Hope and new life amid uncertainty: bishops’ Easter messages


Hope and the promise of new life at a time of uncertainty are the theme of Easter messages from Church of England bishops.

Several bishops drew on the recent events in Salisbury and their aftermath in written messages and sermons during Holy Week and the Easter weekend.

In his message, the Bishop of Burnley, Philip North, speaks of the “very strange backdrop” to Lent this year.

“It feels like we’ve time-travelled back to the dark days of the Cold War or even into the pages of a John le Carré novel,” he remarks.
“And all the time there is a real fear that it might escalate out of control.”

Drawing comparison with the events leading up to the crucifixion, he  continues: “This wonderful resurrection gives us a promise. Jesus has overcome sin, darkness and conflict."

The Bishop of Salisbury, Nicholas Holtam, told clergy at the annual Chrism Mass at Salisbury Cathedral that the nerve agent incident was both an attack on the two victims and a “violation of the city”.

“Coming to Salisbury in present circumstances feels like a very strong affirmation of belief in the Christian story on which this cathedral city was founded nearly 800 years ago,” he said.
“When things go wrong we believe in new life, hope and resurrection. What we do here and in our churches in the next few days attests that truth, love and justice matter in the way in which we live with one another.”

In his Easter Sunday sermon, the Bishop of St Albans, Alan Smith, said: "The heartbeat of Christianity is not some vague notion that things might get better, but which has no basis in reality.

"Almost 40 years ago the Monty Python satire Life of Brian upset a lot of Christians especially the crucifixion scene at the end. You may recall the controversial scene where one of the thieves hanging on a cross next to the crucified Brian tells him to cheer up. The thief breaks into a jolly song, Always look on the Bright side of life.

"But the film spectacularly missed the point. Groundless optimism such as that does not and cannot offer real comfort and solace."

He listed tragedies and acts of evil over the last year including the Salisbury nerve agent attack, the terrorist atrocities in Manchester and London, the Grenfell Tower fire and the killings of civilians  in East Ghouta, Syria.

"In the face of such events … we too might be tempted to give in to despair," he said.

"Yet greater than such acts of evil are the actions of self-giving love."

The Bishop of Lichfield, Dr Michael Ipgrave, speaks of a “changeable” atmosphere - not only in the freezing weather but what to many seems a “profoundly unsettling” pace of change in society and in the world.
“The deepest message of Easter is this: that God’s care for us will never change, and his purposes will never be defeated,” he says.

And the Bishop of Durham, Paul Butler, says the Easter message of “life in all its fullness” should mean a concern for others.

“[That] is why I tie Easter with things like why we need to have real living wage not just minimum wage; why we [The Church] are engaged in tackling poverty, why we are a people of welcome to refugees and asylum seekers," he says.

“The Easter message has to turn itself into everyday living that is about fullness of life for all people - not just me, me, me but us, us, us!
“Because in Easter, Jesus says, ‘Life for all, life in all its fullness’.”

In an Easter letter, the Bishop of Worcester John Inge, draws inspiration from the fact that Easter falls in spring.

Describing the vivid contrast with winter, he adds: “This should surely be an indication to us that death and resurrection are built into the nature of things.
“We see the pattern all around us just as we see it in all its fullness on the stage of human history in the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord. We should also expect to find it reflected in our own experience.”

The Bishop of Blackburn, Julian Henderson, also singles out the challenge to the Church revealed by the ongoing Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.

"It is a shocking and shameful story from which we have much to learn, so that in the future we follow good practice and safeguard children and vulnerable adults better, making church a place of safety," he says.

In her Chrism sermon the Bishop of Gloucester, Rachel Treweek, addressed how many feel "crushed" by shame and inadequacy.

“I pray that here in our worship we will look on the face of Christ on the cross and be overwhelmed by God’s love killing our shame,” she said.
“May we be filled afresh with the treasure of God so that Christ’s light might shine through the cracks and flaws of our own lives, as we serve our broken world.”