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Easter message is that the world’s ills are temporary, say Archbishops

09 April 2023

Canterbury Cathedral

The Archbishop of Canterbury preaches at the 11 o’clock eucharist in Canterbury Cathedral on Easter Day

The Archbishop of Canterbury preaches at the 11 o’clock eucharist in Canterbury Cathedral on Easter Day

CRUEL leaders and policies that cause suffering are “doomed to extinction”, the Archbishop of Canterbury said in his Easter sermon on Sunday.

“All that is against God is temporary, doomed to extinction,” he told the congregation at Canterbury Cathedral. “Injustice and brutality may seem to triumph in our short lives on earth. Cruel and oppressive rulers might look as though they only get stronger. Yet they will vanish. The power of the resurrection is infinitely greater than they are.

“Even in our lifetimes, as we are surrounded by fears, even by evil, we know that those who oppress and subjugate others will face divine justice, and there is no question of that. We know with certainty that policies that cause suffering and pain will fall away. We can say surely, all that seeks to deny God has no future.” Such policies had “no eternal foundation”, he said.

The resurrection meant that the Church spoke “of eternal values that didn’t die with Christ but rose with him,” Archbishop Welby observed. “And we speak of them even when they are politically uncomfortable, generally unpopular, or treated with derision.”

He revealed that he had received “hundreds and hundreds” of letters in February and March after the Church Commissioners announced their decision to create a £100-million impact investment fund to mitigate long-term consequences of a connection with the transatlantic slave trade (News, 13 January). Ninety-eight per cent of these letters were complaints, he said. Yet, “the living reality of Christ compels us to consider and respond to those actions that deny the reality of God’s power and love. It’s not post-colonial guilt, ambivalent wokery; it is the living presence of Christ, alive in our church and in our lives, who treats us all, high and low, important and unknown, exactly the same, and in the past slave and free, and today.”

The sermon explored evidence for the resurrection and its impact on the world. The resurrection of Jesus was “among the most certain facts in history”, the Archbishop said. “People ever since have been changed, know this person Jesus, love him, and give their lives for the truth of the resurrection. That is why Christians long for others to know this God of love who became human; became like us so that for all eternity we might live and grow and become like him.”

He touched on the Church’s failings, including “the scandal of armies marching out in the name of the Church”. But he also celebrated its contribution to healing and peace. This included its role in the peace process in Northern Ireland: “It was churches and monasteries, compelled by the living Christ, who spent years before 1998 secretly, at huge risk, building the bridges that opened the way for the first ceasefires and considerations of peace.”

He highlighted events in Ukraine and in Israel and Palestine as examples of conflict in which “we do not lose heart, because the God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead is at work in our world today . . . Because of the resurrection, peace, true peace, is no aimless daydream but a reality offered. . . We know that life trumps over death, light over darkness.”

In February, the Archbishop described the Russian invasion of Ukraine as a “monumental act of evil” (News, 24 February). In the past year, he has continued to criticise the Government’s immigration policies, after an Easter sermon in 2022 in which he argued that the Government’s plan to send asylum-seekers overseas could not stand the judgement of God (News, 22 April 2022).

He has described the UK’s system for dealing with immigration as “cruel”, opining that the right to seek asylum has been “politically degraded in this country” (News, 16 December 2022).

After a violent stand-off between Israeli police and Palestinians on the Temple Mount early on Wednesday morning (News, 14 April) the Holy Land has seen the firing of rockets at Israel and air strikes carried out in response. Early on Sunday morning it was confirmed that two British-Israeli sisters, Maia and Rina Dee, daughters of Rabbi Leo Dee, originally from London, had been killed in a shooting in the occupied West Bank on Friday. Their mother, Lucy, died in hospital on Easter Monday.

The Easter message of the Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem spoke of “escalating violence”, including churches and funeral processions becoming targets for attack. In Ukraine, people were advised not to gather in large groups this Easter out of fear of Russian attacks, Vatican News reported.

The Archbishop of York, in his Easter sermon in York Minster. warned that “there are no easy, off-the-shelf answers to the huge problems facing our world, and all the different hurts and sorrows we carry.”

But, he said, “because we don’t know the way to go, what God offers us, amidst these trials and challenges, is a companion. A guide. Someone to be with us. Someone who knows what it’s like to be us. Someone alongside us and to show us the way. Someone to show us what being human is supposed to look like.”

He listed people for whom he wept: a third child born to a family on Universal Credit who would get not further financial help; an Eritrean asylum-seeker, awaiting possible resettlement in Rwanda, wondering “why am I being punished for fleeing persecution?”; a hard-working, single parent, who cannot make ends meet; a young Ukrainian graduate, now on the front line in Kherson; a fisherman living on the Polynesian island of Tuvalu whose known world is being destroyed by rising sea-levels; or someone trafficked or a survivor of sexual abuse.

“It is easy to be cynical and to despair,” Archbishop Cottrell said. “It is so easy to think that . . . death and evil and injustice have the last word.”

But “Easter day says something else,” he concluded. “Things can be different. Things can be better. . . Expectations can be turned around. And this is very good news indeed.”

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