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Bishop in Europe’s Easter Message 2018

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

BISHOP’S EASTER MESSAGE 2018

“God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor. 5:19)

It is of the nature of this ‘Easter Message’ that it is written, published and mostly read in Lent, well before Easter. So I invite us to think about the joy of the resurrection in the context of the events leading up to the crucifixion of our Lord.

In the celebration of the Church’s liturgy there is the greatest dramatic distance between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. On Good Friday we recall the arrest of Jesus, Peter’s betrayal, the trials before Pilate and Herod, the baying crowd demanding crucifixion, the scourging and crucifixion. These are all events which depict the darkest aspects of human nature and which are appropriately expressed in sombre reflection and meditative music. Easter Sunday is a complete contrast centring on a garden tomb, a stone rolled away and the presence of angels impelling us to declare with organ and trumpets: ‘Thine be the glory, risen conquering Son: endless is the victory thou o’er death hast won.’

It would, however, be very far from the case to suppose that Easter Sunday simply cancels out holy week and Good Friday. It is not as if God somehow switches on a light that turns night into day, so that fortunate Christians can now live in a peaceable world where love, life and grace simply dissolve all the disfigurements of human sin and evil. Instead, what we see in the pages of the New Testament, are the implications of Easter Sunday being progressively and challengingly worked out in the lives of individuals and communities. The church is born as people work out an answer to the question: ‘What does it mean that the Jesus who was deserted and executed is alive with God and also present with us who follow him?’

The gospel writers show in different ways how the resurrection is good news for human beings – precisely including those who were complicit in Jesus’s death. St. Luke especially links the resurrected Christ with the city of Jerusalem – the place where Herod, Pilate, Jews and Gentiles joined forces to kill the messiah (Acts 4:27). In Luke’s gospel, the ‘road to Emmaus’ turns out to be a journey back to Jerusalem (Luke 24:33), Jesus appears to the 11 as they eat a meal together in the city, and the action finishes with the disciples worshipping together in the Jerusalem Temple. Extraordinarily, Peter’s sermon in Solomon’s Collonade suggests that the people of Jerusalem, including their leaders, had acted in ignorance (Acts 3:17) and extends an offer of salvation to any who will repent. Just where you might have expected a message that celebrated Jesus’s victory ‘over’ the Jerusalem set, we see a remarkable attempt to ‘win over’ Jerusalem.

Peter himself, of course, had colluded in Jesus’s death, three times denying his Lord. It is St. John who describes in painful detail Jesus’s reinstatement of the ‘rockman’ – probing deeply into the extent of Peter’s love for his master, before reissuing the summons ‘follow me’. The other ‘pillar’ of the early church, Paul, had persecuted Christian believers, to the point of death, and he too must be challenged and ‘turned around’ in order to be saved (Acts 9:4). For Paul this involves an experience of physical blindness and a deeply humbling re-orientation of his core beliefs and practices.

It is with personal experience that the now ‘Saint’ Paul, tells us that ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.’ This is seen nowhere more clearly than in a crucified Christ who reconciles precisely those who had hurt him. The perfect victim grants absolution to his persecutors. In the face of humanity’s misguided attempt to annihilate the messiah, God overcomes the forces of evil and death in order to reconcile humanity to its creator. And God puts this resurrection power to work in the lives of individuals to bring them back to himself.

I have begun to think in recent years that the gospel does not just contain the message of reconciliation: the gospel is the message of reconciliation. That means the gospel of Easter Sunday is at work in the very earthly and all too human Monday to Friday realities of life persuading us, coaxing us and sometimes dragging us to face those things in our lives which separate us from God and from one another. And it means that all who are involved in the messy, costly and demanding work of reconciling people to each other and to God are doing God’s own work.

We inhabit a world that is deeply marked at the moment by sharp and polarising divisions. The kind of passion, anger and even hatred that was manifest in Holy Week is sadly and increasingly evident in the social media, in newspaper columns and in certain kinds of political and even ecclesiastical discourse. The Bridge Builders conflict resolution consultants talk about ‘level 5’ or ‘holy war’ conflicts where only the annihilation of the other will satisfy.

As we approach Easter, I am thankful that the love of God reaches down to the point of our deepest need. God in Christ takes upon himself the enmity, insults and blows of our sinful humanity and responds with the gracious offer to forgive and to reconcile. On Easter Sunday God demonstrates that he will not be defeated in his efforts to renew and redeem his creation. Each time we overcome the sin that separates people from their creator and from each other we prove the ongoing power of the resurrection.

‘No more we doubt thee; glorious Prince of life.

Life is naught without thee: aid us in our strife.

Make us more than conquerors through they deathless love.

Bring us safe through Jordan to thy home above.’

And finally, I give my thanks as ever to all our clergy and lay people who will be involved in the preparation and conduct of worship for Holy Week and Easter. May God powerfully bless the words spoken and sung in our churches.

