Sunrise over mountains

From the Assistant Bishop

The Empty Tomb:
The Anchor of our Hope

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The Rt Revd Hans Christiansen, Assistant Bishop

As we enter the Triduum this year anticipating the great and joyous celebration of Easter morning when we proclaim that Christ is risen, we do so in the shadow of the war raging in the Holy Land. In the spirit of the psalmist and the prophet Jeremiah, we lament the destruction visited upon innocent civilians and hostages.

We continue to pray fervently for a just peace in the Holy Land and in Ukraine and in every place where there is armed conflict, even as we struggle at times to remain hopeful. It can indeed be difficult to be an Easter community of hope and joy when there is so much suffering and insecurity around the globe at present.

Just prior to the beginning of Holy Week, I attended a webinar for Bishops in the Anglican Communion with the Anglican Archbishop of Jerusalem and the Middle East, The Most Reverend Hosam Naoum. Archbishop Hosam updated us on the desperately sad situation unfolding in the Holy Land. When asked what the terrible situation is doing to the inner life of believers in the Holy Land and specifically to the inner life of Archbishop Hosam himself, he took a deep breath, paused, and said: ‘Our friends around the world who are supporting us is a fountain of blessing. Our spirituality is informed by what we are going through. We are entering into Passiontide and Holy Week with a living hope. We live 500 metres from the Holy Sepulchre (the church which is situated on what is believed to be the site where Jesus was crucified, buried, and rose again). The empty tomb is the anchor of our hope’.

I was struck by the powerful and hope-filled response from Archbishop Hosam. He pointed us straight to the empty tomb and the resurrection of Jesus Christ as the anchor of our Christian hope. The empty tomb is indeed the anchor of our hope. Not just for Christians suffering currently in the Holy Land, Ukraine or the many other places where there is war and conflict. The empty tomb which Mary Magdalene and the other women were the first to witness has always been, and will always be, the anchor of Christian faith and hope. Our faith is empty if it were not for the resurrection of Jesus Christ, as St Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians chapter 15.

While all hope had seemed lost when love itself was crucified that fateful Friday nearly two thousand years ago, something incredible happened in the cave where Jesus’ body had been laid to rest. In the darkness of the cave on Easter Saturday Jesus passed through death and into new life. As the women came to the tomb early Sunday morning, they found it empty and the subsequent meetings with our risen Lord transformed those who were graced to meet him. Charged with energy and hope these women and men proclaimed that the life of Jesus is not over. Death has lost its sting as St Paul wrote (1 Corinthians 15); a new paradise has been ushered in. Heaven has indeed come very near and Jesus, the Risen one, was, is and forever will be present, both in suffering and in joy.
As the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, wrote in his Easter Day sermon, ‘Risen Indeed’ and published in his book Open to Judgement, ‘The empty grave... stands as our reminder that the life of Jesus is not over... he is with us. In every extremity, every horror and pain... Jesus is for us the alpha and omega, the beginning and end of all things, because there is nowhere where the icon of that suffering face cannot be unveiled and worshipped... no gravestone even can seal him in’.

The Christian faith in the resurrection is not an empty, shallow optimism. To the contrary, resurrection faith acknowledges darkness, violence, hatred and death as inevitable facets of life. However, we the followers of the risen Jesus refuse to let darkness overcome us. We are Easter people who trust that even in the darkest of times God’s light is visible; there is always potential for goodness and new life to emerge. As Easter people we light candles in the darkness and proclaim that Jesus is risen. We speak words of hope, faith and love into whichever situation we find ourselves in; in that way we continue to spread the hopeful message of Christ’s unconditional love which death could not, and never will be, able to extinguish. It is indeed the anchor of our faith.

May the power and hope of the resurrection be with you all.

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