Easter’s meaning, the meaning of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, bringing newness of life – is made clear not just in the Bible but also in the story of Les Miserables, the film of Victor Hugo?s book which has attracted huge audiences, says the Bishop of St Albans, the Rt Revd Alan Smith, in his Easter Sermon at St Albans Cathedral on Easter Sunday. The sermon also helps explain the motivation to speak out for justice behind the bishops recent intervention over the Welfare Bill and its effect on some of the most vulnerable members of our society.
??One of the central characters of Les Miserables, Jean Valjean, a convicted criminal, is described by Hugo at the beginning of the story: ?’Hatred was his only weapon and he resolved to sharpen it in prison and carry it with him when he left’. All this changes.
??Despite the bishop in the story showing him kindness and giving him a meal and a bed for the night, Valjean steals silver from him when he leaves. Quickly apprehended, he tries to claim that the silver was a gift, but is genuinely surprised when the bishop, instead of denouncing him to the police, confirms the story and tells him he has forgotten the best bit ? the candlesticks.
?? The bishop tells Valjean: ‘Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to what is evil but to what is good. I have bought your soul to save it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God’.
??Bishop Alan, back in the real life of the Cathedral in St Albans calls this an example of the resurrection love in the Easter story which is ?Not just a doctrine that we assent to with our minds, but a reality to be experienced here and now … an extraordinary love which reaches out to the undeserving, to the unlovely, and awakens a response,? which he calls a the defining element in the entire story of Les Miserables.
??If his Easter message to the world at large is that the story which so many have seen in the cinema clearly demonstrates what Easter is all about, then his message to the church is ?that this is the task which has been entrusted to us, his people, the church. To be a people who bring life through death, to be a resurrection people. Not just to proclaim a doctrine of resurrection, but to live a life of resurrection.?
??Bishop Alan explains the difference between ?life? proclaiming a doctrine and a ?life?of resurrection using two different words for life used in the Bible: ?bios? and ?zoe?. Bios is like eating, breathing sleeping ? the processes of life, whereas zoe is zest, energy and life-force. ?Jesus comes to transform our ?bios? into ?zoe,?? he says.
??It is that transformation that explains the bishops? concerns about the Welfare Bill: ?This resurrection life is not just about the personal and the private. It is also about social justice,? says Bishop Alan.
???There is a hard edge to this resurrection life which cannot simply be spiritualised. That?s one of the reasons why I and other bishops have been engaged with the Welfare Bill which has been passing through Parliament. Of course, we have been accused of being na?ve, although we are all quite realistic that we can?t go on spending as if there is not tomorrow. What we have been asking is ?where should the burden of cuts fall?? and it is an important question for many of the most vulnerable people in our society, many with chronic long term illnesses, who are besides themselves with worry about how they are going to manage.?