by Dr. Rowan Williams
This was written in 2011, and Rowan Williams is no longer the Archbishop of Canterbury, but it’s such a beautiful message for Easter that it would be a shame not to read it all over again. May his words remind us that no matter what happens, no matter the difficulties, victory has been won.
‘In all these things we have complete victory through him who loved us’ (Romans 8.37)
As we look at a world in which violence and suffering seem to increase daily, the words of Scripture that promise ‘victory’ may feel hard to believe. Japan still suffers from the terrible effects of the great earthquake and tsunami, and the risk of nuclear catastrophe has not disappeared. Bigotry and bloodshed have claimed the lives of Christians in many countries, not least in the tragic assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti in Pakistan, and in the continuing ‘cleansing’ of Christian populations from Iraq. Unrest in North Africa bears heavily on the lives of ordinary people and their families, while oppressive rulers cling to their power. And elsewhere in Africa, civil wars and pandemic disease destroy the lives and security of millions, especially children.
Yet, St Paul says not that we can hope for victory but that we have it. From what we know of Paul’s life and the world he lived in, it cannot have been easier in his day than it is ours to believe such a claim. But what the Apostle is saying is that there can be no doubt about the final purpose of God in the world, and so no doubt of the final outcome of history for those who trust God. There is no simple formula that will stop the sufferings of the present being appalling and inexplicable. There is only the confidence that what has happened in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus declares a truth that no power can conquer and no circumstances can frustrate.
God has, from all eternity, loved us: and, when we realise that fact, nothing else can finally shape our minds and hearts. We are anchored in that love: it does not protect us from harm, or from hard decisions, or from emotional turmoil and profound grief, or anger at the pain of the world. It simply assures us that there is finally no contest between God’s love and the forces of disintegration in the world and in the human spirit. When this unqualified love is denied and abused, even when it is pushed away with the utmost arbitrary violence, it proves itself indestructible. The Crucified is raised to life.
Two things—at least —follow. First, if God’s love is like this, no one can ever be seen as falling outside its scope. No human person is ever less than the object of eternal self-giving attention and delight. And that dictates how we see each and every person, those who seem to have no human hope, those who do all they can to reject God and God’s truth, those who understand little or nothing of God’s ways. It is because of this conviction that the oppression or suffering of any person is so deeply painful and outrageous for the believer, who cries out to God for grace and mercy to transform such situations.
Second, if the deepest truth is always this committed and indestructible love, even the smallest act of service or compassion is worthwhile, a way of being in contact with the truth. It may seem to make little difference, it may not guarantee success as we usually understand it, but it becomes part of the current of truth flowing eternally against the lies and injustices of a world in which our own interest or safety takes precedence over everything. We witness, even when we cannot be sure of persuading or changing. How clearly this comes out in the courage of those Christian minorities who continue their worship and service in the face of daily threats and attack; and how powerful a testimony this is to the reality of the resurrection of the Son of God.
The victory is won: however terrible the conflict in the present moment, the truth of God is not in danger of defeat. That is what we have been given as the ground of our trust and hope, and that is what we must show in our reverence to human dignity in every person at every stage of life, and in our willingness to do those small acts of humanity and pity and nurture that bring no reward but testify to the character of our God as it has been shown to us once and for all in the Cross and Resurrection of the Lord.
May his Spirit renew in us that reverence and that willingness as we seek to serve all who today and tomorrow carry the burden of pain and injustice; and may God’s Kingdom come, with healing for all.
I wish you every blessing and joy in the Easter season and in all that lies ahead.