The President and Vice-President of the Methodist Conference have reminded people of the central Easter message of hope, passion and joy in the midst of despair.
The Vice-President's Message:
The image that fills my mind this Easter is Jesus weeping over Jerusalem. Jesus longs to gather us as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but do we want to be saved? When we see the news, it seems we are set on a path to our own destruction.
Ann Carr, one of the early women preachers, was sent to Leeds as a missionary in 1821, to work among the very poor. The majority were women, migrants from the countryside, desperate to find work in the textile industry. Lonely and lost. Displaced from home and family. Young single women, 'fallen women', widows.
In seeking to share the good news, Ann found that the hymns of the time didn't use images that related to women's experience. With Martha Williams, she founded the Female Revivalist Methodists and produced their own hymn book, adapting the words of traditional hymns, and writing their own. They gave women a voice.
Seen through the eyes and hearts of the women who were first at the tomb on Sunday morning, I find some of the Easter hymns particularly moving. 'Bring the sweet spices of your sight, Your contrite hearts and streaming eyes, Your sad complaints and humble fears! Come, and embalm him with your tears.' 'Mary — know thy Saviour's voice, Hear it and reply, My Lord!' 'Happy Magdalene, to whom Christ the Lord vouchsafed to appear.' 'What a change his word can make, Turning darkness into day; Ye who weep for Jesu's sake, He will wipe your tears away.'
This Easter we share Christ's tears for our world in all its pain. For children drowned fleeing from the unimaginable horrors of war. For unaccompanied children in the jungle at Calais. For all those caught up in the bewildering cycle of seemingly endless violence, in which it is not even clear who is fighting whom. Amongst it all we rejoice in signs of hope.
I rejoice in a group of friends, calling themselves the Worldwide Tribe, who decided to go to Calais to stand alongside the migrants in the Jungle. 'They can use force, be inhumane and cruel ... We will respond with love. We will meet their ruthlessness with openness. We will accept their brutality with dignity ... We will stand in solidarity, as brothers and sisters of the world. We will peacefully and gracefully continue towards equality. We will work together, side by side, as one community of international citizens. Violence, fear and oppression will never win.'
The Easter message is one of hope in the midst of despair, life from death, love stronger than hate. At the moment of utter darkness, the light of the risen Christ breaks through. Love wins.
The President's Message:
After the Lenten fast, which with study and prayer has brought us closer to our Lord, we experience Holy Week with all the riches of the story so well known yet always fresh. As I've travelled, I'm thrilled that so many churches now make a Lenten cross out of the main trunk of the Christmas tree and decorate it with all the different symbols. There are so many resources to help us these days in our journey of discipleship.
But the glory of Easter is unsurpassed. The cry of all Christians to shout 'Hallelujah' is our birthright. We want and need more of the resurrection power and joy in the Church. Luke recording the early days of Christianity says of the first believers 'With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God's grace was so powerfully at work in them all' — Acts 4:33.
This time last year I had the great privilege of going to Portugal and being on a Holy Week mission with Bishop Alfreado and meeting our Methodist sisters and brothers in that beautiful country. We did many exciting outreach initiatives. On Easter Day I was at Aveiro Methodist Church, a thrilling place to be. We passed by a large Roman Catholic procession, children in white and the bright sun gleaming on the banners.
We Methodists are small in comparison, but each church member was invited to bring a person to Easter breakfast and the hall was full when I arrived and shared in a very hearty breakfast. The worship band and singers enabled us to worship in the glory of the risen Christ and I preached on Mary's encounter with the risen Lord — challenging the congregation to meet with him too. The silver chalices and beautiful loaf were uncovered on the table.
I had an interpreter and so my words could have been misunderstood, but I held half the bead and said: "If you want a living relationship with the risen Christ take and eat". At which point a blonde young woman got up in her pew walked down the aisle and dug into the bread weeping. She pushed the bread down her throat.
It's the strongest reaction I've ever known to someone wanting to encounter the triumphant Jesus.
A Methodist President and brilliant speaker of years past, William Sangster, was found by his wife one Easter morning weeping. He had cancer of the throat and could not speak. She said: "Why are you crying Will?" He wrote on a piece of paper: 'It is Easter Day and I cannot say: "Hallelujah"'.
This Easter, with joy and love, may we all cry Hallelujah and encounter the risen Lord.
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