Easter Day 2024

Acts 10: 34-43    John 20. 1-18

Congratulations for making it here today. Well done for making it, despite the clock change. Do look out for those joining the service in a few minutes time as they arrive thinking this is the start of the service. When I was a parish priest, there was always one large family that always arrived late for church. There were several of them, so it was always a grand entrance. One Sunday when the clocks changed, they arrived late as usual, but this time they arrived for the final hymn, thinking it was the first hymn. They got a round of applause from the congregation who had known that the clocks had sprung forward. The husband subsequently got ordained!

Today time has sprung forward as we move into British Summer Time. Yet today, on this Easter Day, all our lives, all our hopes, all our prayers spring forward as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This early morning moment in time has changed all time and the space between us and God is now so close that we can reach out and touch him, as in a moment, he touches us in the bread and the wine. This is my body, this is my blood, this is me, alive and with you.

Easter is the spring forward moment for the church worldwide. This is our victory parade, this is our celebratory lap, this is our greatest of days when our future is secured, even over death which no longer has any eternal sting for you and for me. Alleluia!

This is the day when we can confidently say, ‘We have seen the Lord.’

None of this joy negates the challenges we face as individuals and as communities. Yesterday I visited the Bibby Stockholm barge in Portland Harbour to pray this Holy Week with the Christian asylum seekers there. It is a humbling and moving experience, especially as it does feel as if the residents are ‘doing time’, not through criminality, but through the aching time that the asylum process takes. The staff are kind, but the feeling is depressing and the lack of something to do is undignified. We gathered together and I heard again of their stories of persecution, of extended families imprisoned or left behind, of beatings and threats, all for following Jesus. The local churches have stepped up and provide comfort and care, teaching, and respect. In an admirable act of generosity, the Weymouth & Portland churches have collected Easter Eggs not just for the Christians, but for all the near 300 residents of the barge, and for the kind staff. This is Christian love at its most simple and its most holy.

As we prayed and read the scriptures in English and in Farsi, there seemed only one thing for me to give them. With the Maundy Thursday gospel in heart and mind, I washed their feet. It was humbling and holy, and that was just how I felt, doing what Jesus did for those least expecting it. Jesus said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you.”

In the first reading today from the Acts of the Apostles, we heard Peter summing up the Gospel in only 205 words. We need to be able to do that, we need to be able to articulate what being here today, on time or an hour late, means to us. Whether it is washing feet, or welcoming the refugee, or visiting the sick or caring for the oppressed, our calling to spring forward today is to live the resurrection life Jesus has given us. We need to be living out the Acts of the Apostles today, in our day.

Our times mean that we are no longer living in an age of Christendom. The times of taking our faith and its infrastructure for granted are gone. That is probably no bad thing. Christendom as an institution began to unravel with the First World War and has been in decline ever since. We live in a new apostolic age, and we are those apostles. We need to be able to be making Jesus known, telling the story, living out his life in the way Jesus did and being with those whom he chose to serve. Only by being the Easter people will others know that they can be saved. This is our calling in our times, to be the people that spring forward, to be apostles.

We need to be able to tell the story in truth and with power, and with how we show others our faith in everything we do and everything we say. We come together today across this diocese and across the world because of the testimony of others and we need to live lives that can indeed be a testimony to others – running from the tomb to share the good news.

So here is a testimony. ‘I believe that there is indeed a God. He is eternal, no one created him, but to him everything that is, owes its existence. He alone is responsible for the way things are, and he gave them their nature and being, out of sheer love. This was no unfulfilled longing, so that he needed to make something on which to lavish his affection. All the giving and receiving of life and joy which we find in our many kinds of love for each other he has always known in himself, to a degree and with a perfection beyond our imagining. How we ought to describe this does not really matter. We can be certain that it must be so because he made some of his creatures at least to find their joy in just this kind of existence. For these, life has three special goals: understanding, freedom, and love. It has meaning only to the extent that they move and strive to achieve these conditions, all of which depend on one another. To become aware of them, and to attain them, in however small a degree, is to be in the image of God, for they are the heart of his own nature’.

Not my testimony, the testimony of Bishop John Austin Baker, who ordained me here, and whose cross I wear today. Let us be ready to give our testimony in word and in action, for as the times change, our task as the Easter people is to spring forward and proclaim understanding, freedom, and love – for it is because of these three things that we are made, live and rise again. This Easter Day, let the testimony of the church be, understanding, freedom and love.

Alleluia. Christ is risen. He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

+Stephen Lake, Bishop of Salisbury


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