Easter – A New Day Dawning!


There is no doubt that this past year has been a very difficult time for us all, and for those who have sadly lost loved ones it will be a year which they will never forget. Although no one would pretend that the government has got everything right when it comes to the coronavirus pandemic, it’s roll out of the vaccination program with nearly 25 million people receiving their 1st dose of the vaccine as I write this letter, has been well received and applauded. This wonderful progress gives us all a sense of hope, that there is indeed ‘light at the end of tunnel’ and that hopefully one day soon our lives will be more like normal. Which is why the suspension of the AstraZeneca vaccine in at least 13 countries across Europe seems strange. Fears that the vaccine may cause blood clots has prompted the EU to follow ‘the cautious principle’ and restricts its distribution until they are confident that it is safe to do so, despite the fact that both the World Health Organisation and indeed Europe’s own European Medicines Agency has consistently said that there is no evidence that the AstraZenica vaccine is unsafe, and with only 40 suspected cases of blood clotting being reported out of a distribution pool of 17 million, the rate is less than that you might expect to find in the population generally. With many scientists feeling baffled as this development, the general conclusion is that this move is more politically motivated than data driven.

But of course, any delay in vaccine distribution has the potential to sadly cause more suffering and death.  

However, this sense of jumping to a conclusion without due consideration of the evidence is precisely how many people behave when it comes to thinking about Easter. They like the trappings of being with family and friends (in normal times) as we move into Spring and the Easter holidays, complete with chocolate treats and Easter eggs, but they don’t give any more serious thought to the significance of Easter than they do the ‘Easter bunny’!  But this is a shame, because, if they were to really consider the Easter story, and contemplate the significance of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, They would discover that not only is there a compelling case for Jesus to be the Son of God and the Saviour of the World, where the ‘facts’ speak for themselves, but the debate is much more significant, lively and robust that they would imagine. In fact, it’s life changing and life-giving! For you see, at the heart of the Christian gospel is the ‘Easter story’ which brings light into the darkness, life over death, and hope where there is despair. For many it would seem ludicrous to pass over the hope of a life-giving vaccine simply because one had been failed to give due weight to the evidence or come to it with some form of unfounded prejudice. It’s my hope that you won’t treat the Gospel story with the same distain, but allow a new day to dawn in your heart as you consider the evidence, ask all the right questions and come to it fresh and with an open mind.   

May I take this opportunity to wish you all a Happy Easter.


Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. John 20.8

Faith, Hope And The Flames Of Notre-Dame

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It was with a great deal of sadness that millions watched the iconic Gothic Cathedral of Notre-Dame go up in flames on Monday 15th April 2019 via their televisions, computers and smartphones. It seemed incredible to think that this wonderful cathedral that had taken over 200 years to build was essentially destroyed in a mere 30 minutes. It felt like something out of a movie or a bad dream. Many French citizens were in tears and disbelief as they witnessed this terrible event unfold but huge credit should be paid to the firefighters and others who were trying against the odds to save as many of the priceless art and religious antiquities as they could whilst others were trying to save and preserve the actual building. Yes, France may pride itself on it’s secular education but this tends to hide the fact that over 2/3rds of the population still identify themselves as Christian predominantly Roman Catholic – but equally it has to be said that to the French, the Cathedral of Notre-Dame represents so much more than being simply a place of religious devotion. It represents their nation, their heritage, their architecture, their culture and their wonderful way of life – and so it comes as no surprise that almost immediately President Macron committed himself and the whole of France to rebuilding and restoring the Cathedral.

“So I say this very solemnly to you tonight, we will rebuild this cathedral all together – and it is undoubtedly part of the French destiny …. we will rebuild Notre-Dame.”

Thankfully, in the cold light of day it appeared that despite great damage, the structure was basically sound and donations large and small were coming in from across France and indeed the world for its repair.

