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An Easter struggle for the soul of Europe

24 March 2016

EASTER poses a question about whether there can be a winner without a loser; a victory without a vanquished foe. Of course, in the traditional language, it is the “dark forces” of sin and death that are defeated. But these forces are demonic, not human. They are not “enemies” in the sense that we usually use the term.

In fact, Easter is radically inclusive: “Since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.” The whole of humanity, the whole of history, the whole of nature — indeed, the whole cosmos — is caught up in the triumph of the resurrection. Anything and anyone that has the breath of life is potentially gathered up into salvation.

I have been thinking these pious thoughts while getting increasingly infuriated with the debate about whether or not we should leave the European Union. Our concerns about British sovereignty and our own economic flourishing seem petty and provincial compared with the boundless hope of the Easter proclamation. Both sides present their case as though it were a matter of winning or losing; of getting our way or being defeated.

On the borders of Eastern Europe, the real struggle for the soul of Europe is going on. Children and adults are herded behind barbed-wire fences, and treated as potentially dangerous aliens. Right-wing politicians speak of being “swamped”; some would shoot at refugees who are trying to get in.

Here in Britain, it is the bland self-centredness of our debate that appals me. The once-voiced aspiration that we might have something positive to offer Europe has been drowned in whinging self-concern. As things stand at the moment, I would find it hard to vote for either side. I want someone to talk about what is good for Europe, and what part we might play in that wider good.

As we contemplate the Paschal mystery, we would all do well to remember that the European project was conceived as a way of building peace out of the brokenness of war. It is now challenged at its roots, and not by the posturing of little Britain, however important we think we are. We could offer so much, if we stopped bothering so much about our own exclusive interests, and started to think about what we could contribute to the leadership of Europe.

We have an extraordinary capacity for tolerance and compassion, and an instinctive sympathy with those who are fleeing oppression. At the moment, we are leaving all the real moral leadership to Angela Merkel, and, instead of supporting her stance, we keep sniping away in the wings. Easter suggests that we could and should be braver. The dark forces, after all, are defeated.


The Revd Angela Tilby is Diocesan Canon of Christ Church, Oxford, and Continuing Ministerial Development Adviser for the diocese of Oxford.

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