Easter Day sermon by the Bishop of Coventry

A sermon preached by Christopher Cocksworth, 
Bishop of Coventry, 
at the Festal Eucharist
in Coventry Cathedral
Easter Day 2022

Isaiah 65.17-25 /Acts 10.34-43 / John 20.1-18

Women weeping in war

A scene etched on my mind is a of woman I saw last June weeping at the grave of her son or perhaps her husband. I was visiting the War Grave Cemetery in Yerevan in Armenia. She was clutching the gravestone, relatives trying to prise her away. She held on, wailing, sobbing – another wife or mother who’d lost her loved one in the cruel war between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Looking back, it was like a prelude to the terrible scenes we’ve all seen in Ukraine over the last weeks – women weeping at the cost of war. Daughters separated from their fathers. Wives and girlfriends distraught at the dangers facing beloved partners. Mothers mourning the death of the children they bore. 

Mary Magdalene weeping at the tomb of Jesus

There was a woman who stood outside a tomb in Jerusalem, weeping. She was a friend and follower of Jesus. She loved him. She had seen him suffer a cruel, calculated execution – a victim of violence – and now she wept in grief. A double grief because the body of the one she loved had been taken from the tomb – the solace of a body resting in a grave denied her. She was like the weeping women of Ukraine, deprived of burying their dead with dignity, not knowing where the bodies of their sons, husbands, lovers lie. 

The dark and dreadful mourning of this woman’s grief was overtaken by the bright, new morning of Easter Day. She heard her name in familiar tones, “Mary”, said the voice. “Teacher”, she instinctively replied, though through her tears she could barely make out the figure that stood before her. 

Jesus was alive!
Death had been overcome!
Hope returned to her heart as Jesus’ risen life gave life to her!

“I have seen the Lord”, she proclaimed to the other disciples with bewilderment and joy. 

God’s kingdom come

‘I have seen the Lord!’. That’s the heart of the Christian testimony. On Easter Day we tell the whole of humanity that there is hope in the midst of the worst that the world can throw at us. 
•    Death has been defeated and life has triumphed.
•     God’s love has proved more powerful than the world’s hate. 
•    The light of the risen Son has overcome the darkness of the basements of our fears. 

For the Jewish believers the resurrection of Jesus could mean only one thing: that the promises of God about the coming of God’s kingdom, the prophecies of the fulfilment of God’s will for creation, the hopes for the transformation of human life damaged by sin into the life that God wants for us renewed by God’s life, were coming into being. 

They believed – and we believe with them – that the ancient prophecy of Isaiah that we heard again today of a new heaven and a new earth no longer concerned only the future but were beginning to impact the present. 

That first community of Jesus’ followers who believed Mary’s word, “I have seen the Lord”, now saw everything in the light of the resurrection of Jesus and set about transforming the world by the power that raised Jesus from the dead. 

“I will rejoice in Jerusalem, 
and delight in my people; 
no more shall the sound of weeping 
be heard in it”, 
prophesied Isaiah hundreds of years before Jesus.

Of course, the first Christians knew that the sound of weeping could still be heard in Jerusalem after Jesus’ resurrection. And we know that the sound of weeping is heard in Jerusalem on this Easter Day in the aftermath of violence on the Temple Mount, and mothers again, many of them Palestinians but Jews also, shake with fear and anger caused by conflict, injustice and breakdowns in relationships. 

“No more shall there be in Jerusalem – or the world – an infant that lives but a few days”, promised the prophet. 

When I read those words, I thought of my first few weeks after I was ordained. I was full of the confidence of the victory of Jesus’ cross and, like Mary, ready to proclaim that Jesus Christ is risen. And then I was called to the bedside of a woman in hospital cradling her still-born child, weeping with her husband. 

But I thought also of that quaint but lovely television series, Call the Midwife, and I remembered that gentle, gracious community of Anglican nuns who gave their lives to praying to the risen Christ and then transforming the lives of women and children in the East End of London in the light of risen Christ. 

These Christian women weren’t content to wait until that great day when God’s kingdom comes fully and finally, when – as the book of Revelation prophesies – “Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more”. They prayed and lived the prayer that Jesus taught us: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as in heaven”.

And they set about edging that promise of the future – “No more shall there be an infant that lives but a few days” – deeper into the present by their skilled midwifery and childcare. 

Cathedral of Resurrection

Dear friends, on this Easter Day, this day of life and hope and joy, war rages in another land in our own continent. 

And yet we still proclaim again that “Christ is risen’, and we do so in the Cathedral of Resurrection. The Cathedral that is itself the fulfilment of a prophecy spoken the day after the then Cathedral was destroyed by the fires of war and the women – and men – of Coventry wept over their dead and dying loved ones. “We will build a new Cathedral and it shall be a Cathedral of Hope”, said the Provost, our own Dean’s predecessor.

The wartime Christian community of Coventry proclaimed as surely as Mary Magdalene, “We have seen the Lord”, and, therefore, because of the resurrection they believed that death will not prevail, that hatred and conflict will not triumph, that darkness will be overcome, that war will not have the last word.

The life of the kingdom of God in the midst of strife

For many of us here in Coventry Cathedral the Provost’s sermon on Christmas Day a few weeks after the destruction of the Cathedral are written in our hearts:

“We are bracing ourselves to finish the tremendous job of saving the world from tyranny and cruelty; we are going to make a kinder, simpler – a more Christ-Child-like sort of world in the days beyond this strife.”
I’d love to know what he preached on Easter Sunday after the bombing. 

My prayer this Easter Day, is that even in the midst of this strife we will use all our efforts to save the world from tyranny and cruelty by weapons of peace and not war and that, even now – in the midst of conflict – we will be determined to try to make a kinder, simpler world – a world that uses all its resources, all its riches, all its industrial and digital ingenuity to preserve, protect and prosper life. 

For Christ is risen this day with healing in his wings. Death has been defied. Life has triumphed. Love has won the day and will win the world. For God is love and God is life. 

[If you find yourself weeping today because of the troubles in your life or the travails of the world, allow yourself, like Mary to hear the gentle voice of the risen Christ call your name and then reach out to him with your faith, and let him hold you as surely and firmly as the angel held Jacob, and let his risen life bring life and hope to you].

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

First published on: 19th April 2022
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