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Archbishop dives deep into the Easter Story

Taking the service at Holy Well

Friday 6th April 2012

Writing in the Yorkshire Post on Good Friday, the Archbishop reflects on the Easter Story not being about death, but life, and life in all its abundance. His article follows...

Does an eagle get troubled by the traffic? Is a whale disturbed by a hurricane? No. One soars high above it all, the other dives deep. This weekend we are invited to explore both  the depths and the heights, as we follow the central events of the Easter story.

Dive deep.  I was intrigued to read about James Cameron’s recent solo submarine dive to the Challenger Deep fissure in the Pacific’s Marianna Trench. Seven miles from the surface, on the dark and featureless ocean floor, under the pressure of a thousand atmospheres, Cameron spent three hours alone in the dark. Afterwards he said: ‘My feeling was one of complete isolation from all of humanity.’

Now there was nothing religious in what he said, but it made me think of today, Good Friday, a day for confronting the depths. In the agony of Jesus’ crucifixion we learn that  he cried out. ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ In his last hour Jesus plumbed the depths of human suffering and felt the searing loss of loneliness, bearing the sins of the world on his shoulders alone. This is as low as it gets.

Meanwhile in York this year we are to delving deep into our civic history. York was given its royal charter by King John 800 years ago in 1212. I was amazed to discover that the Royal Maundy celebrations we witnessed in the city yesterday were also begun by King John, in Yorkshire at Knaresborough just two years before.

Sometimes digging deep means finding buried treasure. That is what I hope many of us will do at Easter: unearth priceless realities. The things that hold our society together, the values we live by, have deep roots in a long history. Yesterday’s Royal Maundy, speaking of service and care for those in need, and the Royal Charter, speaking of the responsibility and trust placed upon the shoulders of ordinary citizens, tell a story of human dignity and destiny. We are designed to love, and to build our common life upon that love. I was glad to see students from Manor and Archbishop Holgate schools were drafted in to help yesterday: it is not just the Maundy tradition we are passing on, it is Jesus’ new commaundment of love, which our society needs so much.

If we go back to the first ‘Good’ Friday, we find ourselves going deeper still, not so much into history as into all too contemporary depths of human degradation, suffering, and shame. Sadly the cruelty and tragedy of that day is repeatedly spelt out in the mindless acts of violence and injustice which regularly hit the pages of the news. Last week we were reminded of the shooting of a five year old Thusha Kamaleswaran in a supermarket in Stockwell last year leaving her paralysed, the victim of a fight between rival gangs, caught in the crossfire. In Syria today we hear children are particular targets. In rural Zimbabwe life is cheap, especially if you happen not to be a ZanuPF supporter.

And yet Jesus’ story is unique. It is the story of courage and confrontation. He goes face to face with human violence, injustice, and guilt, and takes it on himself. He takes the rap for all of us – purposefully, decisively. That’s what makes this Friday ‘good’.

We see something of this courage in the soldiers of the Third Battalion, The Yorkshire Regiment serving in Afghanistan at this time. They face an extraordinary and irrational enemy. They do so with discipline, dignity, and determination. We have the best army in the world.  Sadly recently we have seen six young men killed in action. Soon after Easter the grieving families will be burying their dead. We must honour those who have lost their lives. ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.’  And we must do all we can to support those who are daily at risk on our behalf, as well as their families. One blogger said last week he had never been to church, but he would be going to pay his respects. It is the spirit of mucking in, a decisive choiceto act as if we are all in this together.

Of course the end of the Easter story is not death, but life, and life in all its abundance. Two weeks ago I was at the Holy Well in Northumberland, where St Paulinus in his day, the first Bishop of York baptized 3000 local people including King Edwin of Northumberland. On my visit the sun was shining, a glorious spring day. In the well I saw the cool fresh water rising, bubbling up pure and crystal clear from deep below the ground. I drank from the well and filled a bottle to use in the open-air baptisms tomorrow outside York Minster. For each of us there is always the opportunity to begin again and enter the new life, free from sin and full of the Spirit of God. It is Easter, Christ is risen! Individuals, cities, nations – we too can rise, and, by God’s grace we will.   

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