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Church leaders communicate hope in midst of turmoil at Easter

11 April 2023

Church in Wales

A fire on a Welsh beach, featured in a short video message from the Archbishop of Wales, released over the Easter weekend alongside a joint message with the RC Archbishop of Cardiff

A fire on a Welsh beach, featured in a short video message from the Archbishop of Wales, released over the Easter weekend alongside a joint message wi...

CHURCH leaders from around the world delivered over the Easter weekend messages of hope in the midst of injustice and turmoil. Many referred to the plight of refugees fleeing war and of the “tortuous” path to peace.

In his Easter message, the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Michael Jackson, focused on the journey of Lent, saying: “Travelling with Jesus Christ in both the Biblical and the contemporary wilderness has strengthened us.”

He continued: “More and more people travel in different ways in today’s world. There are refugees and displaced persons who are doing their utmost to find a way to a place of safety, fleeing from war and exploitation, from horror and certain death. There are people struggling to make ends meet in economic circumstances they had never imagined for themselves and in a time of life they had never expected. The path to justice and to peace remains tortuous right across the world. It is small steps that make progress possible.

“Let us never forget that it was when the Risen Jesus called Mary by name that she knew it was The Master utterly changed yet the same. We need to be alert to sameness and to change at the very same time in creative and constructive ways at Easter.”

In Scotland, the Provost of St Mary’s Cathedral, Glasgow, the Very Revd Kelvin Holdsworth, used his Easter sermon more specifically to criticise the Government’s Illegal Migration Bill (News, 10 March, Comment, 24 March), which he described as “reckless, heartless, and lawless. This country has legal obligations to deal with such people fairly.”

Speaking before the service, he also criticised economic policy. “People know that it is government austerity economics that have led to massive increases in the need for foodbanks to feed the hungry,” he said. “Every politician at every election needs to be asked what they will do to end the need for foodbanks in this country.”

In a joint message, the Archbishop of Wales, the Most Revd Andrew John, and the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Cardiff and Bishop of Menevia, the Most Revd Mark O’Toole, spoke of both national and international crises.

“The last year has seen a dreadful cost-of-living crisis, a bitter war in Ukraine to add to the ongoing concerns [that] we are not doing enough to tackle the climate emergency. These will sit alongside the many personal challenges we may have faced — the loss of a loved one perhaps, covid related ill health or employment challenges.

“There are no glib answers here, certainly no straightforward religious ones.”

But Easter, they wrote, by thinking of the crises Jesus faced in his last moments, and the despair of his friends and disciples, was the truth that “God had not abandoned them, as he had not abandoned Jesus. God was found in the midst of the struggles and heartaches that seemed unimaginably painful and hopeless.”

The Archbishop in Jerusalem, Dr Hosam Naoum, referred in his Easter sermon to the First Epistle of Peter in which the apostle “writes that Christ’s resurrection offers us ‘a new birth into a living hope’”.

“These words both encourage and empower us during these tumultuous times, when our own faith continues to be tested. For wars continue to rage around the world. Financial crises cause stress within both families and nations. And natural disasters have seemingly become a weekly, if not daily, occurrence. These and many other trials test our faith each and every day.”

He expressed his gratitude to people who had supported the diocese through the Friends of the Holy Land. “Your partnership helps us to share with those around us the very Easter hope that was first revealed to the women at the empty tomb here in Jerusalem.”

Pope Francis, in his homily during the Easter vigil in St Peter’s Basilica, also spoke of the women who “saw their grief turn into amazement and joy” upon witnessing the empty tomb of Jesus. The resurrection was a motivation for Christians to move forward with the same hope and joy, he said: “to roll away the stone of the tombs in which we often imprison our hope” with full confidence for the future because Christ is risen and “changed the direction of history”.

He continued: “This is what we are asked to do: to remember and go forward! If you recover that first love, the wonder and joy of your encounter with God, you will keep advancing. So remember, and keep moving forward.”

