Sunday 31 March 2024

Easter Message 2024 - Diocese of Derry

Easter is a time for many commemorations and celebrations. For some is remains a religious festival that just marks the end of Lent. For others in Ireland, it has political overtones. For many it is a Spring break from work or studies. So why do Christians put so much emphasis on recalling the events surrounding Christ's death? After all, Christmas is a much nicer and cuddlier story.

Firstly, life is tough and always has been tough. We think of current wars and financial pressures. They hint at a gloomy future. But human life has always lived in the shadow of illness, violence and tragedy – for we are not in charge of all that happens to us. Our celebrations of Christ's death and Resurrection are not just looking back to distant historical events. The first lesson of Easter that we celebrate this weekend is that God is in charge. God is present with grace on our Calvaries, not an absentee landlord who cares little for anyone. You are not a nobody in God's eyes. Evil may even kill us but it will crush us. Your body is sacred and, whatever it has suffered or however it is scarred, it can be raised up in glory on the last day. Easter celebrates the ultimate victory of hope over despair. We all know great people who have been able to face huge loss or broken dreams and still find a balance though believing that their lives are not a disaster. Easter makes a statement for all times and places about who we are and how our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. Our lives are of eternal value in the eyes of God. Resurrection challenges us not just to believe in God but to believe in a God who believes in us. In an age of superficiality that offers little meaning to human life, Jesus announces the triumph of good over evil, of life over death, of love over hatred.

Secondly, looking through the lens of the Resurrection, Christians have a particular way of remembering the awful events of Calvary. The Gospels do not deny the deceit of the high priests and pharisees, the brutality of the Romans or the cowardice of the disciples. But the Gospels look back with hope believing God is at work in all the circumstances of our lives. The early Church told a story that made out of Calvary a foundation for healing rather than a cesspit of anger. That is a lesson for our own times. In ongoing wars, in Ukraine and the Holy Land, the pain of past hurts is often remembered in such a way as to justify wholesale dis-membering of the other side. In our own society, we have constant anniversaries to remember the past. But some will use the memory of historical events in order to justify present violence. They follow the logic that blood should be shed to avenge blood shed. Jesus breaks that cycle and offers us a way out of the prison and the twisted logic that we create – a destructive way of remembering that will visit more violence on our children. The narrative of Jesus being burdened with the sins of the world can offer us healing. We can generate a narrative about those who suffered in our painful past, not merely as victims of our brutal enemies but as those who bore the cross because of our sinful political failings and I justices. As we search for ways to deal with the legacy of the past, Christ's death and Resurrection offers us a grace-filled language that remembers in order to generate hope and not merely destructive anger.

Thirdly, Resurrection speaks of the victory of good over evil. Our culture struggles with the reality of evil. On the one hand, the narrative says that the individual is entitled to choose and that no-one's choice should be judged. And yet, we risk drowning in a wave of laws that try to control human behaviour in a context where we are told that there Is neither right nor wrong, just what is legal and what is illegal. The triumph of life and love in the Resurrection points to the power of virtue and grace. Law tries to prevent wrong. Grace tries to inspire the true, the beautiful and the good. Without the living God who calls us to new life, our existence is merely a series of thrills to be stroked off our bucket list of experiences, full of sound and fury signifying nothing - and going nowhere. The Resurrection of Jesus proclaims that virtue and faithfulness will bear fruit in God's own good time, that injustice and arrogance will not have the last laugh. Easter is God's vindication of Christ's message that the gentle, the merciful, those who hunger and thirst for justice will be victorious. The Resurrection of the crucified Jesus is the message that brings good news to the poor and promises liberty to those who lie enchained by human evil and bad choices. So many are trapped in a world that fears to speak of virtue because the concept of good challenges the arrogance of the strong. The Resurrection is the source of the ultimate liberation theology and calls out of abuses of power. No wonder it is unwelcome in some quarters for it is a liberating message for those who labour and are overburdened.

Tonight, we celebrate Christ's rising from the dead. We can reduce that event to a nice ceremony. Or we can marvel at what happened that morning in Jerusalem as a turning point in human history. It is such a significant happening that St Paul could write little more than 20 years later that, if our hope in Christ has been for this life only, we are the most unfortunate of people. (1 Cor 15:19). Christ is risen. That makes all for difference. It is so badly needed in our violent, superficial culture.

-Our bodies and our lives are precious.

-We can remember pain in a way that gives new life.

-And virtue wins out in the end

Christ is risen and alleluia is our song.

+ Donal