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Lancashire's Anglican Bishops' Easter messages
The three Bishops from The Church of England in Lancashire (Blackburn Diocese) have each issued their messages for Easter 2017.
The messages come from Diocesan Bishop, Rt Rev Julian Henderson, Bishop of Blackburn and Suffragan Bishops, Rt Rev Geoff Pearson, Bishop of Lancaster and Rt Rev Philip North, Bishop of Burnley.
The messages are also available as videos on the Diocesan YouTube channel. As well as featuring in local newspapers across Lancashire, the messages also appeared on BBC Radio Lancashire on Joe Wilson's Sunday programme. You can listen here from 2h 06m 00s.
In his message, Bishop Julian reflects on the recent attack on Coptic Christians in Egypt on Palm Sunday while Bishop Geoff recounts the amazing story of the Lampedusa Cross which makes invisible migrants visible in a unique way around the world.
Meanwhile, Bishop Philip talks about the new beginning available to anyone who comes to know Jesus as their friend.
Click Here for the YouTube version of Bishop Julian's message.
A week before Easter Sunday, on Palm Sunday, some Coptic Christians in Egypt were murdered and many were injured at their place of worship, for no other reason it seems than being followers of Jesus Christ.
We know little of such persecution in this country with our greater tolerance; the right of the individual to believe what they choose and of freedom of expression.
But such generosity has lulled us into a false sense of security, some would say complacency, thinking there is no need to argue for the faith, to stand up for truth or to fight for moral standards.
Increasingly, it seems we can no longer make assumptions. So, the drive to reverse the decline in Church of England attendance; the drive to see the Church of England’s Renewal and Reform programme make a difference at grassroots level; the drive to increase vocations; the drive to plant new congregations; the drive to allow Vision 2026, our Diocesan vision, to help us be more effective in making Jesus Christ more widely known, believed and loved, are all clear evidence of renewed energy and passion.
Our confidence to do all this work lies in the extraordinary events we rightly recall during Holy Week. The willing journey of Jesus, God on earth in human form, to a place of suffering and death, where He gave His life to remove the barrier of sin between us and God; where He made an acceptable sacrifice and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world.
And the Easter event, in which He was raised from the dead, the tomb was found to be empty and He appeared to His disciples, is the certainty that He is alive and the assurance of the forgiveness of sins for all who turn to Him.
In our insecure and troubled world, those who identify as followers of Jesus Christ have a peace and a hope that is not determined by what goes on around us, but in the sure knowledge that God remains on the throne, is working His purposes out and that one day every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Holy Week and Easter assure the world of God's power and victory over evil and suffering and it is in knowing that, whatever your circumstances may be, that I wish you all a very joyful Easter.
Click Here for the YouTube version of Bishop Geoff's message.
One Sunday in 2011 a carpenter, Francesco Tuccio, from the Sicilian island of Lampedusa resolved to stop making furniture.
He was at Mass in his local church and among the congregation were bedraggled groups of newly arrived Eritrean migrants weeping for loved ones who had drowned during their hazardous crossing of the Mediterranean.
In 2016, 2,443 migrants died making the crossing. Francesco saw the suffering first-hand, not least when he had picked up dead children on the island.
In response, the carpenter went to the beach and collected the blistered, brightly coloured driftwood from the wreckage of migrant boats that had washed up on Lampedusa’s shores.
Then, in his workshop, Francesco turned the driftwood into crosses. He asked his parish priest to display a big rough cross above the altar to remind the congregation of the migrant’s plight, and he offered every migrant he saw a small cross as a symbol of their rescue and hope for a new life.
The Cross of Migrants or the Lampedusa Cross has now found its way across the world. This testimony to humanity can be found in Cathedrals, colleges and even the British Museum where a crude wooden cross with blistered blue, green and yellow paint stands in a large glass exhibition case. It makes the invisible migrants visible.
But this powerful, direct and deeply sad message goes beyond being something to look and stare at. A cross has been chosen because it has power to motivate us to action.
When the evangelist Billy Graham visited Mother Theresa in India, he asked her what caused her to care for the suffering and the dying?
On the wall was a cross and silently she pointed to it. The love of Christ which had been shown in such an amazing sacrifice was the inspiration behind her work.
A college in Cambridge responded to the Lampedusa Cross by fundraising, campaigning and welcoming a visiting scholar from a place of danger.
They sent baby slings and are supporting a studentship for a refugee. All because a carpenter decided to stop making furniture.
Just like the carpenter from Nazareth – He stopped making furniture to walk His way to the cross – on which He died, sharing the suffering of all humanity – but His story did not end there. The resurrection brought life and hope – the possibility of transforming power.
A very Happy Easter to you all.
Click Here for the YouTube version of Bishop Geoff's message.
I was once in a queue in a London police station to report the theft of a wedding register when the man next to me said suddenly, ‘Can I talk to you?’
It turned out that a few nights previously he had drunk far too much and got into a row with his girlfriend.
He said things he didn’t mean to say; she had dumped him and he felt terrible. He hadn’t committed a crime, but he had come to the Police to confess to a crime because it was the only way he could think of to find forgiveness and a new start.
That man’s life was in a mess, and he couldn’t see any way out of it.
I suppose most people go through times in their lives when they feel a bit like that man, that their lives are heading nowhere. It may be the result of unemployment, a dead-end job, a negative relationship, a sense of guilt, or constant pain or debt. Whatever the cause, they feel stuck, they feel there is no way out of the mess.
Easter tells us something different. Easter tells us that in Jesus there is always a fresh start. Think of Mary, Jesus’ mother, as that precious body was laid in a borrowed tomb. Her beloved child was dead, the boy she had brought into the world was a lifeless corpse. She must have been in utter despair. Or was she? A poet called Margaret Louisa Woods once wrote some beautiful words reflecting on how Mary must have felt on Good Friday night.
Hush! In her heart
which first felt the faint life stir in her Son
perchance is apprehended
even now new mystery; grief less loud clamours,
the Resurrection has begun.
A body left to rot in a tomb. Yet from that place of death will spring new life, new hope, a new beginning. With Jesus, there is no such thing as despair, only hope. No such thing as darkness, only light. No such thing as death, only life.
The message of Easter is a very simple one. Jesus is alive. If he burst open the tomb, he’s still alive today. Death couldn’t touch him. Which means that we can live today in contemporary friendship with him.
And it is that friendship with Jesus that can turn around our lives too. In him there is always a fresh beginning. When we sin, there is forgiveness. When we are in pain, there is healing. When our lives seem to be heading nowhere, there is a new way of being alive. When we die, there is new life.
This Easter, seek afresh the Jesus who burst from the tomb. He’s alive. We can know him as friend. And, in that friendship, is a wonderful fresh start.