained ministry. We cannot confine the Holy Spirit to any past age, culture or theology. All too often he has his own plans that cancel or exceed ours! He is a God of Surprises. He does new things calling us to new ways in every age. That too is what resurrection is all about.

The resurrection was indeed a great surprise! It still is for anyone and everyone who will take that step of faith and trust, accepting the Word of God with its clear testimonies of those first Christians. What they proclaimed was no cooked up fiction. The tomb was empty! No one, no Jewish or Roman authorities, produced a body. The Gospel resurrection accounts (though having small differences of detail) tell a consistent uniform theme. Faith in the resurrection of Jesus proved very costly for many Christians in those early years and later centuries, and still does for many. Most of the first disciples gave their lives in martyrdom for their beliefs; for Jesus, the risen and reigning eternal Son of God. Christians still die for their faith in many parts of our world. Always we should value our freedom to believe, never taking it for granted; showing genuine thanks, by steadfast witness to that faith, by prayerful worship, support for one another, and loving service to all.

So let’s sum up the full impact and meaning of this great truth. First it confirmed and sealed forever the whole purpose of the huge Sacrifice that Christ made for us; his truly real and human life amongst us; his passion and death on that holy Cross; and a “love so amazing so divine” that  filled every moment, thought, and deed of his entire life. It proclaims the Victory of the Cross, not apparent failure or disaster. It confirms the Atonement: reconciliation to our Father Creator God, of a good yet broken damaged humanity and world. It asserts that this world and all creation is essentially good, for God made it so. That his plan from the beginning to the end, is to affirm that goodness and beauty, constantly restoring and renewing it. Genesis 1:10 ff, Acts 14:15-17; 1 Timothy 4:4; James 1:17.

The Resurrection is also the pattern or prototype and sure guarantee, of our individual resurrection to glory with God, now and in heaven. And for every single soul without exception, all made in the image of God, and meant to share eternal life with the Father, Son and Spirit. Note John 6:39: that no one at all is excluded from the Father’s purpose, who has given everyone to his Son to redeem, and that he will lose no one! It does indeed spell out our resurrection to life here and now a life daily lived in the presence of the Risen Christ; with his sure graceful guidance, healing and forgiveness, enrichment and joy beyond compare. The Gospel describes it as abundant life – nothing less (John 10:10). A life where all creation, everything around us, all beauty, all art and music, all that is done and made for the good of humanity, every act of human love and kindness reveals the life and presence and goodness of God. Please make a resurrection prayer yourself and I will add “Amen”.

George Abell

Christianity—a Practical Religion

When we look around at the people we meet in Church, I’m sure we see a good number of practical people. And I’m sure that most of us would like to be thought of as practical people. We don’t hold dreamers or idealists in very high esteem, in fact we probably get rather impatient with some of their notions. OK, we may not see many visions, but we do like to get something done. Castles in the air are too wishy-washy for us. We want something solid that’s wind and weatherproof. Great ideas are all very well, but we have to deal with things as they are. There’s so little that gets done, and there’s so much to be done that we really haven’t got time for dreams.

The world needs workers and the best that we can do with what there is of our lives is to pack them as full as we can with practical usefulness. If you come across a lame dog by a stile, you know it wants something more than a stimulating talk on the art of jumping. Our duty is not to waste time in thinking how splendid it would be if there were no lame dogs and no difficult stiles in the world, but just to help the dog get over the stile.

I remember my Granny saying, “A pennyworth of practical help is worth a pound’s worth of sympathy any day of the week.” She wasn’t underrating the value of sympathy, but simply saying that if a pound’s worth of sympathy can’t be converted into at least a pennyworth of real human service, then that sympathy is a pretty poor thing. To feel pity and to do nothing makes an emotional luxury of something meant to stir us into giving practical help. Life is very short for all of us. If we want to leave our corner of the world a little cleaner, healthier, and brighter than when we found it, we need to cut down the talking and arguing about it and get on with the work required.

