A very happy and joyful Easter to the whole Diocese of Oxford. I hope and pray that there has been joy in Easter services today across the Diocese and a continued sense of regathering and growing together.
The world needs the message of Easter so much this year. We face enormous challenges and questions at this moment in our journey. On the surface there are many signs of life returning after COVID but much of the grief, pain and exhaustion remains hidden below the surface. The effects of the pandemic are felt still acutely around the world and continue here in the mental health of the young, increased isolation, the effects in many professions and the ongoing burdens on our National Health Service.
The terrible war in Ukraine continues to challenge and stretch our compassion and reveals more starkly the human capacity for evil and destruction. People movements continue around the world on a scale not seen since the second world war.
The events of the last week have undermined the confidence of many in our own government in the deeply distressing and damaging proposals to send refugees on a large scale to Rwanda and the ongoing scandals about parties in Downing Street.
The climate emergency continues to bite in the dreadful floods in South Africa. Our own country is facing the biggest cost of living increases for a generation pushing still more families into food and fuel poverty.
In such a time, the Church needs to take hold to and proclaim the life shaping, earth shaking, glorious, world changing message of Easter. Jesus Christ is risen. Death could not hold him. God raised him from the tomb.
In this resurrection the world knows fully and finally that Jesus Christ is indeed the Son of God: an absolutely unique person in the whole of the human story. We have remembered in Holy Week and on Good Friday his death on the cross for the sins of the whole world – so that we might be forgiven. We recognise that God is at work in Christ to love and redeem the world and that the power of the resurrection is able to transform every life, every place and, ultimately, the whole of creation.
This is a moment and a season to travel deeper into Easter joy – perhaps deeper than we have ever journeyed in our lives before – because the need in the world is so great.
St. Luke tells the story of the resurrection in a particular way across the final chapter of the gospel. Luke’s account is framed in a single day, the day of resurrection.
We begin at the empty tomb in the early morning. The women come and meet the angels who give them the glorious news of resurrection. We continue through the middle of the day with the two disciples walking to Emmaus and the risen Christ draws near, an unseen stranger, recognised as hearts are set on fire and eyes opened in the breaking of the bread. In the evening, the disciples gather in the upper room and Jesus appears with them and leads them out to the Bethany and blesses them.
This great good news is hard to take in. This is how Luke describes the response of the disciples in the Upper Room when he shows them his hands and his feet: “While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering…” (Luke 24.41). Big truths need time.
We might very well pass through similar emotions ourselves: this resurrection is such good news we can barely believe it and our faith is challenged stretched and deepened year by year.
And this is the reason for Luke’s second way of telling the resurrection story: the forty days of Easter. Luke gifts us the idea of Easter as a season as well as a single feast day at the beginning of Acts:
“After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over the course of forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1.3).
Ever since the Church has taken the forty days of Easter and the ten days between the Ascension and Pentecost to go deeper in the way of discipleship, to seek the renewal of the Holy Spirit, to be strengthened in our witness and in our life of faith and most of all to seek God afresh for the mission to which God calls us.
This is our calling now in this season as the world faces so many different demands. We sense a call to be the best church we can be for this time, conscious as we are of our weakness, tiredness, faults and inadequacy. Our renewal will begin with taking time to encounter the living Christ afresh in the fear and wonder and joy of Easter.
This is a joy which flows even in the midst of evil, tragedy and despair and which can never be quenched. Like the river which flows from the temple in Ezekiel’s great vision, it is a joy which begins as a trickle in the midst of the desert and ends up giving life to the whole world. That trickle in Luke begins with a handful of courageous women broken by grief and two frightened disciples who are heading in the wrong direction. But the story which begins with them brings life and hope to the whole world.
It can be so in again in our own day. It can be so. Pray for the new Easter fire to be kindled in hearts and lives and churches all across our diocese, for the church to be deepened and renewed, so that we can play our part in the enormous challenges the world faces in this season.
Christ is risen
He is risen indeed. Alleluia!