Bishop Robert: Sermon for Easter Sunday


You can watch the Bishop's sermon on this video.

It is Easter Sunday. The greatest festival of the Christian year. But the annual celebration of Easter finds us this year in hard times, with most of us in Europe still in lockdown. Mostly our church services are limited and our family gatherings are forbidden.

The Covid pandemic has been really hard. It has impacted physical health, mental health and economic health. Some have very sadly lost loved ones, often in complicated circumstances. People have lost their jobs. The education of our children has been disrupted. Poor mental health amongst young people, and domestic violence within families are two other serious effects.

I am particularly struck by the way the pandemic has generated loneliness. In Belgium where I live 70% of the population say they are either somewhat or very lonely. Many of us long for physical company, for a gathering of family or friends, for a handshake or a hug. Covid has increased our isolation from each other. Another spiritual impact is the destruction of dreams. It has been very difficult to organise major life events like weddings or even to plan a holiday. Many young people have not been able to get started on a career, many businesses have collapsed, many have not had the companionship in retirement to which they had always looked forward. Our futures seemed to have been flattened out and we live from day to day. People often say to me: ‘where do we find hope?’

Rather to my surprise, I found inspiration recently from the autobiographical account of a couple who were struggling not with the pandemic but with childlessness, and with the isolation and despair that childlessness brought with it. Sheridan Voysey and his wife Merryn are an Australian couple – and in his book called Resurrection Year Sheridan describes the dark clouds which descended on them as they came to the eventual conclusion that they would never be able to have children. An expected future was lost; a dream collapsed. Where could they find new hope?

Like many in our Diocese they decided they needed a new start in a new place. And like many Australians they decided to tour Europe. They visited many of the well-loved places within our European diocese to look for inspiration. They savoured the aesthetic riches of Rome; they enjoyed the romantic waterways of Venice; they delighted in the natural beauty of Switzerland. Finally they came to Paris. It was in Paris that Sheridan Voysey found a new perspective on his sadness and a new hope.

They found their way to the Cathedral of the Sacré Coeur at Montmartre. Perhaps you have visited it yourself. Sheridan Voisey sat in the nave of the Cathedral and looked upwards. Above him was the immense mosaic of the risen Christ that decorates the ceiling above the altar. He sat and he gazed at the face of Christ.

And as he did so, some eternal truths pressed themselves upon him. They are truths relevant to all of us - particularly those who suffer from loneliness or broken dreams or a loss of hope.  

Voysey realised afresh that God in Jesus Christ is the One above all who has felt our isolation – the loneliness, the loss, the alienation. God understands. For Jesus was rejected by the priests and the politicians, and driven out of town by his neighbours. Judas betrayed him; Peter denied him; his family told him he was mad. In his hour of need all his friends fled. Crowds that once praised him called for his death. In the Garden of Gethsemane his prayers were met with silence. And as he hung, pinned to a cross like a butterfly on a frame, even God seemed to have abandoned him. Truly, if we feel lonely and isolated, Jesus felt that all the more.

Yet on Easter Sunday, the crucified one took everyone by surprise. He rose from the dead. And in rising, Jesus opened up a new and unexpected future. Whilst still bearing the wounds of the cross, Jesus was miraculously restored to life in a body that was new but recognisably the same.

That was a profound surprise and shock to the disciples. The disciples must now completely recalibrate their lives. They too must die to an old set of ways and expectations and rise to a new day and a new set of tasks. And this, Sheridan Voysey concludes is what he and his wife must do too. Not that the pain of childlessness will disappear, but that he can be confident in a new and different future. He is no longer bound by the chains of sadness. As he says: ‘perhaps a greater tragedy than a broken dream is a life forever defined by it’.

It is very easy to feel trapped in the present circumstances, feeling that the world is narrowing down around us with hope being squeezed out. And our emotions are easily swayed by the news. Today the news might be good, tomorrow it is bad, next day it is better – we don’t know whether to feel pessimistic or optimistic. Whichever, the uncertainty and unpredictability sure make us anxious.

But Easter summons us to a much broader horizon. Perhaps we are only seeing the pixel not the picture. Maybe we are noticing the pebble not the beach. At Easter we are invited to connect with the wider purposes of God. We are invited to access a source of hope that stands outside our present situation. And the historical guarantee of this hope-filled future is the resurrection of Jesus. We can know we have a future because of what has happened in the past.

So we are invited to dream a new dream and lay hold of a new future that is founded on God’s irresistibly loving and life-giving purposes. The content of this dream will inevitably be a surprise to us. That is because the foundation of Christian hope lies beyond us and outside us. It goes far beyond our own feelings of optimism or pessimism which depend so much on the circumstances of the present moment and the daily news broadcasts. Christian hope is the forward projection of Christian faith. As the book Hebrews puts it: ‘faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.’

Faith is rooted above all in the event we celebrate today: the extraordinary, miraculous but for me completely convincing resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Faith starts here, and works forward in all kinds of surprising and hopeful ways through history and into a future we haven’t yet dreamed of. That is why I am always full of hope.

After Jesus rose from the dead he appeared to his disciples in many and various ways. At his final appearance and in the very last sentence of St. Matthew’s gospel, he said to the disciples: ‘surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’ The physical Jesus is no longer with us. Yet he remains present with us, by his Spirit. The Christ who has known utter loneliness and isolation himself, is present with us in our isolation, to cheer, to comfort, to console, to give hope.

Easter Sunday finds us this year in hard times. Yet, dear friends, the message of Easter is exactly the message we need to hear. For as we gaze on the face of Christ we can be reassured that the earthly Jesus has shared fully in the worst that life can throw at any of us. We can draw renewed confidence that in Jesus God triumphs over the forces of darkness and provides us with a secure basis for faith and a sure ground for hope. We can truly know that God walks with us through the storms of life, and that we can dream new dreams and imagine new futures within the purposes of a God who brings life out of death and joy out of despair.

A song written in 1945 has become something of a European anthem in this past year of coronavirus. You’ll know it well I’m sure.

Walk on, walk on with hope in your heart.

Walk on through the wind
Walk on through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown

Walk on, walk on
With hope in your heart
And you'll never walk alone.

With the assurance of an Easter faith you will walk on with hope in your heart, and with Christ at your side you will never walk alone.

A very happy Easter to you all.


Bishop Robert Innes