The familiarity of the great texts of the New Testament can obscure the achievements of their writers. In its first three verses, the First Epistle of John joins "the eternal life that was with the Father" with the physical presence of Jesus, who has been seen with eyes and touched with hands.
You may recall that this
ending of the Gospel of Mark, the one that appears in the most ancient
manuscripts of the book, seemed too abrupt to later copyists. Before long, 11
more verses had found their way there, a busy digest of post-resurrection
experiences from a variety of sources: John's account of the scene at the tomb
with Mary Magdalene, John's story of Thomas the doubter, a version of the walk
to Emmaus, an account of Jesus' ascension, other material from Luke/Acts. These
are entered almost as bullet points.
But the tacked-on verses need
not concern us here--the Revised Common Lectionary walks away from them
politely. We are left with the bald confusion and fear at the end of the
ancient tale, from a time before it was canonized and liturgized.
Yesterday was a long day. I'm now working not one but two part-time church-music jobs; I'm with the Lutherans by morning and the Methodists by night. Both congregations observe Palm/Passion Sunday, complete with numerous changes to the order of service, additional musical ensembles to plan and rehearse, etc.
A statistical projection is not a prediction, but if the number of Christians in Britain continues to decline at the current rate, there will be no more British Christians by 2067. Between 2001 and 2011 the church lost 5.3 million members—about 10,000 each week. The rate of decline in the Church of England is higher than that of other denominations. In one survey the numbers dropped from 40 percent of the population in 1983 to 29 percent in 2004 and just 17 percent last year. The decline in the Catholic Church is not as precipitous because of the influx of Catholic immigrants. Sometime in this century Muslims will outnumber Christians in Britain (Spectator, June 13).