It is strange to be writing this Easter message in the midst of the coronavirus crisis. I just don’t know where we will be by the time you read this. Every day the ground seems to shift beneath our feet, and life becomes ever more uncertain and unpredictable.
But there’s another reason why writing an Easter message in the midst of this crisis seems strange. After all, Easter is the highpoint of the Christian year, the great moment of joyful celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead – and yet when our minds are tinged with fear of sickness and death it seems quite a mental leap to get to that point of joyful celebration.
But Easter has more to say to this present crisis than we might think. The Christian faith takes the body with all its strengths and its weaknesses very seriously. Archbishop William Temple, who was Archbishop of Canterbury through much of the Second World War, once said that Christianity “is the most avowedly materialist of all the great religions”.
What he meant by that was not – of course – that we should be materialistic and acquisitive. Rather he meant that the Christian faith takes the physical, material world very seriously. Indeed it takes the human body very seriously. And we see that nowhere more clearly than in Jesus Christ, crucified for us.
Jesus’ arrest and trial and crucifixion were unavoidably physical things. Jesus sweated blood on his knees in Gethsemane. His betrayer kissed him. He was spat upon, blindfolded, flogged and scourged, his head crowned with a mocking circlet of thorns. He was crucified and drew his last breath in agony. The dead weight of his body was laid in the tomb.
Jesus entered fully into our physicality: hence Temple’s words. It explains, too, why the Christian Church was at the very forefront of developing hospitals and hospices: our much-valued NHS stands in that great tradition. Jesus entered fully into our physicality: so there is nothing about this current crisis that is strange to him. He does not float above it in some disembodied way. He entered fully into our humanity so he understands fully what we are going through.
But of course the story does not stop there. The cross is not the end. It is only the gateway to something better – but something no less material. When Jesus rises from the dead he does so bodily: he eats fish with his disciples; Thomas can touch his hands and his side. The physical is fully redeemed.
The hope that only Jesus Christ can bring
And that’s what we need to hold on to in this crisis. Our world is being shaken by it. Our lives may well be shaken by it. But the Kingdom of God stands firm, that Kingdom which is brought into being through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. So whatever the challenges of this time may be, let us be humbly confident citizens of the Kingdom, holding out to a hurting world the hope that only Jesus Christ can bring. And, in these sad times, may he strengthen us all for that task.
+Philip Mounstephen, Bishop of Truro
Bishop Philip has prepared an extended service of readings and meditations for Good Friday, and recorded it at Lis Escop with Ruth. https://www.trurodiocese.org.uk/2020/03/services-online/
That will be available here from 8am on Good Friday (10.4.20), and we and Bishop Philip will also share it on social media – so do either look out for it there, or tune in here on our website. That will be available indefinitely after that time, so please join them whenever suits you.
On Easter Sunday, we try something new: Bishop Philip will preside over a Eucharist service on Facebook Live. That will be streamed from the diocesan Facebook page, starting at 11am. You have the choice of either watching it later on Facebook on the diocese or Bishop Philip’s pages, but it also gives you the option of tuning in ‘live’ at the time, and being part of a real-time Holy Communion service. Again, Bishop Philip and Ruth will be broadcasting from their home, at Lis Escop.
Tonight (Maundy Thursday) Bishop Philip is scheduled to record an interview with Donna Birrell for broadcast on BBC Radio Cornwall tomorrow, and will talk about the importance and significance of Good Friday – particularly at a time like this.
Then on Sunday, he will join Donna live on air just after 2pm, as she begins her afternoon, Easter Day programme.