A very happy Easter to you and to your families. It’s good to be together to rejoice and to reflect.

Jesus was crucified. His body was laid in a tomb. On the third day he appeared to Mary Magdalene, to Peter and then to all the apostles. His resurrection brings deep joy and hope. His power and his Spirit give life to the Church throughout the world. Alleluia Christ is risen. He is risen indeed Alleluia.

Within a generation, the good news about Jesus has travelled from Jerusalem and through Judea and Samaria to every part of the Roman Empire. The resurrection of Jesus is not simply an event: something remarkable which happened to Jesus of Nazareth after his death. The resurrection is not simply a sign of the promise of eternal life for all.

The resurrection is something to be lived every day; something which affects every Christian, in every place in even every moment. An event which has the power to change our lives.

This is what Paul writes to the Colossians.

“So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God”
– Colossians 3.1-3

Think what Paul is saying here. Your resurrection and mine is not a remote event in the future which follows our death. Your resurrection and mine has already happened. We are living the risen life today.

The big, bold instruction which follows is for every Christian, every day but especially on Easter Day. As one translation has it: “Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground absorbed with things right in front of you. Look up”.

Walk down any street and you will see many people shuffling along – often with their eyes glued to their devices afraid of missing anything yet actually missing everything. Set your minds on things that are above. In words which we will use later in this service: Lift up your hearts. To where will we lift them? Where else but to where Christ is. We seek to be born from above, to be filled with power from on high, to have our minds filled with wisdom from above. To gain and hold the perspective of eternity as we grapple with the problems of the earth.

Set your minds on things that are above. Start today. When we do that it is amazing what we can do.

I spent the best part of a year in 2021 and 2022 visiting every part of the Diocese of Oxford, from Olney to Hungerford, from Ascot to the Cotswolds. I met with all 29 clergy chapters and listened to thousands of people’s experiences of the pandemic. I heard of tiredness and exhaustion and illness and grief, the cost-of-living crisis and the war in Ukraine. I was expecting to hear all of that.

But in every single place, even at the darkest moments, I also heard so many stories of hope and rebuilding and transformation: extraordinary acts of kindness; food banks; visiting schemes; community care; meals for key workers; visiting asylum seekers; welcoming refugees from Ukraine; starting new congregations; rebuilding in person worship. The clergy and lay ministers of the diocese have been extraordinary, including in this Cathedral church. We have together seen a miracle. The same creativity and love has continued as life and strength has come back to the church after the lockdown.

How is that even possible that men and women find such strength and resilience and hope to imagine new things in the midst of so much darkness?

Because in every place, in every generation, in times of difficulty Christian people lift up their hearts. We set our minds on things which are above, not on the earth. As we look to Christ and the power of the resurrection, the impossible begins to look possible again and hope returns. From time spent in silence and prayer, strength returns to this Easter people. The alleluia’s we sing today give us the energy we need for works of mercy tomorrow and the next day. As one writer has it, resurrection people see grief turn into possibility; trial into opportunity and sorrow into dancing .

The cross tells us that God is with us in the suffering. In the last few weeks I have spent time with a congregation grieving the sudden death of their priest; another whose priest has been seriously ill; another struggling with division. But Easter speaks to us each day of new life and hope. I know that in each of those situations there are women and men who lift their minds and hearts to heaven and so the mending and the healing and the hope begin to bring change.

The world around us needs to hear this. It’s not easy in this generation to set your minds on things which are above. There are many distractions. We carry in our smartphones the anxieties and despair of the whole world. A think tank published a report just last week with the title Burnt out Britain. The reason for the burn out is not longer working hours but the exhaustion of distraction through technology leading to a sense of being overburdened and decreasing the time we give to civic life and volunteering.

