Faith Matters

Easter messages from Ireland's Church leaders encourage hope amid coronavirus fear

Coronavirus might have forced churches to close their doors, but the Easter story of death and new life, with its message of hope and rescue from despair and fear, has rarely felt more urgent and relevant. In their respective Easter messages, Ireland's Church leaders share what the Crucifixion and Resurrection mean for a world in the grip of Covid-19

The Easter story is one of light overcoming darkness. Pictured is the cross of a Christian Orthodox church in Nicosia, Cyprus against the backdrop of this week's 'supermoon'. Picture by AP Photo/Petros Karadjias

NEVER GIVE UP HOPE - THE EASTER STORY MAY BEGIN IN DARKNESS, BUT IT ENDS IN LIGHT

JOINT MESSAGE FROM THE CATHOLIC CHURCH AND CHURCH OF IRELAND

"EARLY on the first day of the week while it was still dark..." (John 20:1) - the Easter story begins in darkness, in a time of great fear, sorrow and despair.

The disciples were nowhere to be seen but were hidden away behind locked doors fearing for their lives.

That description could very easily describe the world we have been living in for the last number of weeks as the Covid-19 pandemic has taken hold.

What once was familiar has become unfamiliar and we are now in so many ways cut off from our normal routine and way of living.

Family and friends are isolated and kept apart, with doors closed to keep out an unseen enemy. Every day we search for good news and some sort of light upon the horizon.

When he rose from the dead on that first Easter morning, the risen Christ brought the light of hope into the darkness of despair.

The stone was rolled away from the entrance to the tomb and the risen Lord appeared to Mary.

Through closed doors he entered the place where the disciples were and said to them "peace be with you".

The Easter story may begin in the darkness, but it ends in the light.

From Good Friday to Easter Day - from the cross to the empty tomb, from death to life - these holy days invite us to journey inwards to seek the inner peace that only Christ can bring.

That peace and confidence in Christ encourages us, like the first disciples, to announce and live out the Good News that Christ is alive.

In our present situation we have seen the light of the risen Christ shine out in the devotion and care shown by healthcare workers and others on the frontline reaching out to help the sick; in the kindness shown by neighbour to neighbour and in gentle and simple acts of compassion carried out by countless 'Good Samaritans'.

Despite the uncertainty, suffering and grief caused by the pandemic, the Lord is near.

We must never give up hope. His spirit is with us as sons and daughters of the Resurrection.

"Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord" (John 20:20) - Christ is risen from the dead. Alleluia.

Dr Eamon Martin, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh

Bishop John McDowell, Church of Ireland Archbishop-elect of Armagh

Bishop John McDowell, Church of Ireland Archbishop-elect of Armagh

Dr Eamon Martin, Archbishop of Armagh

DON'T MISS OUT ON EASTER

METHODIST CHURCH

I wonder what you are missing out on this Easter? I have a new grandson I'll not get to see for some weeks to come - I'm missing out.

My dad is in his late eighties and not in good form and I won’t see him either - I'm missing out and he’s missing out. I love the Easter gatherings for worship - not happening this year and therefore whole congregations are missing out.

The coronavirus is causing us all to miss out on many things this Easter. There are three things I hope it won't cause you to miss out on.

The first is a celebration of Easter. We may be missing out on our usual celebration but we can do something.

We could reflect on the story of Easter and try to let it help us make some sense of what is happening in this coronavirus-riddled world.

We could contemplate the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and wonder why it is the centre point of history - not coronavirus or anything else.

We could think about the resurrection of Jesus and wrestle with what it says to us about death - 'normal' death, 'untimely' death and every kind of death.

Celebrating Easter, like celebrating Christmas, is about more than the superficial. Don’t miss out on what's below the surface of Easter. There is deep cause for real celebration whatever is happening to us or around us.

The enforced closure of churches has led to an outburst of creative online worship

The second thing I hope you won't miss out on this Easter is connecting with other Christians.

Attending Holy Week services, culminating with Easter Sunday worship, is the highlight of the church year for many. We're missing out big time.

However, the coronavirus enforced closure of churches has led to an outburst of creative provision for online worship.

And because of these resources congregations are able to connect with and keep in touch with one another in inspired ways.

If you haven’t joined in with any of these yet let me encourage you to go online to your church's website, or to the website of the church nearest to you, or to the website of a church you recently had connections with, and join in the worship offered there.

