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Columnists

Agnostics Anonymous

It's that time of year again. The time when 'the trees are coming into leaf / Like something almost being said', as Philip Larkin had it. The time when dead earth suddenly comes alive with yellow petals and green shoots, when parks and streets pour with creamy blossom, and colour bursts forth from unexpected corners. It feels like a new year, and indeed, until the Calendar Act of 1752, the year in England began on 25th March: known as Lady Day, after the Feast of the Annunciation. According to the 6th century Scythian monk Dionysius Exiguus, inventor of the Anno Domini system, this was the date on which Christ is believed to have been conceived in the Virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit. It's a strange event for a monk to celebrate really, the impregnation of a young virgin by a spirit she's never even met - and without the fun that Leda had with the swan. Hmm. Maybe not so strange. Christianity is nothing if not contradictory: fecund virgins, living corpses. In the same contrary fashion, just when all is beginning 'afresh, afresh, afresh', Christianity celebrates Easter with images of torture and darkness. For Christians, of course, this is all well worth it, brilliantly resolved as it is by the passage of three days. 'Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.' (1 Peter) This 'living hope' means believing in the actual pregnancy of a virgin and the literal resurrection from the dead of a preacher two thousand years ago - which apparently could be disproved by the research of a 79-year-old scientist studying the chemistry of chalk crust. This week, an Israeli geologist claimed to have discovered a geochemical match between specific elements found in samples collected from the Talpiot Tomb in Jerusalem, and from the James Ossuary: a match that might indicate that these are the bones of Jesus Christ - and his wife and child. This presents a fair few problems for Christians. For those who trust in Jesus' resurrection, 'Death is swallowed up in victory… For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.' (1 Corinthians) Adam, the Hebrew word for man, is also a play on the words for 'red' and 'earth'. 'As in Adam all die': what a way to see the world, as a death sentence, something to escape. To live 'in sure and certain hope of the resurrection' is to see the temporal world as inferior or corrupt: to reject the world of colour, of earth, of sex, the world of green shoots and blue skies, what Larkin called the 'the million-petalled flower / Of being here', this one and only shot, your last chance to feel the sunshine on your face and suck the marrow out of the lamb bone.