Our own hearts and minds and those of our young people are being shaped and overwhelmed and harmed by the power and temptations of technology. Society needs much better regulation and oversight than currently exists. Online safety should be as much a human right as offline safety. The Online Safety Bill currently going through Parliament needs to be further strengthened to protect both children and adults from greater harm, from dragging our hearts and minds down to earth. Britain will need robust regulation of artificial intelligence to build public trust and confidence and to prevent further harm.

But all of us can begin to live the power of the resurrection today. Set your minds on things that are above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things that are above. Begin each week with worship. Begin each day with a quiet time of prayer and bible reading. Celebrate your resurrection each and every day. For the sake of the whole world, lift up your hearts.

Christ Church, Oxford
Easter 2023

Picture: Stained glass window in the German Church in Stockholm Sweden (c) Shutterstock

Young girl resting face on her hand and looking at a mobile phone which is lighting up her face.

The Bishop of Oxford, raises concern about online harms, powers, and disinformation in the second reading of the Online Harms Bill in the House of Lords.

Words can be an immense blessing but, when amplified through social media, also weapons of mass destruction to people and societies.

The Age Assurance (Minimum Standards) Bill

The Age Assurance (Minimum Standards) Bill had its second reading in the House of Lords on Friday 19 November. The Bishop of Oxford spoke in support of the bill. Read the text of his speech, or watch on Bishop Steven’s Facebook page.

My Lords, it is a real pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Russell, and indeed every other noble Lord who has spoken in this debate. It has been extraordinary and very moving. I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, on securing this Second Reading and on her passionate and brilliant opening speech. With others, I thank and commend her for her tireless commitment to protecting children online. That she does so with such consistent grace and good humour, against the backdrop of glacially slow progress and revelations about both the variety and scale of harms to children, is no small achievement in itself.

One of my interests in this debate is the more than 280 church schools and the more than 50,000 children who are a precious part of my diocese of Oxford. A substantial proportion are at significant risk for want of this Bill. The primary responsibility of the Government is the protection of all their citizens and especially and particularly those unable to protect themselves. Future generations will, I think, look back on the first two decades of this century and our unregulated use of technology with deep pain and regret, as they reflect on the ways in which children are exposed to harmful material online, the damage which has followed, and will follow, and our tardiness in setting effective regulation in place. We will be judged in a similar way to those who exploited child labour in past generations.

Children are precious to God and to society, not as potential adults nor in the future tense but simply and completely in themselves. Each is of immense value. The evidence is clear that many are emerging from a digital childhood wounded and scarred in ways which are tragic but entirely preventable.

The Government make much of being pro-business in support of the emerging technologies of this fourth industrial revolution but, if they are equally serious about making the UK a safe country to be online, they really must do more to be pro-business in ways that protect children. Other noble Lords have movingly pointed out the many risks our children face whenever they venture online.

We now know with increasing certainty how it is not only other users, so-called bad actors, but many online service providers themselves—not least Facebook, or now Meta—that target children, their data extracted, their identities manipulated, their impulses exploited. It should be noted that many of these same service providers say they would welcome clear guidance and regulation from the Government, even while other businesses say they already possess the tools and opportunities to do this both safely and profitably.

The age-appropriate design code is a welcome and genuinely world-leading innovation, and the Government would do well to note—against the siren voices denying technical feasibility or fearing the balkanisation of the internet—that businesses, the service providers, have now found it easier to standardise their processes to the highest regulatory watermark globally in the interests of reducing costs and complexity. This bodes well for the principle-based and proportional approach to age verification that the Bill artfully encapsulates.

As others have asked, what possible reason can there be for further delay? If protecting children is good in and of itself; if business publicly expresses the need for clearer guidance on how to frame that protection; when business itself sees commercial opportunity in the tools for protection; when a regulator is now waiting in the wings; after government delay already threatens a lost generation—why is the Bill from the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, not being eagerly and urgently adopted by the Government themselves, if that is indeed the case? I hope we will hear good news today. I eagerly await the Minister’s answer.

Further reading

Watch Bishop Steven’s speech on his Facebook page