And there's always the TV and radio offerings. You don't need to miss out on connecting with other Christians this Easter.

And the third thing I hope you won't miss out on this Easter is an understanding of who Jesus Christ was and is.

If you carefully read the Bible’s record of the first Holy Week and Easter you’ll notice how so many people missed out on realising who Jesus really was.

His own followers almost did - one certainly did. The Jewish authorities missed it. The Romans authorities missed it. The people who howled for his blood missed it too.

And who was he? He was God on earth. He is the saviour the world needed and needs. He is the Lord of all who one day will rule over the whole creation.

Long after coronavirus has become a chapter in the history books, Jesus Christ will still be dominating those history books, and the world of today, and the world of tomorrow.

Don't miss out on understanding who Jesus is this Easter.

More importantly than what I want you not to miss out on is what God doesn't want you to miss out on, this Easter, or at any time: a relationship with him that makes life worth living and gives meaning to death.

This life can be lived in close relationship with its creator. And this world is not all there is to live for. Easter speaks of life with a capital 'L' and of life beyond death for all who have entrusted their lives to the living Lord Jesus Christ.

Whatever else you miss out on don't miss out on any of that. Happy Easter.

Rev Sam McGuffin, President of the Methodist Church in Ireland

Methodist President, the Rev Sam McGuffin

THE PEAK OF HOPE

PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH

ISN'T it amazing how during certain crises or events, that some words and phrases which ordinarily would have meaning only to a very small set of people suddenly become part of everyone's vocabulary?

You can think of phrases like ‘Stockholm syndrome’, ‘tech bubble’ and 'ground zero', and you can probably identify the news stories simply because these words were commonplace at the time.

How else would a volcano with the Icelandic name, Eyjafjallajökull, ever be remembered? Ten years on from this particular eruption, which caused most air travel in Europe to cease, we are now familiar with today's phrases of 'social distancing', 'flatten the curve' and asking, "When will the peak occur?"

We feel for those who have suffered and for all those who mourn the loss of loved ones prematurely.

Of course, this anxiety is not purely related to illness, as the economy has been jolted and many are afraid for their livelihoods.

These are worrying days and the impact of the measures to deal with the coronavirus has affected us all across our island home.

Yet amidst these worries, we are thankful for our healthcare workers and all those who continue to enable society to function at this critical time.

Currently, the latest estimate seems to suggest that the peak number of cases of people suffering from Covid-19 will be over the Easter weekend.

In the midst of these days, we need hope - and hope is precisely what the Christian message is about.

The peak of the Christian gospel is also centred on the Easter weekend. God raising Jesus from the dead and ending the gloom and despondency of the early disciples, which they must have felt, is the most glorious demonstration of hope.

But normally, when we speak of hope, we get it wrong. We usually think of hope as an action, like, "I hope it will be sunny" or, in our present context, "I hope this virus will soon be past."

But any aspiration of ours will always be uncertain. In reality, we have little power over these things. It may describe what we would want, but of course not necessarily achieve. It carries the risk of deep and troubling disappointment.

But the Bible speaks of hope as a possession - God gives us hope. It is all about looking forward with certainty. We still do not control the circumstances of life, and there may be many points at which we are puzzled and perplexed; but we look forward with certainty to the future that God has perfectly prepared for us.

Because of this sure and confident hope, we can live more fully and assuredly in this present uncertain world.

Hope now needs to be made real in a peak of caring and compassion towards others

As the Apostle Peter exclaims: "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (1 Peter 1:3).

This hope that we have in Christ is not wishful thinking. It is not based on circumstances, or the strength of ambition. It is given to us through the resurrection of Jesus and this is why we believe the peak of hope is seen at Easter.

Peter connects an event from 2,000 years ago with what happens in our lives today. That is why he writes of a living hope that has a life all of its own.

Significantly, at this time, this means that we can have hope even in the chaos and uncertainty of lockdown life. To have this hope is the reason many of us decided to follow Jesus.

This peak of hope now needs to be made real in a peak of caring and compassion towards others, as Christians demonstrate the eternal hope they possess, so that others will see the reality of it themselves.

Crucially, do you have this hope as you live in these uncertain days?

Rt Rev Dr William Henry, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland

Rt Rev Dr William Henry, Presbyterian Moderator

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