All three Bishops for The Church of England in Lancashire have written and recorded their Easter messages for 2019.
Here is the message from Rt Rev Julian Henderson, the Bishop of Blackburn.
I don’t know if it is that I am particularly sensitive at the moment following my mother’s death at the end of February, but I find I am more alert to the events in the news about death.
While it is always the case that people die, it seems as though I am more aware of its intrusive presence at this time.
Whether that is through horrific acts of knife crime in our cities, or the devasting loss of life through the plane crash in Ethiopia or hurricane Idai or the crush of bodies at a football stadium 30 years ago and back in the news at the recent trial, or an unexpected and unwelcome illness taking the life of a young person, or the conflict in Yemen producing traumatic pictures of lives struggling to stay alive; however it happens death is never far away.
It bangs relentlessly on our door and will eventually claim each one of us. There is no escape. It is the ultimate statistic, one out of one dies.
And it is into that stark reality that the Christian faith has a unique and powerful message of hope to offer. The Christian conviction is that Jesus died and three days later was raised back to life.
His resurrection proclaims that He has conquered death and its sting has been removed. Yes, every earthly life will come to an end and yes, everyone will give account to God of their response to Him during this life.
But those who have put their trust in Jesus Christ have been assured of His forgiveness and so look forward with faith to being with Him in the life of the world to come.
That glorious hope is offered to all and when embraced transforms life here and where we will be in eternity.
That is why faith matters, why Easter matters and why as I wish you a happy Easter I do so in the hope that you will find your way to a service over the Easter weekend, and discover something of the peace and joy that come from knowing and worshipping and serving the risen Jesus Christ.
I love the story of the elderly Christian man who knew his time had come and wrote a card to a close friend, who shared his faith. He only wrote three words: ‘See you there!’
That sums up our confident and assured Christian hope, that death, whenever it comes and it always involves sadness and a sense of loss, is not the end or to be feared, but can be faced with peace and hope, not because of what we have done for God, but because of what He has done for us.
And it is because of that resurrection hope that I send my Easter greetings to the people of Lancashire.
Here is the message from Rt Rev Philip North, the Bishop of Burnley.
Imagine you are just about to walk into a room full of people. What would be the first words you say? Some people would say nothing, they would just merge into the room, shyly, nervously, not really wanting to be noticed.
Some people might utter a modest ‘hello’ or comment on the weather; others though would want to grab hold of the scene, a great fanfare, ‘Look at me, I am here’ they would say ‘the party can begin’.
In John’s gospel, on the first Easter morning, Jesus walked into a room filled with disciples and He has every reason for taking that third, attention-seeking option.
Think what he has just done: he has overcome the cross; he’s risen from the dead; he has brought about the new creation ‘Look at me he could say, I have only just been in a harrowed hell!’ but he doesn’t do any of that, instead he looks at the disciples and the first words he speaks are these: ‘peace, peace be with you’.
That word ‘peace’ isn’t just a greeting, it’s more than that … it’s a proclamation. Now there is peace, he is saying, Now, for the very first time, you can know peace with the Father.
You, whose lives are troubled and full of sin; you who are addicted to conflict; you who are anxious, worried and grief stricken; now, at last, you can know peace.
The peace that Jesus is speaking about is not some human invention, no, this peace flows from a triumph of Easter.
By his dying and rising, Jesus has destroyed those old enemies, sin and death, so that those who believe can live in right relationship with the Father.
The peace that Jesus talks about flows straight from the Father’s heart. The peace which is the gift of Easter comes straight from God, and that is the peace that those disciples can now know.
We all need peace just right now, we need peace first of all in our nation riven as it is at the moment by this endless, insidious argument over Brexit … one which is causing such disharmony, not just within our political system, but often within communities and families.
And perhaps you also need to know peace in your own life, perhaps you are weighed down by anxiety or worry, or by conflict, or by a sense of sin.
Perhaps there’s problems in your family or perhaps you are dealing with issues and problems where you can’t see a solution. We need peace, but that peace isn’t something that we can simply build on our own. No, that peace is a gift from God.
Just as on the first Easter Day, Jesus burst into the upper room and shared His peace with the disciples, so, my prayer for you this Easter is that Jesus might burst into your heart, into your life and say to you those words of peace.
May you know the peace of Easter; that peace which flows from the Father and so be able to share that peace with others.
Happy Easter, halleluiah Christ is risen, he is risen indeed and may His peace be yours.
Here is the message from Rt Rev Dr Jill Duff, the Bishop of Lancaster
I have a confession to make. I have strict rules for myself about not crying in public. But I recently broke them; for the first time as a Bishop.
I was at Devonshire Primary Academy in Blackpool to do an assembly. The night before, their choir had won 3rd Prize in the Last Choir Standing competition at Blackpool Tower. So the plan was they would finish my assembly with their song. So far so good.
They sang the song ‘Fix you’ by Coldplay … ‘The tears come streaming down your face when you’ve lost something you can’t replace, when you love someone and it goes to waste…’
These children were singing from the heart. You could tell already they knew how it felt to love someone and it go to waste and to lose something precious you can’t replace. There was not a dry eye in the house.
Maybe you have experienced music that’s brought tears to your eyes, touched pain you cannot put into words. In times of bereavement I’ve found myself playing the film soundtrack from Schindlers’ List over and over again. The minor key, the unresolved pain in the chords, the terrible atrocity it portrays.
But our default mode is to shut the door on our pain. To keep busy with all our displacement activities. When Princess Diana died 22 years ago, those carpets of flowers and candles around the country showed just how much grief we’d kept locked away, tidied up. The Great British stiff upper lip.
We do not grieve well. We hardly lament at all. In the hymn book on my piano at home – there’s only two hymns in the section for Good Friday.
We keep ourselves busy. We take selfies. Always smiling. We post edited highlights of our tidy, happy lives on Facebook.
We do not want to stay with pain, we want to dull it, fix it, tidy it up.
Especially the pain of abandonment. And especially when it’s our fault, it’s our mistake, it’s our sin. Our instinct is to hide from the pain; to hide from our sin; to hide from God.
Jesus didn’t dull the pain when he was being crucified. After six hours in agony, he cried out in utter desolation; “My God, my God why have you abandoned me?”
And there was no answer from God. Complete stony silence. The heavens were shut. Total abandonment. To Hell.
Three days later, on first Easter morning, Jesus’s followers suffered another terrible bereavement – the empty tomb. They presumed His body had been stolen. Their hopes were unbearably crushed. Again.
Peter and John couldn’t bear to stay with the pain, so kept themselves busy, went back to their jobs, displacement activity, going out fishing. Who could blame them?
But in the account in John’s Gospel, Mary Magdalene stayed weeping by the tomb, in the place of death, the place of disappointment, the place of abandonment …
And that’s where she met two angels… that’s where she met Jesus face to face. She stayed with the pain and that’s when she heard Jesus say her name ‘Mary’.
This Easter may you have courage like Mary to stay with the pain. May His angels draw near but, most of all, may you meet Jesus face to face, who calls you by name, who carries your pain in his body on the cross and who one day will wipe every tear from your eyes.