Cardinal's Easter Sunday sermon
posted on 11 April 2004
Several weeks ago I returned to London from a visit to Rome the day after those horrendous bombings in Madrid. Here at the Cathedral, thousands of people, many of them Spanish, had gathered to pray for the victims and the injured and to be together during that terrible sense of loss. As I mingled with the young people who had gathered spontaneously on the piazza after that ceremony, I found it a most moving experience. Occasionally, one of them would shout out, 'Let us be silent' and for several moments there would be a hushed and reverent silence in the crowd. Many held lit candles and left them as a symbol of their prayer against the outside walls of the Cathedral. That silence was not only a dignified and authentic response to the evil which had confronted them but also, it seemed to me, an act of faith. It was a belief that terrorism could never conquer the human spirit, that death would not ultimately prevail and that, even in darkness, there is always light and hope.
I am struck that it was in the silence of the early morning that the first disciples went to the tomb of Jesus and found that it was empty. It was in the silence of the early morning that Jesus manifested Himself to those He had chosen and they knew that He had risen. What joy filled their hearts as they began to know that Jesus had risen from the dead and was with them once again. That extraordinary person, Jesus of Nazareth, who was nailed into the wood of the cross, hammered into the ground, buried under stone, was now risen to new life. And in the silence of our own hearts, I know sometimes only dimly and darkly in our own lives, we believe that the resurrection of Jesus is not just a historical fact, it is a continuing, everyday, life-giving human experience. It is God's gift of love to us, namely, the Risen Lord returned to His Father in heaven but with us still.
A few years ago, in an off-the-cuff remark, I suggested that Christianity in Britain was almost vanquished. But I am beginning to realise that I must revise that view somewhat. Although it is true that there is a diminishing number who are going to church every Sunday, it is also true that at Easter, numbers of people who go to church are doubled. That means that about five million people in this country will be expressing their faith this Easter-time, and proclaiming that Christ is risen and that Jesus is Lord, Alleluia.
It is, I suppose, a happy coincidence that for we who live here, Easter-time coincides with our beautiful English springtime. We see signs of new life all round us if we but take opportunities to look. Throughout this land, in numerous towns and villages and cities, people will be acknowledging their belief in the Resurrection of Jesus. It is as if springtime itself reminds them that there is a springtime, not only in nature, but in their hearts. Somehow, etched into our history and our culture, the memory of Jesus remains. It is as if the Spirit of God speaks to people in the depths of their hearts. Our Christian past is closer to our present experience than it has been fashionable to acknowledge. It is not really surprising that a rise in secularism and religious apathy is itself contributing to a renewed searching for the spiritual dimension to life, particularly among young people. My hope this Easter is that the people of this nation will not quench that longing for God which, however tentatively, arises in their hearts. It is not merely a passive response to a sense of alienation, of loneliness, or of isolation - it is something deeper. Belief in God is not an easy option or a feel-good factor. It is something which should challenge us and make us see those around us with new eyes and fresh understanding.
We Christians have every reason to rejoice on Easter Sunday. But our rejoicing is not an easy rejoicing any more than Christ's death was an easy death. The Easter Mystery challenges our faith. Although the Resurrection was a historical event that could be verified by the sign of the empty tomb and by the reality of the apostles' encounters with the Risen Christ, it remains true that the very heart of the mystery of faith transcends and surpasses history. The salvation which Christ brings is simply the fulfilment of His promises that sin and death are overcome and that He opens the way to a new life, both here on earth and ultimately in heaven.
It is my task as your Bishop, above all other things that I do, to proclaim that faith, namely, that Christ is Risen. I proclaim this, not just out of my own faith, but out of the faith of the Church, the faith that was committed to Peter and the apostles and the first disciples to proclaim. I am, therefore, a witness with you and for you. The readings today proclaim our gladness and our joy. This day was made by the Lord, we rejoice and are glad, the Psalmist says. With Peter, we are able to say, 'We are those witnesses that Christ is Risen'. Or as Paul says to us, 'Since you have been brought back to true life with Christ, you must look for the things that are in heaven where Christ is, sitting at God's right hand.' Today, my dear people, we proclaim, in union with the whole Church, that Jesus, our Lord, who suffered so much and died on the cross, is risen. He was dead and is come to life. That Christ is risen and that Jesus is Lord. Alleluia! Alleluia