Today I perform what is the most important act of a bishop's ministry. I announce to you, in the name of the whole Church, that Jesus Christ is risen. Those first apostles were, as Jesus said, witnesses to the truth that He had risen from the dead. A bishop is, above all, a witness to the resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection is the focus and the hinge of Christian faith. If Christ is risen, then faith in Him is not in vain. Our hope is not uncertain. To believe can be difficult in this uncertain world of ours. Like candles our faith flickers in the dark. Its flame will only rarely be absolutely still and strong. So how do we, as St. Peter says, account for the hope that is within us. How can the resurrection of the Crucified One bring hope and salvation to the world in the midst of conflict, terrible suffering and death? How can believers answer the questions of those who face discouragement and despair, or who regard hope as somehow irrational or unattainable? Uppermost in my mind today are those who were caught up in fighting in Iraq: especially those, on both sides, who lost their lives or loved ones. We should pray now for the people of Iraq whose terrible suffering in these past years must now give way to real hope for a better future guaranteed, at least in part, by the international community. But also in my thoughts are the many other people who have asked me, and you too, to pray for them in their own suffering or anxiety. And I think especially of our young people, many of whom I have had the pleasure of meeting during Lent here in the cathedral, so full of enthusiasm and desires for a good life and a better world. Some years ago I went to Paris for a World Youth Day called by Pope John Paul. Nearly one million young people came from all over the world, and especially from Europe. One of the most moving events was on the last evening, at the Longchamp racecourse, when Pope John Paul baptised ten young people from different parts of the world. Darkness had fallen but with an inspiring backdrop, special lighting, and candles the scene was transformed. The result was both dramatic and prayerful. During the liturgy the Pope questioned the young people: Do you believe in God the Father Almighty? They ten young people replied Oui je croix! Then spontaneously the Pope turned to us - about a million in all And you, do all of you believe too? Taken by surprise our response was uncertain as if we weren't quite sure what to say. We must have sounded like the man in the gospel who said I believe, help my unbelief. So the Pope asked his second question: Do you believe in Jesus Christ who died and rose from the dead? They answered again Je croix! And all of you? The Pope asked. And we replied I believe, with a bit more confidence this time. And the third time he asked the ten: Do you believe in the resurrection of the dead and life everlasting? and then us And do you believe too? This time everyone, one million or so, roared Nous croyons, We believe! The point I want to make is this: many of the young people who travelled to Paris that day would have been conscious that their faith is unsure. They may even have wondered if it were worth the journey. The press had predicted a very poor attendance. But they travelled anyway, in hope, and in expectation, trusting it was the right thing to do. How right they were. Because however wavering or unsure their belief, that evening they were strengthened by the belief of hundreds of thousands of others. And when they heard that roar they would have realised that they were part of something bigger, much bigger. Their faith was confirmed by the faith of those around them. They began to see, and to experience, that faith is a gift, given to us not just as individuals, but as the whole of the People of God. What we proclaim today is not just my faith in Jesus Christ, or your faith in Jesus Christ, but - the faith of the whole Church - the faith of that community which began at the time of Peter and John and Mary had met and experienced the Risen Christ. Through the ages, countless millions have been able to say, "Christ is risen. I have met Him in my prayer, in my faith. I know He lives and that God's promises are true". Resurrection is a difficult concept for any of us to grasp - on one level it is of course beyond our experience. But on another level we believe and we comprehend intuitively the message and the mystery. Easter says that God has done something. He has raised His Son from the dead. He has called flesh to life and conquered death. Today God touches us, where we are and who we are, children of the earth. The earth is our home. We belong here. But at the same time each of us suffers from a secret and mortal sorrow, which is at the very heart of our being. The earth itself is in distress. It groans under the weight of uncertainty and transitoriness. Somehow our home here on earth is not enough. In the words of Karl Rahner " the earth is the scene of an unhappy discord between the promise which haunts all human beings and the meagre gift which does not satisfy us ." At the very end of his remarkable book on the post-modern experience Life after God Douglas Coupland puts it no less eloquently: "Now - here is my secret: I tell it to you with an openness of heart that I doubt I shall ever achieve again, so I pray that you are in a quiet room as you hear these words. My secret is that I need God - that I am sick and can no longer make it alone. I need God to help me give, because I no longer seem to be capable of giving; to help me be kind, as I no longer seem capable of kindness; to help me love, as I seem beyond being able to love". This is why we hear and understand the message of the resurrection of the Lord. The resurrection was an historical event that could be verified by the empty tomb and by the apostles' encounters with the Risen Christ. It remains at the very heart of the mystery of faith as something which transcends and transforms the history of our world. So I have two messages on this Easter day. The first is to those who believe. Do not be discouraged by the challenges of living in a society in which the bustle and business of life seems to drown out the silence of contemplation and belief. Defend the citadel of your heart because the greatest gift that you have been given by God is the gift of faith in Jesus Christ who is risen today. To those who do not believe, or find it extraordinarily difficult to believe, my message is this: look at the glories of our English countryside in springtime. In the spiritual, as in the natural world, there is renewal and revival. Springtime reminds us that there are fresh opportunities for renewal and hope and grace. Today in the name of the whole Church I am a witness to the truth that this springtime, and the coming of summer, occurs also and in the most mysterious way, in the depths of our minds and hearts. For Christians this hope is made real by the resurrection of Jesus. I proclaim to you once more that Christ is Risen, Jesus is Lord, Alleluia!
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St John Southworth
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