This we sang amid the shadows of our Cathedral last night, a Cathedral which has witnessed many chapters of England’s history. Yes, Christ’s Resurrection has shed his peaceful light on all of humanity. Indeed, in the clear light of this Easter morning, we can see how this light shines out more brightly than ever amid the gathering shadows of our time. As Christians, many of us uneasily recognize this Easter an effort to obscure, to place in shadow not only the Christian inheritance of this land but our very nature, our destiny and our ultimate good, to echo Pope Benedict’s words to us in 2010 (Bellahouston Park 16th September 2010). For it is upon our nature, our destiny and our ultimate good that Easter morning brings its clear light.
The testimony of the Gospel and the Church insist in every time and place that Christ rose from the dead in his human body. In our humanity he rose to new and everlasting life. This was not a dream, a vision or a mystical experience but an event in time and history to which the emptiness of the tomb gave witness. Yes, by His Resurrection we are brought back, in St. Paul’s words, to our “true life” (Galatians 3:1). Pope Benedict borrowed the language of evolution (Easter Vigil 2006) and this seems especially appropriate for us in Darwin’s home town, to describe the Resurrection as the greatest leap forward for the human race (the greatest “mutation” in the unlovely language of evolution theory) and this began in Christ.
It was amid the last shadows of the night (John 20:1), St. John poignantly records in the Gospel, the first disciples came to “see and believe” (John 20:9). Blessed John Henry Newman recalled in powerful, moving terms how this peaceful light came to shine in this land of ours. He recalled how this nation came to “see and believe.” “The fair form of Christianity rose up and grew and expanded like a beautiful pageant from north to south;” he declared in a celebrated homily at Birmingham Cathedral, “it was solemn, it was bright, it was beautiful and pleasant, it was soothing to griefs, it was indulgent to the hopes of man; it was at once a teaching and worship; it had a dogma, a mystery …. till he who recollected the old pagan time would think it unreal … so marvelously was heaven let down to earth …” (“Christ upon the Waters” St. Chad’s Cathedral, 27th October 1850).
Yet today we are becoming increasingly aware that there are those in leading positions within our society who wish to see history somehow reversed, who wish the very light which Christianity brought to these islands would recede. This is often done under the plausible intention of “modernizing” yet it is in reality an attempt to turn the clock back: as if the Gospel had never arrived in this land, never shaped its laws and culture and never formed the basis of our civilization. They are sometimes called “anti Christian” as Christians do indeed suffer as a consequence of new laws and regulations. But in fact the mentality is “pre-Christian.” They see progress only in terms of moving this nation away from its Christian inheritance, from the very roots of its laws, its culture, its life. In the words of the Psalm today they wish to discard “the corner stone” (Psalm 117) on which so much good in our society has been built.
Pope Benedict repeatedly points out, as he did to the German Parliament recently, that it is from faith in God our Creator that the very idea of human rights and of equality before the law arose, and that the inviolable dignity of every human person came to be recognized (Address to the German Parliament, 22nd September 2011). Otherwise, without such a foundation we would become subject to any passing ideology. Dr. John Sentamu, the Anglican Archbishop of York, was accused of “exaggerating” when he spoke of the Government’s proposals to re-define the identity of marriage as linked to a totalitarian mentality (The Daily Telegraph 31st January 2012). Yet his analysis of recent history is clearer than that of many of the leaders of opinion in our society.
It has, indeed, been the experience of this past century, as both Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have observed how the most poisonous ideologies have arisen within the Christian nations of Europe. Thus Nazism or Communism attempted to discard the Christian inheritance of faith and morality as if it had never existed. They sought either to return to the pagan past or to “re-create” and “redeem” humanity by political will and ideology with terrible consequences. If Christianity is no longer to form the basis and the bedrock of our society then we are, indeed, left at the mercy of passing political projects and perhaps even the most sinister of ideologies.
Easter morning recalls us from these disturbing shadows to that wonderful Light which shines for ever. For Christ in our very humanity shows us our true nature, our real dignity and our eternal destiny in the face of death itself. He is “the morning Star”which never sets. This the Church sings every Easter, that Christ sheds His peaceful light on all humanity, He who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.
+ Mark, Bishop of Shrewsbury