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 at Shrewsbury Cathedral Easter Morning 2019

“This is the day made by the Lord in which we rejoice”.[1] All of our Christian faith and the whole of Christian civilisation depends on this Day.  Everything rests on the witness given by those who, on that first Easter morning, came to “see and believe”;[2] on the witness of the Apostles and their Successors who stand with Peter in testimony that “God raised Jesus to life”.[3]  In Christ’s Resurrection, we see how human life is no longer destined for death but for everlasting life and happiness. This is the joy of Easter that never fades.

Our political leaders surely made a wise decision to pause amid rancorous debate to take time over Easter to reflect.  It is not the place of a bishop to make judgments on passing political questions. It is entirely healthy that Christians should reach differing opinions on complex political choices.  And such choices ought not to concern us on this greatest day in the Christian Calendar. Yet, a deepening bitterness and intolerance in British society must surely be a concern for us all.  It might even mark a change in our national character as disagreement and difference now too often leads to anger; enmity; no-platforming; and even threats of violence and death to those in public life.  How did a people, once known for its civility and tolerance, come to such a sorry state of affairs?

We might trace this breakdown in our civility and gentle tolerance to the loss of the greater horizons which Easter celebrates. In many western societies, we see a descent into an irrationalism in which there is only ‘my truth’ and ‘your truth’, with no hope of basing our lives and society on what is enduringly and always true. Yet, passing questions of public policy must always be seen from the perspective of what is lasting. It was this conviction which gave rise to the tradition that parliamentary and council meetings begin in Christian prayer.  During his 2010 visit to Britain, Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI addressed our parliamentarians in Westminster Hall.  He observed that if the only thing underpinning our democracy is an ever-changing social consensus, then the real challenge to democracy and social cohesion lies in our losing hold of the very truths which made our civilisation and society possible.[4]

Is there an alternative? The Easter liturgy declares that the stone rejected by the builders has proved to be the cornerstone.  It is in Christ – the only person ever to have said, “I am the truth”[5]  – that we find the enduring truth about the human person which has long formed the basis of our civility, our understanding of human rights and of a rule of law worth defending.[6]  Our political leaders could not have taken a better time than Easter to reflect on present questions and hopefully return to the foundations that should always underpin our national debates.

On this Easter Day, we hear Saint Paul urge the first believers to cast out everything that is malice and to seek “sincerity and truth”.[7]   This is surely the path we, too, should take for the healing of society and the recovery of our tolerance. In the Easter Gospel we see that the truth of Christ’s Resurrection was not imposed by either threat or force; it was revealed and discovered in the emptiness of Christ’s tomb.  May the light of this Easter Day lead us gently as a nation to “see and believe” God’s great purpose for us, and so to recognise anew the truth by which we and all of human society can be saved.

+ Mark

Bishop of Shrewsbury

 

[1] Ps. 117

(2)) Cf. Jn. 20:8

(3) Acts 10:14

(4) CF. Address of Pope Benedict XVI, 17 September 2010

(5( Jn 14:6

(6) Cf. George Weigel, “The Fragility of Order”

(7) 1 Cor. 5:8 

[1] Ps. 117

[2] Cf. Jn. 20:8

[3] Acts 10:14

[4] CF. Address of Pope Benedict XVI, 17 September 2010

[5] Jn 14:6

[6] Cf. George Weigel, “The Fragility of Order”

[7] 1 Cor. 5:8