How do we celebrate Easter in the shadow of war?
From Spectator magazine issue: 16 April 2022
This week has been Passiontide, which means lots of wonderful plainsong in the choir of Canterbury Cathedral as my predecessors sleep. Holy Week began on Sunday in the shadow of war, suffering, loss and pain. How do we celebrate the promise of everlasting life in such darkness? Good Friday is ‘good’ because on the cross we see the goodness of God in the middle of the mess of our own creation. Jesus refuses to answer his accusers on their terms, to use his own power to overcome by force, or to see others hurt – even those who hurt him. Jesus lays down his life for the sake of others. He reaches out, on the cross, to the thief next to him, even in the depths of his own suffering. It’s in that shining goodness – the light that the darkness does not overcome – that we can say, like the Roman Centurion: ‘Truly, this man was the Son of God.’
Palm Sunday is a day of contrasts and surprises. Jesus’s Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem is a paradox – a king arriving on a donkey, an itinerant rabbi who receives a royal welcome. The crowd is eager to listen, but less happy to act. People often ask why, if God exists, he doesn’t ‘do something’ about suffering. On the first day of Holy Week, we see our answer: the God that is coming isn’t the God people expected, or even wanted. He doesn’t do things to us; he lives with us. He fulfils the final paradox: in service to God, giving away our lives for the lives of others, is ultimately how we can live life in all its fullness.
There are overused words and phrases I don’t much like. ‘Literally’ and ‘unprecedented’ are two – there is almost nothing truly unprecedented, and very rarely do people mean ‘literally’ literally. I keep forgetting that I am Primate, not Pedant, of All England; the latter is easier. Another is the word ‘crisis’, which comes from the Greek ‘krisis’. ‘Krisis’ means a time of decision. In the New Testament, there are two concepts of time: chronos, which is daily time, and kairos, which is a moment where there is a choice. A ‘kairos moment’ is another phrase I don’t like because in the church we now use it to describe anything from the coffee rota to who manages the tombola at the village fête. Yet at the moment I am tempted to use most of the banned words. At a five-day meeting with the 36 senior Anglican archbishops from around the world we heard of war, economic struggle, refugee numbers growing, Covid and other diseases rife, food shortages in many countries, and environmental degradation. With Ukraine’s horrors and problems here, the ‘krisis’ is real; the kairos moment is to choose to trust in God, not wealth, strength or our cleverness.
Written by The Most Revd Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury.