THE poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal and growing tensions with Russia have featured in bishops’ Easter sermons.
The Bishop of Dudley, the Rt Revd Graham Usher, said of the Skripal poisoning that “in this despicable act of injustice, it seems likely that today’s political power has been abused, with all of the fear that engenders”.
The Bishop of Burnley, the Rt Revd Philip North, said: “Lent this year has been lived out against a very strange backdrop. 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.
“And all the time there is a real fear that it might escalate out of control, that the human addiction to conflict might impact on our own safety.”
And the Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Revd Nick Holtam, said in his chrism mass on Maundy Thursday: “Salisbury has had a very strange few weeks. Three Sundays ago two Russians were found in a critical condition on a bench as a consequence of a deadly military grade nerve agent. It was an attack not just on them but a violation of the city in which other people got caught up.”
He noted that the implications had stretched “way beyond Salisbury. Twenty countries are sending home Russians from their embassies, and tensions have risen in a way I cannot recall.”
Both bishops drew a spiritual message from the news. Bishop Usher warned: “Fear also stalks people in our communities who, far from just about managing, are facing a daily Good Friday world with its slow death of potential, health, esteem and hope.”
Easter did not hide from these daily realities, “but witnesses to God in Jesus bringing life out of death”.
Bishop North remarked that the last hours of Christ’s life were “played out against a backdrop of conflict, betrayal and secrecy”.
However, the “wonderful resurrection gives us a promise. Jesus has overcome sin, darkness and conflict. Those things are put to flight, they cannot last.”
A week after the conclusion of the IICSA hearings into child sex abuse in the Anglican Church, the Bishop of Blackburn, the Rt Revd Julian Henderson, used his Easter message to say how a victim could become “a conqueror”, just like “Jesus’s conquest over death”.
Bishop Henderson said that the IICSA revelations had been “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.
Survivors, he said, could find in Christ “a hope for the future, a peace that the world cannot give, and an energetic resolve to root out all forms of abuse and wickedness.”
By way of light relief, the Bishop of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich, the Rt Revd Martin Seeley, talked about how Easter eggs can be used to represent more than just gift-giving.
Bishop Seeley said: “Chocolate Easter eggs hold that double image of the new life that will burst out of an egg, and the new life of Jesus bursting out of the empty tomb.”