Christianity is a very practical religion with the aims of preaching the Gospel, healing the sick and blind, comforting the broken-hearted, freeing the oppressed. Practical programmes. There’s enough work to keep us busy for as long as we live.

Jesus was always at work. He was always doing good to somebody, sometimes preaching or teaching, healing, comforting, rebuking – always at work. And I don’t think we can really understand the Christian faith, unless we too are doing something for others. I may get into trouble for saying this, but some of the intellectual difficulties we have with our faith will never be solved by thinking. The only way in which we can see our way through them is by doing. It is by putting the precepts and principles of Christianity into practice, as much as we can, that we begin to understand them. Christ comes to meet us where  we are. If we are trying honestly to do our Christian duty, we shall find Jesus one day standing alongside us.

It’s amazing how many of life’s puzzles are solved when we set to and help others. We’ll never understand everything in this world. It isn’t as though we were sent into this world to make a sketch map of the universe. We shan’t be judged by what we understand but by what we do and were. God gives us all enough light to work by. It will be time enough to understand when we have finished the work that he has given us to do.

The life of the Christian is all coming and going – coming to Jesus for the strength that he alone can give us, going back into life to use that strength in doing good to those that need us, as and when and while we may. Do not dream your time away in wishing that the kingdom of God would come. Help it to come by doing your bit in your own corner of the world. Try to translate the dream into business. It’s a hard task, I know. I find it hard. So, I expect, do you. We can only do our best. We can only try our hardest. But if we keep on trying our hardest and patiently aiming at our best, God may work in us, and through us, in ways we just can’t imagine.

My apologies for the blunt bits in this article, reading it through I realise that I’m actually addressing myself as much as anybody. Happy Easter! May you, like Mary, find the Master standing beside you.

Max Young

Reading Revelation

3rd Reading

This was quite a different reading from the previous two, begun in response to Graham Scott Brown’s challenge in January. For the record, I used the New American Bible this time. Frankly – and this is not related to the bible version chosen – after praying for guidance and being receptive during the reading, I was at first intimidated by the evil, the horror; I found I had to break off reading from time to time – for relief. I am glad I persisted.

Knowing the book’s shape now, from two careful readings aloud, I expected the opening of the seals and the blowing of trumpets – and all the dire and immediate consequences that follow from them. Jane Austen would no doubt describe these dreadful consequences as ‘unfortunate’ – but they cannot be lightly or politely dismissed: at a deeper level, that imagined ‘unfortunate’ comment rings true, anyway. What happens, happens as a result of humankind, and much of the created order, being corrupted by power, wealth, refusing to acknowledge Jesus and all the other whiles of Satan.

These consequences are direct responses to individual and collective sin: as the reader is invited, ‘Come up here and I will show you what must happen afterwards.’ (4:1b). That little word ‘must’ hit me hard: it comes at the start of Chapters 4 and 5 which lay before us an uplifting image of worship in heaven. To be possibly deprived of participation in that worship set me on edge as the fearful consequences are relentlessly rolled out in what follows. Negotiation and mediation, so much part of my teaching in Geneva, have absolutely no functions here.

The opening text of Revelation (1:3) says, ‘Blessed is the one who reads aloud…and blessed are those who heed its prophetic message in it, for the appointed time is near’. John, the author of Revelation who gives us these messages, writes clearly in light of a certainty that the end time is near. It is too easy to dismiss the extraordinary, apocalyptic images and events as being only germane to late-1st century Christian perceptions and forecasts, living under Roman and other persecution.

The messages go deeper. It helped, for example, seeing the now-heavenly martyrs’ vindictive language of revenge against their tormentors (6:9-10, 18:1-19:4) as a startlingly helpful way of imagining apostasy and worse being severely punished by God – it is saying nothing about the martyrs themselves adopting the attitudes of their persecutors.

A book in the New Testament canon is there because of its timeless application. Revelation is the same – but tougher going. This time through, I read it much more like that; paradoxically, it got easier as a result.

