April 2017 – Fake News?

Be sceptical of stories about Trump, Clinton, the Pope, Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber, and particularly of stories about any of them pledging allegiance to Isis.” Elle Hunt: What is fake news? The Guardian 17 December 2016

The current circulation of the Guardian is 156,756; the current circulation of the Daily Telegraph is 472,258; the current circulation of the Sun is 1,666,715. Such numbers are dwarfed by the statistics for users of social media.  There are around 315 million Twitter users and a staggering 1.86 billion users of Facebook representing 25% of the population of the world!

It easy to see how the “modern” phenomenon of “fake news” can take hold in the “post truth” virtual world of social media.  A story can be concocted by one Facebook user and very quickly made available to a quarter of the world’s population; by the same token, the real and authentic news of St Mary’s and Spire Cafe via Twitter is available to almost 5 times more people than live in the UK!!

We know how necessary it is to read any news story from any source with discernment and a degree of scepticism.  Stories need testing in just the same way that scientists test observations collected through experiments.  We have reached that point in the Christian year where we focus on a particular story – the account of the Resurrection and the events of Easter.  Is this fake news?  St Thomas certainly believed it was, “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe.” John 20:25  The chief priests and Pharisees believed it was going to be even before it happened: “The chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise again.’  Therefore order the sepulchre to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away, and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead’, and the last fraud will be worse than the first.”  Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can.”  So they went and made the sepulchre secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard.” Matthew 27:62-66  Mark concludes his Gospel with the women fleeing the empty tomb in fear, “And they went out and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid.” Mark 16:8.  There is little doubt that, even in the mind of the Biblical writers, the initial reports of the resurrection were treated as “fake news”!  Subsequently the Church was sufficiently embarrassed by Mark’s ending to add a few more verses giving a more positive account of events!  Fake news?

To accept the accounts of the resurrection is ultimately an act of faith but scholars have long recognised that the Biblical accounts are ones that demand to be taken seriously.  They are historical documents which are rightly subject to scrutiny and leave open the definite possibility that Jesus Christ faced death and defeated it.  The Gospels record varying accounts of the events of the first Easter Sunday and then offer a further collection of “resurrection experiences” including the Ascension and Pentecost which leave the uncertain and fearful disciples equipped to proclaim the truth of resurrection as spirit-filled apostles.  Thomas, having doubted the initial accounts believing them to be very definitely fake becomes the apostle to acknowledge Jesus as “My Lord and My God” John 20:28.

On Easter Sunday we undoubtedly celebrate historical events in first century Palestine, which were literally “earth shattering” – and suddenly there was great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone Matthew 28:2.  The significance of those events was not merely geological but epistemological – they shattered not only the physical earth but our way of knowing and encountering the earth.  Furthermore, just as the disciples were drawn into that new reality, so as Christians we are – the Church is an “Easter people”.  Resurrection is not just a past historical event but the reality in which we now live and in which Christians have lived for twenty centuries.  If it were “fake news” it might just have been “found out” by now.  Bishop Tom Wright writes, “The message of Easter is that God’s new world has been unveiled in Jesus Christ and that you’re now invited to belong to it.” Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church p252-253  Like St Thomas, we are invited to test the veracity and validity of the resurrection by stretching out our hands and living its reality.

The author and poet John Updike lays down this challenge:
Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.
John Updike – Seven Stanzas at Easter 1960

If you wish to engage with this truth you will find its details in the Bible which sells about 100 million copies a year and of which, by conservative estimate, there are five billion copies worldwide …… even more than Facebook users!

I wish you a very happy and blessed Easter

Fr James