CHURCH leaders used their Easter sermons to draw attention to the darkness of the Covid-19 pandemic, and to warn societies against returning to the status quo once it is over.
The Archbishop of Canterbury delivered his sermon in the kitchen of his flat at Lambeth Palace, during what his office described as “the Church of England’s first national digital service for Easter Sunday”. The service, which was pre-recorded on Archbishop Welby’s iPad, was streamed on the Church of England website.
“Who does not feel the shock of the last weeks?” the Archbishop said in his sermon. “So many have suffered from the virus, been in hospital, or mourn someone who is gone. . . So many people right across the country are anxious about employment, food, are isolated from loved ones, and feel that the future looks dark. People right across the globe feel the same uncertainty, fear, despair, and isolation.”
The resurrection of Christ,he said, provided “a hope that is surer than stone” and “lights a fire which calls us to justice, to live in humble generosity, to transform our societies”.
He continued: “After so much suffering, so much heroism from key workers and the NHS, so much effort, once this epidemic is conquered here and round the world, we cannot be content to go back to what was before as if all is normal.
“There needs to be a resurrection of our common life, something that links to the old, but is different and more beautiful.”
Pope Francis celebrated mass inside a near-empty St Peter’s Basilica. The mass was live-streamed.
In his homily, the Pope spoke of how the resurrection was “a different ‘contagion’” to Covid-19: “It is the contagion of hope.” He continued, however: “This is no magic formula that makes problems vanish. No, the resurrection of Christ is not that. Instead, it is the victory of love over the root of evil, a victory that does not ‘bypass’ suffering and death, but passes through them, opening a path in the abyss, transforming evil into good.”
He called for the vulnerable to be given basic necessities, such as medicine, and for international sanctions to be relaxed, so that countries could support their citizens. This was also a moment, he said, for “the reduction, if not the forgiveness, of the debt burdening the balance sheets of the poorest nations”.
He also expressed concern that “the rivalries of the past” in Europe, which had been overcome by the “concrete spirit of solidarity” forged after the Second World War, “do not regain force, but that all recognise themselves as part of a single family and support one another”.
He continued: “Let us not lose the opportunity to give further proof of solidarity, also by turning to innovative solutions. The only alternative is the selfishness of particular interests and the temptation of a return to the past, at the risk of severely damaging the peaceful coexistence and development of future generations.”
Writing in The Times on Saturday, the Archbishop-designate of York, the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, said: “Whatever happens on the other side of this pandemic, the one thing we must not do is return to normal. The reduction of the role and size of the state has seriously weakened our capacity to care for each other. Across the globe we are failing to act together in the way we should. We have much to learn about how we must inhabit this planet as one humanity; for this pandemic is showing us how our well-being is inextricably tied up with the well-being of our neighbour, and of the earth itself.”
The Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, posted an Easter “reflection” on her blog. “Let us this Easter day not deny our grief, be open to let go of who we think Jesus Christ is for us and allow the spirit to lead us into a deeper truth.
“Let us like Mary go and tell that we have seen the Lord and by the hope we have be motivated to touch the lives of others maybe not physically but by phoning people, staying at home, giving to the foodbanks and by praying.”
In a blog post on Easter Monday, Bishop Mullally expressed gratitude for the work of doctors, nurses, and other frontline workers in hospitals. “I am grateful for their courage, kindness and determination in the face of such adversity.”
This had prompted her decision to ask clergy in her diocese “not only to continue the closure of church buildings but also to stop living streaming services.
“It feels extremely hard to ask that of clergy in Holy Week, of all weeks, to do this. But if being in our churches to stream, even if it is accessed by a door in your home, is seen as encouraging others to want to travel to their church, and for others to ask for churches to be open to the public we had to stop. We would not want to encourage any laxity in the requirement to stay indoors, because this will save lives, and protect the NHS.”
The Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, posted an Easter video reflection. “This Easter there is so much pain caused by restrictions on funerals; on how many, and who can attend,” he said.
“There is the pain of family not being able to be by the bedside as a loved one dies. No ability to hold their hand, say the last ‘I love you’. It is dark. . . In our darkness there is hope. In our time of uncertainty and in the midst of our fears; there is hope. Light dawns. It is Easter Day. Whether or not it feels like it. Whether or not we can grasp it, it is Easter Day. Jesus Christ is risen. Risen indeed. This living Jesus is with us still; present amidst our sadness, fear and uncertainty.”
The Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham Usher, wrote an Easter message for the Eastern Daily Press. “Easter doesn’t hide from hard daily realities, but witnesses to God in Jesus bringing life out of death, transforming darkness into light, turning fear into tomorrow’s joy, and longing for hopelessness to become hopefulness,” he wrote.
“I think we’ve seen some of that Easter light already breaking out around us amidst the gloom of these last few weeks. Just think of the incredible fortitude of NHS staff and their sheer commitment. They deserved that applause on our doorsteps.”
The Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Treweeks, live-streamed a eucharist from Bishopscourt. In her sermon, she said: “Last year on Easter Day I also spoke about times of uncertainty, but then it was about the uncertainty around the withdrawal from the European Union. Perhaps that now already seems like a distant memory. After all, the B-word has been overtaken by the C-word. Now our uncertainty is not focused on Brexit, but on coronavirus, and we still find ourselves living amid huge uncertainty.
“Yet on this Easter morning — as last year, and indeed as on every morning — what we are faced with is something very certain: the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
The Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, wrote on his blog on Easter Day: “Easter whispers to a world that isn’t expecting or waiting for him that violence, death and destruction do not have the final word in this world — or in our broken and seemingly fragile lives. God does, and the word is ‘resurrection’. . .
“Christians, if they have truly been grasped by the resurrection, put their hope in the person of the God who raised Christ from real death, and not in some formula for guaranteeing personal security.”