The Archbishop of Cape Town, Dr Thabo Makgoba, called on young people to become “Anglican troublemakers” for transformation in the country, which, he said, politicians had been unable to remove from a “tomb of poverty”.

“We are experiencing a near biblical vortex of greed and corruption in which the unscrupulous steal from the poor and swallow the hope of ending inequality. Incompetence leads to bad governance, and money that is available to improve people’s lives goes unspent.”

He asked: “Do our politicians offer any hope? You would think that if they were truly focussed on the well-being of their constituents, they could overcome their differences enough to collaborate in coalition governments to put an end to corruption and provide decent services to our communities. But instead they play in-again-out-again revolving doors, changing mayors and speakers the way other people change their socks.”

He concluded: “It is possible to wage a revolutionary struggle in a disciplined and dignified manner, one that is all the more powerful because it is waged peacefully. There is no place for violence in a constitutional democracy.

“By adopting the new struggle, we can inspire the multitudes of disillusioned young people who despise politicians, who spurn politics and who won’t even register to vote, but instead pursue a rampant consumerism because we have failed to give them a vision which would attract them to public service.”

The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, the Most Revd Michael Curry, delivered his Easter message from Paris, where he was attending the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe.

“While there are protests going on in the city . . . we are here in Paris, in Europe, with refugees streaming into this continent from all over the world, impacted by changes in weather pattern, impacted by war and famine,” he said. “We are here in a world struggling to find its soul, but the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not, cannot, and will not overcome it. Jesus lives. He has been raised from the dead. That is the message of Easter, and that is the good news of great tidings.”

The Archbishop of York wrote several Easter articles for various publications. Writing in The Daily Telegraph on Easter Day, he questioned how there could be “any hope for our world, our nation, and for the Church when we face so many seemingly intractable differences and disagreements? Is difference the death of community? Must difference be feared?

“A moment of fear experienced at an empty tomb on Easter dawn gives me great hope that difference can bring life rather than death.”

In the Easter edition Radio Times, referring to the feature film, Archbishop Cottrell wrote of the “groundhog day” repetition of the church calendar, and Holy Week and Easter Day services. “Patterns of repeat help us focus and see the same old things in a new way. That’s true of showing old films on TV — and it’s true of Easter.”

In The Yorkshire Post, he wrote of a recent Lords debate on the place of Christianity in Parliament, during which, he said, “across the spectrum of political opinion, members of parliament agreed with one another.”

Easter presented a “big challenge” to the Church and to the world to communicate the Christian “ethos of mutual belonging and mutual support, and these values of neighbourliness, toleration, generosity, and self-sacrifice”.

In the latest edition of The Big Issue, published last week, he wrote of the gift of silence. “Some of the most significant things I have learnt or encountered in life have come from the well of silence and waiting upon God, allowing myself to stop for a change. And I am troubled for myself and for our world when every waking hour is filled with activity that sweeps our dreams away and has no room for rest and play.”

He wrote of people who were “wishing their lives away” in the business of the everyday, and those who were forced into waiting through unemployment and homelessness.

He concluded that being still and waiting was part of the Easter message: “Out of death comes life. In waiting comes presence. Out of silence comes purpose.”

Among the Easter messages from diocesan bishops, the Bishop of Exeter, the Rt Revd Robert Atwell, contemplated upon “the humble hot cross bun”.

He wrote: “For such a treat, these buns carry a heavy symbolic weight. They are a reminder that when life is tough or uncertain, as it is for so many people at the moment, then Jesus Christ is with us in our anxiety and pain.”

He continued: “God is already present in and with those who are suffering — in Ukraine, with those who are still homeless following the earthquake in Syria and Turkey, with the single mother, skimping on her own food this Easter to make sure her children have enough to eat.

“And here’s the grace. Once we have met Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, and embraced the mystery of his cross, then when sickness, betrayal, disappointment, failure and bereavement happen, we realise that God is not far from each of us.”

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