Easter and Christmas are the two most important celebrations in the Christian calendar. I have always felt that the words we hear at Christmas come into their own at Easter especially those from St John’s Gospel, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it”. On Sunday, Christians celebrate the Resurrection of Christ, the Light of the World, and the triumph of life over death and light over darkness.
Already this year we have seen some terrible deeds of darkness, from young people being knifed on our streets to the slaughter of men, women and children while they were worshipping God. There are times when it can feel as if the light has gone out of the world and darkness reigns.
But Easter gives us hope. The attempt to extinguish the life and light of our Lord failed. Darkness was defeated by His overcoming death. Through His Resurrection, His light continues to shine.
Throughout my own life, it has been a humbling experience to meet and to listen to people who have suffered the most terrible personal tragedies. The way they have grieved and turned their grief into action to help others in the most extraordinary way is an example of the light overcoming the darkness.
Recently, Prince Harry and I brought together some of those who have been affected by knife crime to see what more could be done to tackle this pervasive horror. Listening to those who have suffered from such attacks filled us both with immense sadness. But their remarkable determination to move forward and address the causes of such crime and to find solutions was, for me, yet another example of the light shining in the darkness.
Today, on Radio 4, Gee Walker will talk about what Good Friday means to her. She is the mother of Anthony Walker, the talented, 18 year old black student from Liverpool who was murdered with an axe in a brutal racist attack in 2005. Gee talks openly about her pain and her grief. But she also speaks about the day she heard herself offering forgiveness to Anthony’s murderers.
Her example was inspired by the Easter story and by our Lord’s own prayer from the Cross that the Father would forgive those killing him.
Of course, those who commit such brutal deeds need to face up to their crimes through being brought to justice. However, very often it is not the punishment that brings them to their senses and changes them, but rather the extraordinary power of the forgiveness from those they have hurt.
Last month we saw another remarkable example of forgiveness following the utterly appalling attack on Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand. Farid Ahmed, a senior leader of the Dean’s Avenue Mosque, publicly forgave the gunman who so cruelly murdered his wife, Husna, and 49 other members of the Muslim community there. “I don’t hate him at all, not at all … I love him because he is human, he is a brother of mine,” he said. Like Gee Walker, he is a shining example to us all.
It is all too easy at this time, I know, to feel overwhelmed by the darkness, and by all that is going on in the world. It is truly devastating to know of the numbers of people of all faiths around the world who are suffering simply because of their religion.
Over recent years I have made a point of meeting Christians from other countries – and those from other faiths – who have been persecuted because of their faith. In many cases they have been forced to flee from their homelands. It is estimated that 245 million Christians worldwide have faced persecution. The most vulnerable are the women and their children. Many of them have been attacked and made homeless. I have been immensely moved and humbled by the courage and dignity of those I have met.
At this Eastertime they are specially in my prayers as they follow in the footsteps of our Lord who died for his faith. They have impressed me deeply by their lack of bitterness and by their desire to return to their lands (some of them having managed to do so) to live in harmony with those of other faiths.
The Easter message, with its emphasis on the timeless and universal values of forgiveness and reconciliation, gives hope to us all whether we live by faith or not. It encourages us to look for and to celebrate those moments in our own lives and in our own communities when we see the light overcoming the darkness.
I wish you all a very Happy Easter.