Easter message from the Bishop of St Albans
The events of the first Easter were characterised by surprise and joy, despite the fact that they took place amidst suffering and death.
A century ago, three appalling genocides were taking place within the Ottoman Empire (which ruled over parts of South-eastern Europe, Western Asia and North Africa). The focus of the killing was its own citizens, mainly from the ancient indigenous Christian communities who had been living in the Middle East since the birth of Christianity.
The most well-reported of those genocides was the killing of more than one million Armenians between 1915 and 1923. What are less well-known are the genocides which killed half a million Greeks and a quarter of a million Syrians around the same time. The Christians population of these areas declined rapidly due to the killings and deportation and have never recovered.
Today we are witnessing similar atrocities with different causes. In recent years hundreds of thousands of Christians have fled from Syria and Iraq due to war and terrorism and many have been murdered in their own countries. The ancient Coptic Church in Egypt has faced a series of attacks on churches, the most recent being the bombs which killed 44 people and injured hundreds a few days ago on Palm Sunday.
At this time of year, Good Friday and Easter Day become the backdrop of these events. This is the most important period in the Christian calendar, as we remember the suffering that Jesus Christ endured before he was put to death by crucifixion, the most agonising means of execution that the Romans could devise.
A recent BBC opinion poll has shown that belief in life after death is widespread both among those found in our churches and in the general population. Christian faith, though full of joy, is not a ‘happy ever after’ belief, though. It does not shy away from the dreadful reality of evil that is to be found all around us. Christians believe that evil can only be fully understood in the light of the resurrection of Jesus, which turns a story of death into one of love. His resurrection assures us that evil is not the final word and that love will one day finally overcome evil.
An essential aspect of Jesus’ victory over evil is the doctrine of judgement – not a very popular idea nowadays – but one which nevertheless tells us that as moral beings all people will be held to account one day. Perhaps its lack of popularity also explains the widespread misconception that God stands by while suffering takes place. Judgement is the final and complete answer to that.
Meanwhile, this Easter I hope and pray that all people of goodwill will stand for truth and justice in the fight against all forms of evil. Those who follow the teaching and example of Jesus Christ are called to live out the resurrection joyfully in their daily lives, bringing healing where there is pain, hope where there is despair and generosity where there is need.
+Alan St Albans