In the early 1920s Communist leader Nikolai Bukharin was sent from Moscow to Kiev to address an anti-God rally. For an hour he abused and ridiculed the Christian faith until it seemed as if the whole structure of belief was in ruins. Then questions were invited. An Orthodox church priest rose and asked to speak. He turned, faced the people, and gave the Easter greeting, "He is risen!" Instantly the assembly rose to its feet and the reply came back loud and clear, "He is risen indeed!"
Today that great acclamation of faith, ‘Christ is risen’, echoes around the world, as Christians celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, the greatest event in the history of the world.
Queen Adelaide Hill - Windermere
When I lived in Windermere, we held a sun rise service on Easter Sunday, on one of the local hills overlooking the lake. As the sun rose over the horizon we celebrated Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. It was a powerful reminder that the message of Easter is one of incredible hope. It is about light overcoming darkness, the defeat of death and the breaking of the power of sin, all because of what Jesus did for us on the cross, and his resurrection.
In the Greek Orthodox tradition, the day after Easter is devoted to telling jokes, because they are imitating the cosmic joke that God pulled on Satan in the Resurrection. Satan thought he had won, and was smug in his victory, smiling to himself, having the last word. But then God raised Jesus from the dead, and life and salvation became the last words.
On Good Friday I was out in Walsall town centre with the Street Pastors. Very often as we chat to people, they start asking us questions about our faith. There are some who have clearly already made up their minds about God and the Church, and can be quite hostile towards our beliefs. But there are others who are much more open, and want to know why we believe in God. When I am asked that question, the answer for me is very simple - it is because He is alive, and I have experienced first-hand the power and reality of his love.
An African man who was a Muslim became a Christian, and was asked by his friends 'Why have you become a Christian?' He answered, 'Well, it’s like this. Suppose you were going down the road and suddenly the road forked in two directions, and you didn't know which way to go, and there at the fork in the road were two men, one dead and one alive--which one would you ask which way to go?'" That for me is why I am a Christian.
Bruce Larson said, "The events of Easter cannot be reduced to a creed or philosophy. We are not asked to believe the doctrine of the resurrection. We are asked to meet this person raised from the dead. In faith, we move from belief in a doctrine to the knowledge of a person. Ultimate truth is a person. We met him. He is alive."
Dawkins & Hitchens
But whilst we celebrate Easter, Christianity is facing a threat of becoming increasingly marginalised in our society. We have seen the rise of a much more militant secularist agenda, driven in part by the ‘New Atheists’, led by their commander in chief Professor Richard Dawkins. In an interview in the New Statesman between Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens, Dawkins revealed his true attitude to Christianity when he said 'Do you ever worry that if we win and, so to speak, destroy Christianity, that vacuum would be filled by Islam?'
You may say Dawkins is just one man, and we shouldn’t be too worried about what he thinks, but the trouble is that many people do listen to him, his book ‘The God Delusion’ has sold well over 2 million books.
Councillor Clive Bone said Christian prayers at Bideford council breached his human right to freedom of belief
But there are other signs of the increasing marginalisation of Christianity in our nation. In February a case brought by the National Secular Society and an atheist councillor won a legal ruling against Bideford town council in Devon from having religious prayers as part of the meetings agenda. Fortunately following a big outcry this ruling was quickly over turned by the Government, but it is just one of many cases to try and remove Christianity from the heart of our national life.
Dr Drew - sacked for sending a prayer by email to his colleagues at Walsall Manor Hospital
Here in Walsall a Doctor at Manor Hospital was sacked after he emailed a prayer of St Ignatius Loyola to his colleagues. And the Government has been criticised for upholding employers’ rights to sack any employee for wearing a visible cross or crucifix. And then there is the Government’s plans to redefine marriage, and legalise same sex marriage – a plan which has been strongly criticised by both the Archbishop of York and Canterbury.
What is clear is that there are attempts to relegate Christianity to the border of irrelevance. Christian beliefs, instead of promoting the values underlying our society, are now simply regarded as a private life-style choice which should have no significant place in determining any aspect of social policy. Canon Alan Nugent, sub dean at Lincoln Cathedral said that there are many who seek to exclude Christian belief from social debate because for them belief is synonymous with irrationality, prejudice and extremism.
So there is a challenge facing us as Christians. But just as the Orthodox priest did in Russia, when he stood up to Bukharin, so we as Christians need to have a renewed confidence in our faith. We need to be prepared to stand up and make our voices heard. We need to show to people that Christianity, far from being a spent force, is alive and well in our society, and that faith rather than being a bad thing, is something that should be nurtured and valued.
When the disciples discovered that Jesus had risen from the dead, they discovered a renewed hope and confidence, and went out to change the world. As God’s people we need to do the same. Paul in his letter to the Romans said ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.’ (Romans 1:16) As the church we need to rediscover a confidence that is based in the risen Jesus. The world needs Jesus, and we as God’s people are the ones who need to take that message out into the world, through a bold proclamation of the gospel, and through loving service, following the example of our risen Lord and Saviour.
We need to heed the words of the writer of Hebrews who called us to ‘run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.’ (Hebrews 12:1-2) So let us declare, with renewed hope and confidence, that Christ is risen, he is risen indeed. Alleluia!