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But what is it that drives the human spirit to want to commit itself to such projects? For even in our own country, we have historically seen the rebuilding of Coventry and York Cathedrals damaged by fire, as well as Windsor Castle. It seems for all sorts of reasons we have an innate, inbuilt desire to rebuild, capture and preserve these majestic and ‘glorious’ buildings because they represent the triumph of victory over adversity and they speak to our heart and soul – and so we naturally wish the French every success in their efforts to overcome the disaster that has befallen them. There is of course a parallel to be found in the Christian faith, for just as President Macron said, ‘we will rebuild this cathedral all together, the Christian will be aware that this is precisely the task given to every believer – to help collectively and together to build a Kingdom, a temple, a church, not with actual bricks and stones (because these are transitory and prone to damage and decay) but with ourselves as human ‘living stones’ (1 Peter 2.5), joyfully working together in hope and celebrating the victory that Christ has won over sin by his death upon the cross. For the Christian appreciates that it is what is built in Christ’s name for the common good which is the most successful, eternally praiseworthy and enduring.


In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.
Ephesians 2.21


 

Have You Really Got To Grips With – The Resurrection?

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‘A lot cleverer people than us embrace religion so I can be as dismissive of it as I like but we have to acknowledge that’. Paul Whitehouse.

These were the words that comedian Paul Whitehouse shared with his good friend Bob Mortimer in the BBC Television Series Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing (Series 1: Episode 2), where having recovered from heart problems, they each mused about the future and chatted to a local Vicar about death, and their own funerals. Because neither were religious, they captured quite nicely the views and perspective of so many in our largely secular society. In some ways, each wistfully wished that there was more to life than this but couldn’t quite embrace the apparent foolishness of a religion they had no real experience or sensible knowledge of. Their musings echoed the apparent disconnect that exists between believing individuals and the rest of society – a disconnect which is made worse by opinion polls that suggest that Christianity in the UK is in a rapid state of decline. Although there is a decline, it has now been recognised that many of these polls don’t make sufficient distinction between active Christians who attend church regularly, and those ‘non-active’ Christians who are people who simply view themselves as Christian because they happen to live in a ‘Christian country’. If there was a clearer distinction between the former and the latter, then statistics about matters of faith and belief wouldn’t be quite so stark as are sometimes portrayed.

Last month my sister-in-law died, and I attended her funeral not as a clergyman but simply as my brother’s brother. Of course, the whole thing was immensely sad and hugely painful, and seeing my brother (who is still a relatively young man) who I love, without his wife, and his daughters without their mother – greatly hurt. But it didn’t hurt as much as I’m sure it would have done, had I had no hope! As Christians, a very real comfort and consolation can be found in the fact that we believe not just in life and death – but in life, death and resurrection. For as Bishop Tom Wright puts it, we have a sense of saying ‘Good night and see you in the morning’, for Heaven isn’t simply ‘pie in the sky when you die’ – a land of make believe, somewhere over the rainbow. It’s the promise of a new real existence as demonstrated in the person of Jesus himself, whose life, death and resurrection were witnessed by so many; people who saw him, touched him and ate with him. These are events which are not simply made up but recorded by many faithful men and women in the Scriptures and other historical documents, many of whom were prepared to die themselves on the basis of what they had seen and heard. So why are we so blind, ignorant and unwilling to believe their testimony in this modern age?

Bishop Tom Wright (a greatly respected Christian theologian and commentator) explains it like this.

‘The great turning point in human history, the moment when everything changed was when Jesus came out of the tomb on Easter morning. We live in a world which fools itself that the great turning point in history came in Europe and America in the 18th Century, when we had what was called ‘The Enlightenment’ and with our new ideas, and our new science and our new democracies etc we were actually going to solve the problems of the world. If you look back at the last couple of hundred years, you say, ‘Well give me a break! If that’s called solving the problems of the world then we are going to have to think a bit better in the future.’ But actually, that’s because ‘The Enlightenment’ has offered a parody of Christianity. The Enlightenment therefore wants to rubbish the resurrection because if the resurrection happened it means that THAT was the great turning point in history and not Europe in the 18th Century and so the agenda for Christians today … is to go back and re-inhabit the truth that God’s new world was born, not when certain European thinkers had some bright ideas 200 years ago, but when Jesus came out of the tomb on Easter morning, and as we learn to live ‘out’ of that belief, ‘out’ of that event, then that is the way that God’s kingdom is going to come on earth as in heaven.’

If each of us can get a small glimpse of this, and hold it thoughtfully, intelligently and respectfully in our hearts, we can properly celebrate and wish each other a very Happy Easter.


Then go quickly and tell his disciples: “He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.” Matthew 28.7