Shrewsbury ... shall be a name 'as stirring to the heart as the glories we have lost'

Blessed John Henry Newman, 1852

Letters and Homilies

Homily preached by Rt. Rev. Mark Davies, Bishop of Shrewsbury, at Shrewsbury Cathedral, Easter morning 2018

Easter has come early this year.  It is the greatest day in our calendar; the day of the Resurrection, the day which fills all times with the announcement: Christ is alive and risen!  It is truly the day which the Lord has made to rejoice and be glad.  Like Christianity itself, this day is not made for our convenience.  It is good to remember this when we hear grumbling that to celebrate Easter on a date determined – like the Jewish Passover – by the lunar calendar is disruptive of our holidays and our patterns of working life.  Why can’t this day just be fixed for our convenience?

It might help to remember that Easter was an event which showed no such consideration.  On that first day of the week following Passover it exploded upon the world.  Saint John recounts how utterly unexpected was the emptiness of the tomb, for the disciples “had failed to understand the teaching of the scriptures that he must rise from the dead”.   Saint Matthew describes the announcement of the Resurrection with the earth being shaken.   Saint Mark tells of the “trembling and astonishment (that) had come upon” the disciples, and ends his narrative with the poignant words “they were afraid”.   Christ’s Resurrection and its unfolding meaning that death and sin are overcome is not sedate news!  Saint Paul declares this now means “we have been brought back to true life with Christ”.  And like the Gospel itself, Easter Day continues to disturb us.

During the thousand years when the people of this land were united in a single faith, this Easter Gospel still unsettled the complacent attitudes of English society, challenged tyranny and disturbed whatever threatened to demean the human person.  The claim that Christ is alive and amongst us, that human death and sin are overcome is not a moderate declaration! The English writer G K Chesterton described how Christian faith is dynamic in its impact like “one whirling adventure … the heavenly chariot flies thundering through the ages, the dull heresies sprawling … the wild truth reeling but erect”.

In times when efforts are made to contain Christianity in the public square, the Easter message threatens to disturb a false and uneasy peace.  Like the effects of climate change around us, we may at first barely notice the subtle changes in the role of the Christian voice and conscience in society, until the place of Christians suddenly becomes unsustainable.  We can be grateful this Easter to Baroness O’Loan whose Conscientious Objection (Medical Activities) Bill has now been introduced to Parliament.  It is a Bill that merits our active support, seeking as it does to ensure the rights of conscience of all medical professionals and ultimately to allow Christians to continue being doctors, nurses, midwives and pharmacists.  The Bill aims to clarify confusion in our laws that are increasingly being used to close down the space for conscience and threaten to force Christians to either act against their conscience or seek alternative employment.

Whenever the Gospel is threatened with being consigned to the silence of the tomb, this Easter day reminds us how we need to become vocal and visible witnesses.  Pope Francis memorably compared our task to the way young people create uproar as he urged us “to go and bring Christ to every area of life, to the fringes of society, even to those who seem farthest away, most indifferent.  The Lord seeks all, he wants everyone to feel the warmth of his mercy and his love”.   The celebration of Easter Sunday stands in such witness so that our days are happily disturbed by this Day made by the Lord in which “we rejoice and are glad”.

+ Mark

Bishop of Shrewsbury

 

(Photo by Simon Caldwell)