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Death is ‘most devastating liar’ says Archbishop Welby in Easter sermon

04 April 2021

Archbishops speak of life and hope in their Easter messages

youtube/canterbury cathedral

The Archbishop of Canterbury preaches in Canterbury Cathedral, during an Easter Day eucharist

The Archbishop of Canterbury preaches in Canterbury Cathedral, during an Easter Day eucharist

DEATH is the “greatest and most devastating liar” when it claims to have the final word on life, the Archbishop of Canterbury said in his Easter Day sermon.

Archbishop Welby preached live from Canterbury Cathedral on BBC Radio 4 at 8.10 a.m. and on BBC 1 at 10 a.m. on Easter Day.

Death is the greatest and most devastating liar,” he said: “the lie that the final breath is the end, there is nothing more; the lie that we will always be separated from those we have loved, ultimately losing those we love for ever. . . Of course death matters. It is brutal, terrible, and cruel. But it lies when it claims to be the final word.”

Easter”, he said, “calls time on the lie.”

He continued: “If death is telling the truth, then we may as well live for ourselves. Then the last year is yet another cruel period of history taking from us those whom we loved, ending lives cruelly and tragically.”

Individuals and the world could respond by recognising the “life and hope” of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ, he said. “The joy and purpose he gave to the disciples is exactly the same as is offered to us today. We are each and all invited to accept that new reality, welcoming the living dynamic presence of God into our lives.”

This hope was not private, but public and worldwide, Archbishop Welby said. “That is why the Church gets involved with resisting injustice, treasuring our world, tending the needy — it’s why Christians throughout the centuries have lived with compassion and love for all who are excluded and marginalised. They breathed the oxygen of hope through the resurrection of the crucified God.”

This was the gift of God and the Church — not to be wasted, he said. “The Church must go with that torrent of good news and love, transformed, celebrating, and declaring in word and deed the truth that death is a liar and that life is offered to all.

“In this country, all round our world, we have a choice over the next few years after Covid. We can go on, as before Covid, when the most powerful and the richest gain and so many fall behind, but we have seen where that left us. Or we can go with the flooding life and purpose of the resurrection of Jesus which changes all things and we can choose a better future for all.

“The overwhelming generosity of God to us should inspire the same by us, in everything from private acts of love and charity to international aid generously maintained. We have received overwhelmingly, so let us give generously.”

The Archbishop of York, the Most Revd Stephen Cottrell, preached a sermon during a festal eucharist in York Minster. He noted that, in the Western Church, Easter Day fell this year “two weeks earlier than the average”.

He continued: “There is a sense in which, whatever the date, Easter is always early. It is always taking us by surprise. Its circumstances, challenges and promises are always unexpected.

“Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb early in the day, while it is still dark. She goes to anoint a corpse. But the tomb is empty, the stone rolled away. The resurrection has already happened. 

“The first message of Easter is this: he’s not here! You just weren’t early enough.”

The “most profound question in the world” was the one posed to Mary by the person whom she presumed to be the gardener, Archbishop Cottrell said. “Who are you looking for? I mean, what are you really looking for? What is it that you seek? Whom will you follow? How will you set the compass of your life?”

“And then he speaks her name. For a moment she’s on time. That tender moment where time and eternity fuse together in the moment of recognition. Her eyes are opened there in the dawning of a new day and a whole new humanity. A spring of hope for the world that will never run dry; a love that can never be too late.

“Jesus: the early bird, the song thrush singing before the dawn; the pelican who feeds her young with her own shed blood; the crucified one who took upon him our flesh and plumbed the depths of grief, has been raised up. And all of God was with him in his dying. And all of us are with him in his rising.” 

Archbishop Cottrell concluded: “God’s door is always open. The kettle is always on. The beers are in the fridge. The champagne on ice. And someone has been sent out with a very large order for curry. God is scanning the horizon for our return.

“Sisters and brothers, Easter has come a bit early this year. It always does. In Jesus Christ, God has already done everything that’s necessary for us to enjoy eternal life with him. It’s an absolute done deal. The table is laid. There’s nothing you can do to earn it or deserve it. The invitation has your name on it, and however late you show up, the unconditional welcome is just the same.” 

In a joint Easter message, the Anglican and Roman Catholic Archbishops of Armagh, the Most Revd John McDowell and the Most Revd Eamon Martin, said that the “victorious and positive” hope of Easter was more than wishful thinking.

“Far from the resurrection being simply a metaphor that religious people use for natural renewal, as some believe, it is the yearly renewal of the earth in spring which is an anticipation of the resurrection; a sign pointing to something greater than itself. A shadow in search of a substance. Transience moving towards permanence.”

This year these signs were not in gatherings or music but in “the human lives which our eyes have been opened to value”, in some cases for the first time, they write. “It has been a tough year since last Easter, and many people, Christians and others, have found ways of making the best of a bad job by helping one another in ways that we haven’t been used to doing before.

“We’ve also found ways to show our appreciation and admiration for people who we don’t usually think about. They aren’t sports people, or billionaires or even politicians. They are nurses and delivery drivers and people toiling in cavernous warehouses and food factories for very low wages. People who serve the fundamental needs of God’s world. And, in its own way their hidden service is a shadow of the resurrection life; the life of heaven, God’s place. Our sure and certain hope.”

The Archbishop of Wales, the Most Revd John Davies, in his Easter message, also said that there would always be people who dismissed the hope of the Christian faith as wishful thinking. “They would say it’s all made up, and that those who believe it are just deluded. Well, they might be right if it were not for history and consistent witness to its truth. . .

“Our faith in all its richness, and the Easter faith in particular, are rooted, not in falsehood, but in the reality and witness of what people experienced and knew.” Nicodemus, written about in St John’s Gospel, was one such witness, he said.

“Today’s world remains darkened, marred, and disfigured by all manner of suffering, not only by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, but by atrocities, conflicts, persecutions too many to list — no small number of them are caused by or aggravated by human perversity, arrogance, stupidity and prejudice. Nicodemus was born again, and came to realise that the way of Christ Jesus was a new way of life for him and for the world.

“At Easter and at all times, thank God for new life in Christ and for people like Nicodemus who, in faith, tenderness, courage and love, continue to reach out to a broken and suffering world. At Easter and at all times, may you recognise your potential to be resurrected and to bring resurrection to others around you.”

In his Easter ecumenical letter to the heads of Churches around the world, Archbishop Welby said that the past year had been “the strangest we have ever known” and one filled with loss, grief, and suffering around the world.

“We have been confronted with our mortality and our fragility as human beings, but also with our interdependence and interconnectedness. . .

“Across the world we look towards the promise of the vaccine, and rebuilding society after the tumult of the last year. We take our places as salt and light in the world, remembering that, as Christians, we are called to keep our eyes fixed not on ‘normal’ life, but on the eternal life Jesus promises us in His Kingdom. That is our ultimate hope and our salvation.”

The Acting General Secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), the Revd Professor Ioan Sauca, said in his message that Christians around the world were preparing for another disrupted Easter; but the Good News of Easter remained.

“Many of our people are experiencing fear and uncertainty, as well as trauma, separation, isolation, loss of hope, or sickness and death in their families or in their church communities. The Covid-19 pandemic, which has affected the whole world, is also affecting the way Easter will be celebrated. . . Yet, despite these traumatic and painful situations, the message of Easter shines.”

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