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An Easter storm

Dear Friends,

Even if the Archbishop of Canterbury hadn't set out to create an Easter storm he couldn't have done better if he had tried. His sermon in Canterbury Cathedral on Easter Day in which he censured the government's policy of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda, predictably triggered the wrath of politicians stung by his comments. However, it was quite clear that the former minister wheeled out on television to criticise the Archbishop for not majoring on the Resurrection and for not mentioning Ukraine, clearly hadn't read what the Archbishop had actually said. Again, one letter to a daily newspaper also objected to the Archbishop on the grounds that in a democracy we leave politics and government to elected politicians, the implication being that others should not stick their noses into something which is not their business.

I believe both views are wrong, and owe much, I believe, to the insistence that religion should be relegated to the sphere of personal belief and piety, and thus conveniently excluded from the public square. But the Bible will not allow this. As the Reverend Richard Coles said last week, "People who question the Archbishop of Canterbury's right to criticise government policy need to acquaint themselves with the most basic rudiments of Christianity." So what are they?

Jesus, who had himself been homeless and a refugee, took Isaiah as his manifesto at beginning of his ministry:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.
                                                                                                                      Luke 4.18

This, let alone whole chunks of scripture, notably Deuteronomy, Amos, Isaiah, and Jesus' parables, are concerned with social justice. Social justice is a fundamental biblical principle, and its imperative, as the Archbishop rightly pointed out, is a fundamental consequence of Jesus' Resurrection. It is also a principle, he added, which is part of our sense of responsibility as a nation formed by Christian values. Principles are important. Principles should determine action. That is their function. However, we can all too easily fall prey to the temptation to do what is expedient rather than what is right in principle.

Of course, while there may be some who feel that the Archbishop might have expressed himself in a different tone, he was surely right to speak out as he did. Nevertheless, as the Church, we should, in all humility, first apply the message to ourselves. We should remember Archbishop William Temple words, "The Church is the only society on earth that exists for the benefit of non-members."

Holy Week and Easter at St Paul's was wonderful with glorious liturgy and music. We rightly take a proper pride in the work of worship. But, St Pau''s also has a Iong tradition of outreach into our community, helping the rootless, homeless and refugee. So, shortly before Easter, I was thrilled by the latest developments in our engagement with our local community, and especially that at least two of our congregation are opening their homes to Ukrainian refugees.

Worship and social justice go together. The two are inextricably linked. Or they should be. Any attempt to separate them is a denial of the Gospel. For we cannot allow ourselves the luxury of retreating into a cosy, self-indulgent liturgical bubble within a beautiful medieval building while ignoring the needs of others. Neither can we be so consumed by social action that we forget the wellspring of our serving which is always to be found in God through Christ, whom we encounter in and through worship, especially at the offering of the Eucharist. Towards which of these two: worship and social justice do you and I invariably lean? And what might you and I do to redress the balance?

With my prayers for a continuing, joyful Eastertide,

Fr Kevin.


Archbishops Easter Sermon - Canterbury Cathedral Sung Eucharist