What does the average vicar write in their parish magazine for Easter? Who knows. But this is what I wrote for our Belmont and Pittington 'Grapevine' this month:
Christ is risen, Alleluia!
We are now in the middle of Eastertide, the season of the year when we remember and celebrate Jesus' resurrection from the dead. Like Lent, Eastertide lasts for several weeks. Over these weeks, we remember Jesus' many resurrection appearances. Sometimes he appeared to an individual, sometimes to a small group, and sometimes to whole crowds of people. By the end of a few weeks after that first Easter, there were hundreds, even thousands, of witnesses to the astonishing fact that Jesus had been raised from the dead.
Jesus's death and resurrection is the central point of our faith. Without it, the church is nothing but a social club. With it, we have the most wonderful message of hope to share.
And the hope that we have in Jesus is one that our culture, our friends and neighbours, and we ourselves, need so deeply. We live in a culture which is desperately scared of illness, weakness and death. So many of our newspaper and TV reports are about what might give us cancer, what might kill or cure us. Our magazines are full of 'miracle' diets and health tips. The most controversial question facing our politicians and society is that of euthanasia - whether people should be allowed to help those who are too frail to kill themselves to do so without fear of punishment.
What do health, life, illness and death mean to us as Christians? Being a Christian does not make us immune from fear of pain or suffering, or from worry and grief when we or those around us are ill and dying. But Christianity does change our perspective on illness and death.
Because we follow a God who showed his love for us most profoundly by being born as a helpless, squalling infant, and by being prepared to die in the most horrible way imaginable for us, we are forced to confront our fears and to see weakness and death in a new light. They are still horrible, still fearsome, but we know that God can and does work through, and overcome, even the worst that can happen. And we know that death is not the end.
We know that God knows what the worst pain imaginable feels like. God knows what it is to suffer in Jesus. And because God is Father and Son and Spirit, we know that God also knows what it is to watch someone close to us suffer and die. Even more, because Jesus on the cross cried out just before his death 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' we know that God knows even the pain of feeling ourselves abandoned by God.
When we think of death, we can see it not as the end of all that is good, but as a movement into things that are even better. Instead of fearing the natural process of ageing and dying, we can relax into it, welcome it even, because we know that this life is not all that God has in store for us.
Because that tomb was empty on that first Easter morning, and the risen Jesus appeared to his friends and disciples, the Christian faith is that we too will one day be raised from death to life with God. Alleluia!