Shropshire Star

Bishops give their Easter messages as they think about what else is to come this year

Religious leaders have delivered their traditional Easter messages this Good Friday, on the suffering of Christ and the enduring power of faith.

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The Bishop of Hereford Rev Richard Jackson

The Bishop of Hereford, Right Reverend Richard Jackson

I’m shortly going over to the Cathedral to celebrate the Chrism communion service with the clergy and lay leaders of the diocese.

It's always one of the highlights of the year for me, as we gather together and renew our ministerial commitment.

It forms part of the great cycle of services at the Cathedral culminating in the celebration of Easter on Sunday.

Although the story is so familiar to us, I am always surprised by its capacity to shock and move at different turns.

When we gathered with our Roman Catholic friends on Palm Sunday to process with Peter the donkey, I was taken aback by my emotional reaction to our parting of the ways as we separated to go to our respective celebrations.

I feel the same about the great Easter Vigil when we celebrate communion in different parts of the cathedral building. Whilst we are on very warm and civil terms, there is something tragic about not being able to truly celebrate the central act of worship together.

We are reminded in many of our readings around Easter just how important unity was for our Lord.

In the final discourses in John’s gospel he returns to the them frequently. John 13:34 is the delivery of the great commandment that we love one another as he has loved us.

In John 17 Jesus prays that we should be one, just as he and the Father are one – a unity far beyond mere politeness and occasional shared activities.

Paul prays of the Corinthian Church in 1 Corinthians 1:10, that they should be perfectly united in mind and thought.

This is probably the least honoured or answered prayer in the Bible! A greater bunch of disunited people it would be difficult to imagine.

All of this is summed up in Paul’s letter to the Galatians 3:28, where he says that in matters of salvation, there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

It is probably stretching things too far to see the exegesis of this overlaying completely onto modern notions of equality.

However, it paints a glorious picture of all of the great enmities and divisions of the ancient world overcome through Christ’s death, resurrection and gift of the Spirit.

This is a oneness far deeper than the loose affiliation of common interest that characterises community today, especially on social media.

The power of living through Holy Week in the worship of the Church is to remind us just how much Christ went through to achieve that end.

We can only take so much of the agony, sometimes we feel we must turn away.

But holding the imagery, the savagery of the experience in mind can be a helpful corrective when I’m tempted to bad mouth or caricature my brother or sister from another branch of the church.

Christ hanging on a cross for me challenges my need to stand on being right, or harbouring my bitterness against those who have wronged me.

There is no privilege at the communion rail as we kneel together to receive the tokens of what Christ has done for us.

If we all need such a great forgiveness, won at such a cost, who am I to judge my brother or sister or have the arrogance not to listen to them or take their experience seriously?

I am so thankful that our relationships with brothers and sisters in other churches are so much better than they were only 50 years ago, and significantly better than when we were burning one another at the stake over matters of doctrine that centuries of conversation are now close to resolving.

We are much better at living out of Paul’s assertion that we see through a glass darkly. But true unity remains hard, both between and within churches. We can sometimes be too sure of our red lines, and far too quick to take offence. But the face of Christ hanging on a cross for us compels us to persevere.

And of course, the culmination of our celebrations reassures that this is not just about being shamed into acting differently by the sacrifice of another. A far greater power is in view as the sun rises on Easter day. We are both forgiven and empowered. The resource not just to do things differently, but to be different people is in the resurrection life available to all who put their trust in the crucified Christ.

May we all know Christ’s example, his forgiveness and his transforming power this Easter. Happy Easter to you all.

Right Reverend Mark Davies, Bishop of Shrewsbury

Easter has arrived early in a year when a General Election is anticipated.

“To elect” means to choose. This Easter holiday celebrates the greatest and most enduring choice our country ever made, in embracing Christianity more than a millennium ago.

It was a choice made not merely by the leaders of society but personally – in Baptism one by one – across a century and more.

This conversion of England is the choice which has shaped our values and laws and even how we see ourselves.

The choice of every Baptism – to turn away from evil and put our faith in Christ – is dramatically renewed by entire congregations on Easter night and morning.

Whatever our relationship to the Church, these spiritual values are the shared inheritance that has shaped our life together.

Like the gold reportedly found in the Shropshire Hills, it is a gift embedded in the moral landscape of England and is to be found and discovered anew by every generation.

At the coming elections, Christians informed by their faith will freely take differing views on the political issues of our time. Yet, the Church provides the enduring witness to the bedrock of faith and values which help us in the great moral choices we face.

A new parliament will soon be asked to make one of those choices which impacts on the central foundations of this Christian inheritance: the sanctity of human life.

The proposal to legalise euthanasia is often called “assisted dying", though it is certainly not assisting the sick or the dying in the way Christianity has long proposed.

For those we elect will be asked to decide whether to permit the medical killing of the sick and the dying the first time in our history.

Parliamentarians will be aware that to remove these legal protections will open the way to untold dangers for those who are most vulnerable.

In considering such a far-reaching change to our way of life, our elected representatives can depend on the secure foundations which have led us to hold human life sacred and which has long inspired our care for the sick and the dying.

Faced with the challenges of our time, the national celebration of Easter invites us to treasure our Christian inheritance and to make this our choice anew.

Right Reverend Sarah Bullock, Church of England Bishop of Shrewsbury

Location, location, location.

I love to walk – mountains, streets, canal paths, beaches – it doesn’t matter where it is, I love to walk, to feel the ground beneath my feet and to be connected to the place around me.

Places matter. The communities in which we are born and raised, the playgrounds we have played in as children, the homes of friends and family we have visited, the schools and churches we have attended and the places we have worked. All are places with significance in our lives and mark important moments and times.

Places carry our memories and churches can often carry the remembrance of our relationship with God. We may have attended Sunday School, church on a Sunday, the christening, wedding or funeral of a family member or friend or have just dropped in to have a quiet moment in the middle of a busy day.

We don’t need to be in a church building to talk with God or to hear from him, but often these buildings are ‘thin places’ where we can feel especially close to heaven, experiencing the peace and presence of God. Our churches are a visible symbol that the place we are in has a spiritual element to its life, identity and community, they are the beating heart of the spiritual life of the country as they have been for centuries.

For me, church buildings play an important part in our worshipping lives as Christians, but the impact and importance of a church building extends far beyond the gathering of a congregation.

Our buildings allow us to share hospitality, to offer a place of sanctuary and calm or simply a place to keep warm and dry, to sit in silence, light a candle or have a cup of tea, a biscuit and a chat.

They also host play groups, exercise classes, food banks, youth groups, choirs and all manner of community life.

They tell at least a part of our story and our history, as places to remember loved ones, commemorate events and gather together. They are a place for everyone and all are welcome in God’s house.

At this Easter time, as you enjoy your Easter chocolate and hopefully some rest and relaxation, can I encourage you to take the opportunity to connect or reconnect with your local church, to take a moment to sit in quiet, to remember God’s never ending love for you, shown to us in the life, death and rising to new life of his son, Jesus and to look forward to new beginnings and new hope.

May you know the transforming love of God for you this Easter.