‘Let’s do what we can to turn this day of sorrow – remembering Christ on the cross – into a day and season of loving action’
The late great comic genius Charlie Chaplin once said that “a day without laughter is a day wasted.” Well, in my travels around our glorious county this year, our wonderful Yorkshire folk have made sure that I haven’t wasted many days. At times my sides have needed stitching back together! Scroll through the picture gallery on my website and you’ll see what I mean. Who says Christianity is boring? Do You? Not me!
It has been a particular joy to embark on my weekend missions. Following on from my recent pilgrimage, I am revisiting every area in the Diocese of York to encourage the local churches to share the love of Jesus Christ with those around them. From Stokesley to Sutton on the Forest, from Easingwold to Eggborough, I am speaking, ministering and taking questions at all manner of events in pubs, cafes, markets, community centres and schools. Sometimes even in churches! Getting to know the pupils at our region’s schools has been a particular pleasure. As well as places to learn and grow, schools are laugh factories too! There’s no greater sight than smiling children at play. They have much to teach us.
In the midst of all the fun and laughter – and large helpings of good Yorkshire grub like pie and peas! – these deanery missions have also unearthed stories of pain and despair. I’ve had the privilege to listen and pray for many people who are struggling with life and the idea of faith for all manner of reasons.
Christian leaders like me are not immune from bad things happening either – far from it. I’ve had the opportunity to share some of my own stories of tragedy and personal heartbreak. Living under the tyrannical, evil dictatorship of Idi Amin in Uganda was a particularly traumatic time for my family and friends. More recently, there were times when I lay in hospital after my prostate cancer operation when things felt pretty bleak.
I write this just a few weeks after we as a nation are still coming to terms with the shocking terror attack in Westminster which left five people dead, fifty maimed or injured and many hundreds more traumatised at what they witnessed.
I don’t know about you, but I’m absolutely fed up to the back teeth of these things happening in our wonderful world. I’m sick of the terror and the murders and the rape. I’m sick of the famines and the civil wars raging across continents right now. I’m bewildered by the random earthquakes wiping out whole villages and the floodwaters bringing untold misery to thousands. Sometimes – too often – life seems totally hopeless. It gets so badly broken and messed up that we imagine it can never be fixed and cleaned up.
There are no easy answers to the suffering in the world. I have plenty of questions for God when His Kingdom – a new heaven and a new earth – is completely realised. What I do know with all my heart, though, is that there’s a reason we call the Christian story: the Good News. There’s a reason I tell anyone who wants to hear why this Easter season is so life-changing. That reason is a person – Jesus Christ. God identifies with all our pain and suffering because his Son Jesus suffered the worst that humanity could throw at him on that first Good Friday. He suffered that unspeakable death on the cross so that each one of us might have the opportunity to know God intimately and live lives of true freedom and justice. As my friend and former Archbishop Rowan Williams writes: ‘..wherever you are, however lost you are, however much darkness there is around you, you have not gone beyond the reach of God.’
For me, what we remember about Jesus this Easter changed everything. His death on the cross and glorious resurrection gave to mankind a true and certain hope for the future. Not just a hope, but a promise. A promise that one day all will be well. As Revelation 21: 4 declares: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” I’m holding Jesus to that promise. It’s the only hope that I have.
There’s a beautiful scene at the end of the latest live action Disney blockbuster, Beauty and the Beast. As the curse is lifted on the beast and he is turned back into a prince, his palace is slowly bathed in a new and wonderful sunlight. Friends and family are reunited. That which has been broken is fixed. It’s a picture of resurrection and for me, what the Kingdom of Heaven will be like. It reminds me that one day all will be well. All will be restored by the God who loves us.
In the meantime, though, we have work to do, joy to bring, goodness to share. Our divine challenge is to accept Christ’s invitation to follow him and bring a taste of God’s Kingdom here now. To be hope and light. To be kind and generous. To be forgiving and slow to anger. We are all God’s work of art in progress but we can all make a difference whoever we are, wherever we live.
I see glimpses of the Kingdom of heaven all over Yorkshire. People going the extra mile to help, serve and love others in need. I was thrilled to discover just recently that our online charity Acts435 helped its 10,000th person in need. It started as a simple idea that is now making a real difference. What ideas do you have? Let me encourage you to turn them into action! Maybe you could start today by bringing joy to someone you know who is struggling in your community. You could make it your Easter mission to bring a smile to their face with a whopping gift of a huge Fairtrade chocolate egg or an offer of practical help. Let’s do what we can to turn this day of sorrow – remembering Christ on the cross – into a day and season of loving action.
May you know the love and joy of knowing Jesus Christ this Easter. May your Easter be filled with lots of laughter! Happy Easter! After all Jesus had the biggest laugh on Easter day! He rose from the dead. God bless you all.
The Most Reverend and Right Honourable John Sentamu
Archbishop of York and Primate of England