Bishop Paul delivered his Easter Sunday Sermon at Durham Cathedral this morning. Read it here:
EASTER SUNDAY EUCHARIST 2022
Acts 10.34-43 John 20.1-18
‘Preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all)’.
Peace seems in short supply right now. Alongside Ukraine, and the threats of expansion beyond it, the brutal war in Yemen continues. There is conflict in South Sudan; the ongoing issues in Afghanistan; unease between many other nations, internally and on their borders that never features in our news bulletins.
Peace seems in short supply with the growing concerns around the numbers of people who have mental ill health problems. The growth of this amongst children and young people is particularly concerning. Peace of mind is something for which many struggle.
Peace seems in short supply with the anxiety being caused around rising prices for fuel and food. This is especially true amongst those on lowest incomes, the majority of whom are working extremely hard, but in low paid jobs. There is a genuine anxiety for many about ‘making ends meet.’ With this being so in our wealthy nation with social security system it is even more of a concern for the world’s poorest who are being impacted even more deeply.
Yet here on Easter Sunday we read that the message the first Christians shared was ‘good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all).’ What did they mean? What does it look like for us today?
NOT EASY PEACE
Well a few moments thought about the early Christians experience should preserve us quite rapidly from thinking this is a nice easy cosy message that simply ‘ believe in Jesus and all will be well.’ By the time Peter is saying these words to Cornelius serious persecution has taken place of him and his fellow Jesus followers. Stephen had been martyred. Others had been scattered. Imprisonment had been a reality. So the peace Peter offers cannot mean an easy life without problems.
Then remember that Peter is addressing these words to Cornelius, a Roman centurion, whose foundation was that ‘Caesar is Lord of all’. Peter is telling him clearly that the good news of peace through Jesus Christ involves recognising a different Lord and King. It will involve him, in one deep sense, in being disloyal to his political ruler. It could mean disturbance and disruption. It might mean loss of role, responsibility and position. Yet in that loss peace will be found. It is a decision that we discover Cornelius takes. Although we have no knowledge of what the actual outcome was for him as a Roman centurion.
So the Easter message of peace was not of a soft and easy life.
The testimony of all Christian history of course bears this out. Christians have often been opposed; we have been persecuted but the witness to the good news of peace has been maintained. Persecution is a reality in many parts of the world today for the simple reason that people choose to follow Jesus Christ as Lord. In the midst of this Christians tell of knowing the peace of God which is beyond our understanding.
PEACE WITH GOD
The fundamental message of peace that is proclaimed in Jesus Christ, through his death and resurrection, is that of being put at peace with God. Humankind’s basic problem is our break with God. We choose to serve ourselves rather than God. We give ourselves to all kinds of idols rather than to the living God. We are sinners who need forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration with God our Maker. This is what the Easter story is primarily about. At the Cross God puts us in the right with himself. As St Paul puts it to the Romans, ‘Therefore since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.’
This is an eternal peace for in Christ we adopted into God’s family as his children. As St John puts it, ‘See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called the children of God; and so we are. … Beloved we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.’
PEACE WITH OURSELVES
Knowing then that we are forgiven; that we are beloved children of God whose eternity is held secure in God’s loving hands we discover that we can be at peace with ourselves. For some people there is a really dramatic turnaround from self-loathing to self-acceptance. For most though there is a lifelong discovering of who we were created to be all along. We keep finding out more of who God always longed for us to be. We are each unique as God’s child yet caught up in the one family and body of Christ. As we know ourselves loved so we can be at peace with ourselves; with who we are.
Each day I am hearing small snippets from Christian brothers and sisters in Ukraine. They tell of the loss, the hardships, the pain. They speak of the uncertainty. Yet they also speak of their peace; their awareness of the presence of God and the activity of God in their daily lives. They speak of their surety that whatever might befall them God’s love will never fail them. They are able to praise God in the midst of the horrors. Please note not for the horrors but in the midst of them. They cry out to God with their anguish, questions and pain. They wonder, ‘How long O Lord, how long?’ Yet somehow know the peace of God amidst it all.
PEACE WITH OTHERS
Knowing that we are at peace with God must mean that we ourselves become a people of reconciliation, bringing people together. This is not simply living at ease with others, although that is important. As the writer to the Hebrews puts it, ‘Strive for peace with everyone’ (Heb 12.14). We all know this is much easier to do with some people than it is with others. Yet we are called to strive to live at peace with all.
Jesus calls us to be peacemakers. We are to be those who work with others to bring those who are divided back into relationship. This is a calling for all within the church to work for the unity of the whole people of God. It is also a calling to bring peace and make peace for all people. This is why we become engaged in questions of justice in our society. It is why we have to stand for those who continually find themselves at the bottom of the pile in life. Jesus’ ministry showed us that the poor and the outcast are to be given value and priority. Hence why we look to see how the poorest are best supported within our communities and nation. It is why we seek a better and fairer welfare system. It is why it matters that we take our responsibility for asylum seekers and refugees. We do not do this alone. The refugee crisis is one that faces the whole world. It needs international efforts and agreements. Hence the strangeness of our own Government to declare a kind of UDI from international agreements on these matters. I do not dispute the challenges that are faced. We do need to break the evils of human trafficking. But we will not succeed in doing so on our own or by deciding that we can ourselves traffic asylum seekers to another country without them having any basic rights observed. The asylum seekers are not the criminals. Their claims should be handled here on our own shores in a much timelier manner than is currently the case. We should work with France and other European neighbours, and with nations from which people flee, to return those who are not true refugees. Between two thirds and three quarters of those arriving are found to be true refugees. You do not punish this majority to get at the minority nor the evil traffickers. Seeking the wellbeing of the refugee is part of our peace-making task.
Peacemakers are not always liked. They are not always popular. They will be disagreed with, perhaps even by a majority. But we always remember that the greatest peacemaker of all time was crucified so that peace might be made.
The risen Jesus met Mary Magdalene in the garden and her life filled with sorrow and loss was transformed. The peace that had come to Mary when she was first restored by Jesus was re-found. She must have thought it had gone with his death but here it is rediscovered in an even deeper way. She was at peace.
In the evening of that Easter day Jesus met the disciples saying, ‘Peace be with you’. May this Easter we all know good news of peace through Jesus Christ. Knowing it may we live at peace with ourselves, striving for peace with all and committed to being Jesus’ peacemakers in the world.