How do we celebrate Easter in the shadow of war?

16 April 2022

9:00 AM

16 April 2022

9:00 AM

This week has been Passiontide, which means lots of wonderful plainsong in the choir of Canterbury Cathedral as my predecessors sleep. Holy Week began on Sunday in the shadow of war, suffering, loss and pain. How do we celebrate the promise of everlasting life in such darkness? Good Friday is ‘good’ because on the cross we see the goodness of God in the middle of the mess of our own creation. Jesus refuses to answer his accusers on their terms, to use his own power to overcome by force, or to see others hurt – even those who hurt him. Jesus lays down his life for the sake of others. He reaches out, on the cross, to the thief next to him, even in the depths of his own suffering. It’s in that shining goodness – the light that the darkness does not overcome – that we can say, like the Roman Centurion: ‘Truly, this man was the Son of God.’

Palm Sunday is a day of contrasts and surprises. Jesus’s Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem is a paradox – a king arriving on a donkey, an itinerant rabbi who receives a royal welcome. The crowd is eager to listen, but less happy to act. People often ask why, if God exists, he doesn’t ‘do something’ about suffering. On the first day of Holy Week, we see our answer: the God that is coming isn’t the God people expected, or even wanted. He doesn’t do things to us; he lives with us. He fulfils the final paradox: in service to God, giving away our lives for the lives of others, is ultimately how we can live life in all its fullness.

There are overused words and phrases I don’t much like. ‘Literally’ and ‘unprecedented’ are two – there is almost nothing truly unprecedented, and very rarely do people mean ‘literally’ literally. I keep forgetting that I am Primate, not Pedant, of All England; the latter is easier. Another is the word ‘crisis’, which comes from the Greek ‘krisis’. ‘Krisis’ means a time of decision. In the New Testament, there are two concepts of time: chronos, which is daily time, and kairos, which is a moment where there is a choice. A ‘kairos moment’ is another phrase I don’t like because in the church we now use it to describe anything from the coffee rota to who manages the tombola at the village fête. Yet at the moment I am tempted to use most of the banned words. At a five-day meeting with the 36 senior Anglican archbishops from around the world we heard of war, economic struggle, refugee numbers growing, Covid and other diseases rife, food shortages in many countries, and environmental degradation. With Ukraine’s horrors and problems here, the ‘krisis’ is real; the kairos moment is to choose to trust in God, not wealth, strength or our cleverness.

Attending an iftar meal at the Old Kent Road Mosque, I was reminded how grateful I am for our relationships with those of different faiths. This year Lent and Ramadan overlap. Christians and Muslims should all be taking time to remember that the things of God matter above all else and are reflected in our love for others lived in action. Plenty for me to do a U-turn on – or as we say, repent. I don’t take these interfaith friendships for granted. In my travels around the world, I have seen the destruction that occurs when religion becomes an easy hook to hang conflict on.

I appeared on Question Time in Canterbury, the diocese I serve. It was the first time an Archbishop of Canterbury has been on the programme, so no pressure there. There were impassioned discussions about the appalling atrocities in Ukraine, the cost of living crisis, the government’s energy strategy and the impact of lorry tailbacks on the people of Kent. There were also lots of sharp disagreements, but I came away with a strong sense that so many of us share a deep desire for justice, fairness and the common good.

Augustine, the first Archbishop of Canterbury, arrived in nearby Thanet in 597 ad. Being in this diocese, surrounded by reminders of my predecessors, I’m struck by the history of this church in this country – from the violent death of Thomas Becket on the orders of Henry II to the welcome of French Huguenot refugees in the 17th century. Our calling has remained the same: to be the Church for England, making the good news of Jesus Christ known, serving those on the margins and loving our neighbour. As I celebrate this Easter Sunday, I will do so with the suffering of people at home and abroad on my mind and the hope of the risen Christ in my heart.

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