That said, I will pick up the NIV to read the book aloud once again – and, once again, with considerable trepidation. Perhaps it is just as T S Eliot wrote: ‘humankind cannot bear too much reality’.

4th Reading

More than with the previous readings, this fourth visitation to the extraordinary world of ‘The Revelation to John’ saw the whole book as a letter – not just the letters to the seven churches with which the book opens, but a letter to all of us, as imperfect followers of Christ. Read like that, it ‘fits’ into the New Testament as the culmination of the 22 letters that begin with Paul writing to the Romans. As a result, after finishing the book, I found myself drawn back to the letters dictated to John for the seven churches in ‘Asia’ and reading them over once more. Part of the reason for this is that our benefice is undergoing changes with Steve, our new incumbent: of the letters Jesus dictates directly to John (chapters 2 and 3), what specific questions arise for us? I did not reach any firm conclusions but the exploration was fascinating.

Each of the letters has three elements: a recognition of good things; mention of serious shortfalls or temptations; and the eternal rewards for the faithful.

  • Among positive aspects of the churches – each being different – are energy and effort in church activities and worship, rejection of false prophets, temptations being avoided, not letting poverty diminish faith, martyrdom, and doing good deeds for the poor.
  • The letters point out the several challenges being faced – a fading of love for God and his creation, toleration of the followers of Balaam or Jezebel within congregations, church activities that hide actual spiritual death, lukewarm faith and complacency (even apostasy).
  • Providing the challenges are met, the variety of rewards are: to eat from the tree of life, to suffer no ‘second death’ after earthly death, enjoy secret nourishment from heaven, rule the nations (and be given the morning star!), to be clothed in white and be retained in the book of life, become citizens of the new Jerusalem, full fellowship with Christ and to sit on his throne.

Strikingly, the greatest gifts are reserved for the two weakest churches (Smyrna: poor but resilient; Philadelphia: small, beset by a rival, Gentile and Judaizing ‘synagogue’ but steadfast). Much of the rest of Revelation concerns what inevitably happens to the people for whom the challenges are either too much or simply rejected – or who have been tempted into sin by Satan. It is an observation on the book that can only be met with deep reflection and prayer for ourselves to be better servants of Jesus.

“Come up here”, Jesus says to John, “and I will show you what must happen in the future!”. For all that that sentence implies, I am most grateful to Graham Scott Brown for suggesting this four-fold reading aloud of Revelation. I know just a little of the book now – but a lot more than of other books that I thought I knew much better. Above all, to my surprise, it reads like a letter to me – which will richly repay yet more study.

Peter Foot


This poem was written before the Second World War by Glenys King who was brought up in Little Coxwell with Betty Humphries, another member of St Mary’s congregation. Apparently there was quite an ‘exodus’ of villagers to pick flowers for Easter. Fernham Copse was on the Uffington Road out of Fernham and was cut down for the war effort.

Good Friday saw an exodus
We went on foot – there was no bus.
And it was a long way to walk,
But we would skip and laugh and talk,
And the time would soon elapse,
And we’d arrive at Fernham Copse.
There, amidst it’s leafy bowers
We’d pick all the leaves and flowers
That we possibly could.
It was a lovely primrose wood.
Then, home again we’d wend our way,
Very contented with our day,
But Ringdale Hill seemed very steep
As we climbed it with tired feet.
Journeys end was then in sight
And, tired, we’d have an early night.
Next morning, bright and alert,
We’d take our primroses to church,
For them to be arranged in little vases,
And arrayed at the Easter Sunday service.
The church looked lovely on Easter Day,
And we had helped in our small way.
We looked around with great satisfaction,
Then turned our thoughts to the chocolate confection,
Awaiting us when we got home.
Oh! Didn’t the sermon make us groan,
And time really did seem to drag,
Because all we wanted was our Easter Egg . . .
Glenys King