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Easter 2011 message from the Anglican Mission of The Gambia

Apr 26, 2011, 2:35 PM | Article By: The Rt. Rev. Dr. S. Tilewa Johnson, Bishop of The Gambia

Dear Reader,        

I believe it is true to say that it would be quite understandable to feel complete despair after the events of Good Friday.  This was the day on which Jesus died.  Just imagine it.  The followers of Jesus had been given hope of a new life.  They had heard Jesus speak of the Kingdom of God – a place where God rules – a place of peace with justice.  Then Jesus had been arrested.  He was given a summary trial – a trial which showed him to be innocent, but the judge feared offending Caesar.  He feared the religious leaders of the day and the people.  Jesus was thus sent for execution – of the most brutal kind.  Jesus' followers had rightly seen him as the Messiah (one anointed by God) and saviour; but had wrongly expected him to overthrow the Roman occupiers and liberate Israel.  Jesus came as liberator, but not through physical warfare.  This was not immediately understood.  How disappointed they must have been – their leader dead and their movement scattered.

We have a good picture of this from scripture.  On the third day after Jesus' death two of his disciples were walking towards Emmaus.  They were talking about the disastrous events of the last few days.  Jesus comes to walk with them.  They do not recognise him.  He asks what they are talking about.  They think he must be a stranger not to know what has been happening in Jerusalem.  They explain what has happened, revealing their disappointment, and their confusion – there are tales that he is alive!  Jesus replies, "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!  Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?  And ... he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself."  (Luke 24: 25 – 27).  Jesus Christ had risen.  By his death and resurrection he had overcome sin and death.

This is what we celebrate today.  Jesus is alive.  Death need no longer hold us in the grip of fear.  Despite our shortcomings we can now approach God, through Jesus.  We can be saved from our sins, and receive the gift of eternal life.  This is truly something to celebrate.

Living in today's world, it may sometimes seem that we are bound up in a continual "Good Friday".  Even in recent months our media have been full of news of wars and natural disaster.  The natural disasters we have seen have included floods (in Pakistan and Australia), earthquakes (in Japan and New Zealand) and tsunamis (in Japan).  What a tragic catalogue of loss! : Loss of life; loss of property; loss of peace of mind and body.  We can understand the despair many people would find as they search for loved ones.  The kind of despair those disciples felt on that first Good Friday.  How must it be for those in the midst of warfare – in Libya; in Ivory Coast; and many other places.  In North Africa we hear tales of hope and also uncertainty.  These same people have also suffered loss – of loved ones and property.

Today we have the benefit of hindsight as we reflect upon that first Good Friday.  If we put ourselves in the place of the first disciples we can understand their confusion and despair; but now we also know of the subsequent resurrection of Jesus.  This has made all the difference.  Out of death came life and freedom from fear of sin and death.  On repentance, we are assured of forgiveness of sin and renewed relationship with God.  We are assured of eternal life.  What a gift!

As Resurrection people we know there is always light at the end of the tunnel of darkness and despair.  Of course, it is not always possible to see this light, and the journey through the tunnel can be long and dark.  The grief at the loss of a loved one; the pain and anxiety at the loss of health; the daily anxiety verging on despair that comes with poverty – these are all Good Friday times.  How can we become Resurrection people?

First of all, we have the abiding comfort that God understands our pain.  God, through Jesus, experienced our humanity, and knows first-hand the joys and sorrows that are an integral part of being human.  Jesus suffered betrayal, both physical and mental torture, and an unbearably painful and humiliating death.  God is with us throughout our human experience, and holds the deepest compassion for those who suffer.  I pray that this knowledge can always bring comfort during the darkest hours of our lives.

Secondly, we can have confidence that pain, suffering and death – this earthly life – is not the end.  Through his death and resurrection Jesus has enabled a renewed relationship with God.  We also can attain eternal life (both before and after death) – by learning to know God more and more (by seeking God's presence in all things), and finally being in God's eternal presence.  The resurrection story of the two disciples' meeting with Jesus on the road to Emmaus ends when they sit down to a meal together.  When Jesus breaks the bread they recognise him.  They reflect on this, “"Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?" (Luke 24: 32).  In the presence of God (through Jesus) their eyes and minds are opened.  They are helped to understand their situation and the meaning of the events of Good Friday and Easter Day.

Is not all this good news to hold on to during our trials on earth?

Of course, life is not all filled with pain and darkness.  Each day it is possible to give thanks for something – even if it is only the gift of life to see another day.  There are also the great joys to give thanks for: the birth of a new baby; the love and friendship of those close to us; and so on.  In these joys we get a glimpse of the mystery of God and God's love and goodness to us.  We are all made in the image of God, and the love of God can be revealed through our own lives.

It is my prayer, for us all on this Easter Day – the Feast of the Resurrection - that we may come to know something of the hope, joy and peace of Easter.

On behalf of all Anglican Christians in The Gambia, Senegal and the Islands of Cape Verde, I wish you a very Happy Easter.

Your Friend and Bishop