Forty days and forty nights of fasting – was it chocolate or beer or computer games this year? And did you make it? After those forty long days, we have the great church celebration of Easter Sunday when the fast ends which releases us from the promises of abstinence, which hopefully brought each of us a bit closer to the type of person we really want to be. Those little indulgences are indeed nice from time to time, but how good are they for your body and soul? I’ll leave each one of you to ponder that for yourselves.
However, the great message of Easter is not “let’s eat chocolate eggs” but “Christ is risen!” That will be resounding around the Christian world on Easter Sunday along with the traditional response “He is risen indeed! Alleluia!” This is the great message that Easter brings. By the power of God, Jesus was raised to a new life, a new type of life promised to us all. We especially celebrate this on Easter Sunday itself and throughout the following forty days of Eastertide until we reach the Feast of the Pentecost which signals the arrival of the Holy Spirit. But, of course, the message that Christ has risen stays with us all year long.
Within a few days of my writing these lines, in the week leading up to Palm Sunday, we will have two special celebrations throughout the Christian world. During that time, Pope Francis will be installed as the head of the Roman Catholic Church around the world, while two days later Justin Welby will be enthroned as Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the worldwide Anglican Communion. Both of these men will have particular challenges to face, issues to deal with, and problems to solve. As inheritors of the throne of St Peter and the throne of St Augustine respectively, the Pope and the Archbishop will be following upon centuries of faith, tradition, and history, and not a few problems which have developed along the path.
It’s a good time for us to remember how much we as Christians have in common with each other rather than to focus on the differences, as we so often do. Not a bad time, either, to remember that it was Pope Gregory the Great who sent Augustine to Christianize the Kingdom of Kent in the year 595, and this country of England was part of that unified church until the Reformation and Henry VIII drew us in a different direction. This is not to deny that there are real and important differences between the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion, but if we keep that alive that essential Christian message – “Christ is risen!” “He is risen indeed. Alleluia!” – then the differences may fall away.
A prayer from Hippolytus of Rome, when the church was still one body:
Christ is risen: The world below lies desolate.
Christ is risen: The spirits of evil are fallen.
Christ is risen: The angels of God are rejoicing.
Christ is risen: The tombs of the dead are empty.
Christ is risen indeed from the dead,
The first of the sleepers.
Glory and power are his forever and ever.
Please continue to pray for me, as I do for you.
Your brother in Christ,