I wish you a blessed and joyful Easter,

+Robert Gibraltar in Europe

Bishop of Europe’s Easter Message

Here is Bishop Robert’s Easter Message to us:

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

BISHOP’S EASTER MESSAGE 2017

“Purity of heart is to will one thing”, said the Danish theologian Soren Kierkegaard. I write these words near the beginning of Lent, a season in which we try even more seriously than usual to order our desires under the overarching desire for God. Since our desires are continually stimulated, manipulated and exploited by powerful forces in the world, Lenten disciplines of even moderate asceticism are strongly counter-cultural and have seldom been more valuable in promoting true spiritual life.

It has been a particular delight for me that the daily lectionary this Lent has us reading through the prophet Jeremiah. Few other biblical characters exemplify such a single-minded longing after God and his purposes. For 40 years, Jeremiah faced the political situation of his day with utter realism. He helped his people navigate their way through one of the most disturbing times in their history – the huge discontinuity and disruption marked by exile in Babylon. Against the false prophets, who disseminated an easy message of ‘business as usual’, Jeremiah is unflinching in proclaiming that God is faithful, but that a very different kind of hope and a so far unimagined future lie on the other side of a painful judgement. “I know the plans I have for you”, declares the Lord, “to give you a future and a hope. You will seek me and you will find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jer. 29:11).

Jeremiah provides a suggestive backdrop to Easter. In his book “Outside Eden – Finding Hope in an Imperfect World”, Peter Fisher counters the idea that Easter is an exercise in mere wish fulfilment. We have plenty of evidence to suggest that the disciples who followed Jesus were expecting that, having given up homes, fishing businesses and so on, they would be rewarded with a relatively smooth path to greatness in the kingdom of God. They had, we know, been in the habit of discussing the various positions of honour they could expect. But Jesus’s death seemed to be the unexpected end of their hopes. And Jesus’s resurrection – a new spiritual body – was quite outside the rational categories that had so far been available to them. So the shape of the hope that opens up before the disciples on Easter Day is quite different from anything they had previously known. And, not surprisingly, the new resurrection order dramatically changes the character and capacities of the disciples too.

For most of us, Easter Sunday morning is epitomised by the reading of St. John’s account of Mary Magdalene meeting her risen Lord in the garden. I have been struck, in re-reading this text, by the repeated ‘turning’ of Mary. She is the first to see the empty tomb. After running away in fright, she returns with Peter and the other unnamed disciple. Having seen the empty tomb, the others depart, but Mary remains, standing weeping outside the tomb. When the gardener engages her in conversation she ‘turns around’ and sees Jesus, though without recognising him. It is in the face to face conversation between them, and in particular when Jesus speaks her name, ‘Mary’, that she recognises the risen Lord.

Rowan Williams comments (in ‘Resurrection – Interpreting the Easter Gospel’): “She, the one who had turned, again and again, in ever-dwindling hope, now finds that hope answered. Turning, over and again, to the name, the figure, the recollection of Jesus, even when it can only seem abstract and remote, issues at last in knowing with utter clarity that it is still he who calls us into our unique identity.” It is in turning, metanoia or conversion (or re-conversion) that we find Jesus and are found by him. Thus Mary finds a new future and a new hope.

Easter 2017 greets an uncertain and fearful European continent. The achievements of the post-war decades are being radically questioned. The story of smooth progress towards an ever-more prosperous, liberal and globalised future is being angrily protested against. Yet we don’t know what could replace it. The European Commission has published a White Paper that offers five very different scenarios, and both Protestant and Catholic Churches are holding conferences on ‘The Future of Europe’. There is, as yet, little in the way of genuinely convincing and inspiring ways forward. We feel ourselves to be in a kind of ‘Holy Saturday’, with old hopes having gone and a new vision yet to crystallise.

If that is our situation, we can take courage from Jeremiah, who assures his readers of a future and a hope that lie, not in the immediate present, but on the other side of exile. For Christians, faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not yet seen (Hebrews 11:1).  And so, in the purposes of God, Easter bursts upon us in unexpected ways with the promise of a future that we cannot yet specify.

Whatever the vagaries of human history, the seasons of the natural world are a tangible reminder of the faithfulness of God. Each year, the flowers grow and the trees blossom. As I write this, my daffodils are just starting to show the first yellow of Spring. I am reminded that amidst the sad Lamentations of Jeremiah (which are traditionally read on Good Friday), the prophet can nonetheless declare: “The Lord’s compassions never fail, they are new every morning: Great is your faithfulness!”

In closing, I want to thank all our clergy and lay people who will be involved in the preparation and conduct of worship for Holy Week and Easter. I wish insight and skill especially to those who will be endeavouring to communicate the Easter message in ways that will connect with regular churchgoers and visitors alike. I hope and pray that people will turn to meet the risen Lord in the welcome and worship we offer.

I wish you all a blessed and joyful Easter.

+Robert Gibraltar in Europe