Easter and the Most Dangerous Parish in the World
I would like to echo Todd's "Happy Easter to All!" and his prayer that the "Light of lights, sun of day" may shine upon you on this Resurrection Day.
Please read the Pope's homily for the Easter Vigil. You may also wish to read the Archbishop of Canterbury's sermon for Easter Day, which reminds us that, in proclaiming Christ's resurrection, the first Christians were not grasping for power or influence with a very clever agenda, but were "walking out into an unmapped territory, away from the safe places of political and religious influence, away from traditional Jewish religion and from Roman society and law." "The stories of the resurrection," the Archbishop preached, are not told by professional spokespeople in the controlled language of the press release, but rather "have all the characteristics of stories told by people who are struggling to find the right words for an unfamiliar experience – like the paradoxes and strained language of some of the mystics." The first Christians could only have done this because they sensed themselves "compelled by a mystery and presence that is completely authoritative for them – the presence of Jesus. ... They take the risks because they believe they have been entrusted with a promise."
Speaking of the risks and promise of Easter, here is an excerpt from the Times' Credo column written by Andrew White, an Anglican priest in Iraq:
MANY have said that my parish of Baghdad is the most dangerous in the world. I get there by military aircraft and helicopter. Since last Easter all of my lay leaders have been killed, a suicide bomber turned up in church, people have been killed at our church entrance, we have endured car bombs and been attacked and our church has been surrounded by concrete barricades. I will not even be allowed to take the services there this Easter, I will officiate instead in the Shia Muslim Prime Minister’s lecture theatre. Here is inter-religious relations at the cutting edge.
Yet there will be much rejoicing this Easter among Christians in Baghdad. They have not only one of the fastest-growing churches in the Anglican Communion but also a growing faith. Their resurrected Jesus is growing brighter as their surroundings become darker. For them, faith is all they have left, as everything else has disappeared.
I no longer consider this the most dangerous parish in the world. That portfolio probably belongs somewhere in British suburbia. Everything may be safe; there may be no risk of terrorist bombs or attacks on your church leaders. Yet, this Easter faith may also be bland and safe.
The first Easter did not take place in such environs. Jesus was taken, persecuted and slaughtered by the authorities. Yet the Easter story is one of triumph over death and destruction. On Easter Day we celebrate the destruction of death, as Jesus breaks its chains and shows us new life and new hope. This Easter in Baghdad we will celebrate the hope of this season that one day things will change because of their Easter experience.
Those of us in Iraq — whether Iraqi or Coalition members — are reliant on the grace of God and his resurrection power. Some may criticise us for bringing religion into a desperate situation but here on the ground there is no other choice or scenario. Our hope has become theological more than political. When we say the words of the Creed each Sunday and when at the Eucharist we say our acclamation of faith that Christ has died, Christ is risen and Christ will come again, we mean it. Here in Baghdad this Easter our faith will be our hope, our certainty and our future.
In the midst of darkness Jesus is our light and when we have lost everything we realise that the resurrected Jesus is, indeed, everything.