Easter message from Rt Revd Trevor Willmott, Bishop of Dover
Today, the Church celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ - how, three days after suffering torture and death, Jesus conquered death and appeared to his friends.
One thing that strikes me about the accounts we read about the resurrection in the Bible is how messy and confusing it all appeared to be for the disciples - Jesus’ closest friends. Of course, they weren’t expecting him to transform death into life, but even if they were, they might have imagined that it would all work out much neater, more clear-cut. We’re told that they struggled to recognize Jesus after the resurrection when he first appeared to them. Perhaps Jesus could have appeared to all of them together in a way that was clear right from the start so that nobody would be in any doubt. Perhaps he could have presented himself to the Roman and Jewish authorities as a final demonstration of their failure to defeat him. Instead - for the first few days, at least - there were individual sightings, rumours, scattered pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that didn’t quite fit together. It’s funny how God’s ways differ so vastly from what we might expect and desire.
But messy it was. And I draw huge comfort from that, from the sense that Jesus appears right there in the messiness and brokenness of our lives. He doesn’t wait patiently for us to sort ourselves out before he comes to engage with us. He doesn’t expect us to have tidied and cleaned our houses - or even done the shopping - before he turns up at the front door for dinner. It’s something of a cliché that ‘God meets us where we are’, but from everything we know about Jesus it’s undeniably true.
Easter Day reminds us that God’s truth is even more amazing! Jesus is not just sympathetic to our brokenness. Instead, we worship a God who chose to enter into all the mess and confusion of our world and live as one of us – and better still this is where he reveals his love for us, his deep love for the world and his glory. He dealt with all the challenges that being a human being entails - both physically and spiritually. In the gospels we witness his struggles with his own family, his friends and with the social and political powers of first century Jerusalem. He lived through good times when he seemed to be the most popular man in town, the leader everyone wanted a piece of. But there were also times when there was not a friend to be found, when nobody understood him and no-one could bear to be tainted by association with him. He died a lonely, criminal’s death, a disgraceful and painful death and was laid to rest in a borrowed tomb.
Even after all these years, every Easter I still find myself astonished by the God who loves us so much that he chose to live this life and to die this death for us to set us free.
This might not sound like good news, but that’s truly what it is. Because when Jesus enters the fractures and messiness of this world, he transforms them. Interestingly, he doesn’t always fix things - and how disappointing that can be for those of us who long for easy solutions. But by inhabiting our pain and brokenness, he can bring a different kind of healing, a wholeness that brings grace into dark places.
And not only does Jesus do that for us, he invites us to join him in that mission. This is the task of those who would call themselves Christians: to be present in the brokenness of this world. Not in order to fix things, nor to offer easy answers to difficult questions, but simply to be. And by that presence to shine Jesus’ light into dark places, to dwell with people in the messiness and difficulties of this life. Make no mistake, this is not a simple task. It’s a call to powerlessness, to vulnerability. To release all of our preconceptions and the desire to offer solutions and just live alongside people, to face what they face is no mean feat.
I have been tremendously inspired by the example of my Buddhist friend Tom Radcliffe, who has spent many months living in the refugee camp in Calais known as ‘The Jungle.’ Tom’s permanent residence is in Kent, but he and Shizuka, his partner, decided to make the Jungle their home as an act of solidarity and love for those who had no choice but to live there. Tom shared in all aspects of everyday life in the Jungle - he spoke, ate and worshipped with his friends there. As the French authorities cleared the camp, they shared that experience too - the crowds and the teargas, the disappointment of security lost and fear of an uncertain future. I have no doubt that Tom’s presence in the Jungle was transformational for his neighbours there. If nothing else, they knew that someone cared about their struggles, and that someone thought them significant enough to be worth spending time with.
The bombings in Brussels this week have reminded us again of the pain and darkness that can be found in our world, of the fractures in our societies and the conflicts that play out on local, national and international levels.
Easter is a challenge to us all to live in the messiness and brokenness and to let Jesus’ light shine brightly into the forgotten corners of this world. But we do so in the knowledge that God goes before us and travels with us every step of the way.
Wherever you are, whoever you are, may you know God’s love and transforming power in the messiness of everyday life. Happy Easter!
Lent Talks 2016
This year's Lent Talks were delivered by the Bishop.
The first took place at Lenham Community Hall on Thursday 25th February and the second at Hollingbourne Village Hall on Thursday 3rd March.
First Talk "Jesus's entry into Jerusalem
Second Talk "The Death of Jesus"