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Archbishop writes about having Jesus-centred faith this Easter

Sunday 5th April 2015

The Archbishop writes an Easter Day message for the Mail on Sunday. His article follows in full...

As I tell God’s tremendous story of Easter this year, I will also be asking myself how I would console the relatives of passengers and crew who died in that murderous plane crash in the French Alps. What of others, who have witnessed unspeakable atrocities in Syria, and in Iraq where Christians have been expelled from villages which were home to their forbears for thousands of years?  Or on the continent of Africa, where whole communities have been decimated by the Ebola plague and thousands more have died from HIV/AIDS.  Where is the solace for them?

The Easter message, which is the core of the Christian story, must be applicable to humanity in its deepest distress.  For sufferers and
bereaved people, the jollity of Easter Egg hunts may seem like a cruel irrelevance.  No one would deny children their fun, though one day they too will know that eggs and bunnies have little bearing on reality. I was told of a recently bereaved widower who looked out on his garden ablaze with hundreds of daffodils, his eyes full of tears.  “How she loved this view each Spring”, he said.  Grief at the death of his wife had eclipsed the beauty of the moment.  What for others would have been a glorious scene was a painful reminder to him of his loss.   

Christians are not excused suffering.  Indeed, in many parts of the world right now, Christians are actually at greater risk because of their followership of Jesus Christ.  It is in the midst of all this that the virtue of Christian hope, grounded in the Resurrection of Jesus, comes from the contagious conviction that death, grim as it may be, is actually the prelude to something else.  A comma, not a full stop, a pause, not the end.

If you take a glance at the New Testament, in the Bible, you will see that it all stems from encountering Jesus of Nazareth alive again from the dead.  His followers would have all abandoned his mission of God’s love if he was not Risen from the dead. They would not have endangered their lives to preserve the memory of a dead man who had been condemned for treason!  He had invited everyone to trust him from here to eternity.  A number did.  They were utterly demoralised, broken-hearted, frightened and confused when he was Crucified.  Within days the same people were totally reinvigorated by encountering him because of the physicality of his resurrection.  It gave them a new and dynamic confidence.

From then until now followers of Jesus Christ say, “Christ is Risen!  We are Risen!”

The prospect of eternity with God after death gives us a new angle on life here and now.  Instead of trying to cram in every possible experience before the Grim Reaper catches up with us, we can afford to be magnanimous, putting ourselves second, with Jesus at the centre and other people’s needs on a par with our own.  This contradicts everything held out to us by a consumerist society and it’s liberating!  Jesus put it like this, “Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it”.  Try it.

All this has powerful political overtones.  Loving your neighbour as yourself has to include people we may not like.  “I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”, said Jesus.  He did exactly that himself. 

Imagine how this revolutionary ethical principle would transform relationships.  But reckon that practising it might get you into hot water, too. 

That is what the late Archbishop Robert Runcie experienced after the Falklands War when he said we should pray for Argentinean as well as British mothers who had lost sons. Runcie had won the Military Cross in World War II.  What he said was utterly Christian, but he was savagely criticised for it by people who should have known better.

My colleague, the Archbishop of Canterbury faced similar hostility recently for expressing his sadness about the loss of life during the bombing of Dresden during World War II.  He is part-Jewish and might have let the memory of the Holocaust nurture hatred.  Instead, he preached reconciliation.

In Uganda, I tried one of President Idi Amin’s relatives for rape and grevious bodily harm – he broke his victims legs and arms.  The President’s Office rang to command me that I should not find his cousin guilty.  Having heard all the evidence I convicted him, sent him to prison and forwarded the file to the Chief Justice to enhance the sentence. Soon afterwards I was arrested and severely beaten.  I could have carried resentment against Amin for the rest of my life. Instead, the example of Christ who prayed that his tormentors might be forgiven, gave me the strength to forgive.  It also saved me from the soul-damage inflicted by grudges upon those who bear them.  My sadness is that I was never given the chance to be reconciled to those who nearly killed me.

A Jesus-centred faith also insists that concern for others’ well-being means political involvement (that is the deliberation and participation in how we are to be governed).  That annoys some politicians and their supporters who want a monopoly over public affairs.  When they pillory Bishops and others for daring to invade the territory hitherto regarded as their private preserve, they are actually suggesting that there are some areas of God’s world which are out of bounds to him.  That is as absurd as it sounds. 

God is creator of the Cosmos and that includes the Palace of Westminster and the White House. 

There are followers of Jesus Christ in all the main political parties in the UK.  It is not for me to tell their fellow-churchmembers how to vote next month, but I will encourage them to use their vote.  The turnout at recent elections has been pathetic.  Only 65.1% voted at the last General Election.  I know that some potential voters feel exasperated because they cannot see much difference between the parties, or live in a constituency which has a safe seat.  I still urge them to turn out on 7 May and vote. A response, “None of the Above” will not do.  Engage and vote.  As a last possible resort they could spoil their ballot papers and still show they had registered an opinion.  I don’t recommend it; be more positive. But it would be better than staying at home and do nothing. 100% turn-out would produce a result this great nation deserves. Please turn-out and vote.

Jesus came to declare to the human race the arrival of a new Kingdom, the Kingdom of God.  That was and is enough to put the wind up everyone who treats the world as a free-for-all where might is right and money can buy anything.  God’s Kingdom will take priority over everything else and we pray daily for it to come “on earth as in heaven”.

When Richard Dawkins was asked what might be said to a mother who had lost a child, he said “It’s tough.  Stuff happens”.  All human beings have to face the stark reality that either death and therefore life have no meaning or dare to believe that life is worthwhile as it has a God-given purpose. Christians have no facile answer to life’s heartbreaking questions, but in their distress turn to Jesus because he suffered with and for us.  It is he who motivated his followers to found hospitals and hospices, schools and food banks.

A man had been visiting his wife in hospital.  Her health was declining rapidly.  Unable to pray one night, he felt God was telling him to go for a walk in the country.  The sky was cloudless and shimmering with stars.  It seemed that God was saying, “Jean is going to die.  But look at the bigger picture”.  That vision helped him to cope with his grief after she died.

Look at the bigger picture.  Christ is Risen.  We are risen.  May God grant you confidence in believing and joy this Eastertide.

 

Archbishop Sentamu edited “On Rock or Sand?  Firm foundations for Britain’s Future”, published by SPCK 2015

 

 

 

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