Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury writes — “Life and death together fought …”. These words have been sung at Mass on Easter Day for almost a thousand years. The drama they evoke is a struggle in which life overcame death: Christ who died now “reigns alive” (The Easter Sequence). These words might also evoke something of the struggle in which the whole of society is engaged this Easter. It is a struggle between hope and fear; between the threat of death and the promise of life; between the triumphant power of love and a retreat into the shadows of selfishness and despair. If Easter rejoicing seems as much out of place as the bright sunshine of Spring at this time of national anxiety, then let us remind ourselves that the hope of Easter itself sprang from the stark reality of human suffering and Christ’s death on the Cross, and that it would be heard first by men and women ‘self-isolated’ in fear.
The Easter proclamation of Christ’s Resurrection is the hope in which every generation has been able to confront the power of death. The uniqueness of Christianity taught that love is the power which ultimately shapes our destiny. This conviction, quite unknown to the people of ancient times, was to inspire reverence for life itself and for every human person, and ultimately a preferential love for the sick and vulnerable. Historians speak of this ‘Christian Revolution’ which changed the way we see our world and our lives, as Tom Holland has most recently described in his book, “Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind”. What formed so much that we now recognise as good in society and the very hope we have in the face of death, did not come from a human idea or an invented philosophy: it flowed from the victory of Christ’s Cross and Resurrection which we are celebrating today. This was the first light of dawn in which Peter and John stood before the tomb and were able to “see and believe” anew (Jn. 20:9). This was the victory that led Saint Paul to call an ancient world to die to an old way of life, for “… now the life (we) have is hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3). The Easter promise of the life that overcomes death, is as needful as ever today as a global pandemic confronts entire populations with our vulnerability and mortality.
Saint Matthew describes the earth itself being shaken at Christ’s Resurrection (Cf. Mt. 28:2). This image might resonate for us who know our world to be shaken, shaken by fear of a hidden threat. Yet, Pope Francis speaks of seizing this time of trial to make of it, “a time of choosing … a time to choose what matters …”. He recently spoke of the fact that it is “doctors, nurses, shop workers, cleaners, care-givers, law and order forces, volunteers, priests and consecrated women and men, and many others” who are quietly and heroically writing the decisive events of our time. Many more, he said, are “praying, offering and interceding for the good of all,” leading us to recognise how “prayer and quiet service are our victorious weapons”. This is a moment, the Holy Father insists, “to get our lives back on track with regard to (the) Lord and to others …”, in the realisation that we “are not self-sufficient, we need the Lord” (Cf. Urbi et Orbi Message 27th March, 2020). Her Majesty the Queen gave a similar message to the nation last Sunday, when she said we should see this as a time not merely to be endured, but rather a moment in history to which we each must rise.
As people in their thousands are joining us here by live-feed for the celebration of the Liturgy, I am conscious that Shrewsbury Cathedral has been something of a building site where internal works have been halted and temporary, wooden structures are in place. This is perhaps an apt image of how many see our lives this Easter as having been halted, placed on hold and left in much uncertainty. Yet, may these testing times invite us to spring back, just as we here commit ourselves more than ever to complete the renewal of this Cathedral in all its beauty, with the very best we can offer to the Lord.
Therefore, may the enforced inactivity which marks these days help us to spring back thanks to the greater force of supernatural faith, hope and love, so that in the struggle evoked in the Easter celebration between death and despair, the victory may be to all that promises life. May we return with renewed longing for the Holy Eucharist; for deeper prayer and sincere service; for the healing grace of Confession, the Sacrament of our conversion after Baptism. In this way, may we emerge from this bitter struggle victorious with Christ our Lord who, in the words of the Easter Liturgy, died and yet “reigns alive for ever and ever” Amen.