The Rt Revd Paul Butler, Bishop of Durham has today 12th April 2017 released his Easter written and video messages talking about the fresh hope that Easter brings.
In his written message he talks about funerals and honouring those that have laid down their lives for the service of others. He talks about recent world events and says “Funerals should always be about honouring the person who has died … “. He goes on to talk about the Easter story, Jesus’ own death on the cross on Good Friday and his resurrection on Easter Sunday saying: “This is the Easter story, and the Easter hope. Death need not hold us in fear because it has been overcome. Jesus, in dying, defeated death. This is why Easter is so important. This is where hope in the face of death truly lies.”
Bishop of Durham’s Easter Message
Funerals are very poignant. The dignified procession through the lined London streets of PC Keith Palmer this past week was testimony to how much we still value our police service. It speaks of how we honour someone laying down their life for the safety of others. The fact that he was also being remembered as ‘No. 1 Daddy’ also touched all our hearts.
In Egypt 44 very differently conducted Christian burials had to take place after 2 Coptic churches were blown up by suicide bombers, simply out to attack Christians, and deliberately on a Holy Day, Palm Sunday. These are the latest in ongoing attacks against Christians in that nation. The funerals take place rapidly due to the heat, and no provision for preserving the bodies for any length of time.
Jesus’ funeral was very different. It too was hurried at the end of the Friday, due to the imminent Passover festival. Two unexpected friends emerged and bravely stepped forward to take his body from the Cross. Joseph of Arimathea generously donates his unused family tomb. Nicodemus, who had secretly met with Jesus and tried to stand up for him amongst the Jewish leaders’ opposition, now puts his reputation, and possibly his life on the line, by assisting with Jesus’ burial. Jesus beaten up body is rapidly partially anointed (the custom of the time) by some of his women followers. They want to do the best for him. They are filled with sorrow.
Funerals should always be about honouring the person who has died. We should want to do the best for them. They should have time; time to remember, to weep, to give thanks and to commend into God’s hands. So in our day the reality of funeral poverty is a particular concern. So too are funerals that are not led well, or where respect is forgotten. We need to be a society that openly talks about death; whether that be the death of one who has had a long fulfilling life, or the sudden tragic, unexpected death of one caught up in a terror attack, or illness, or accident. Locally we have all been taken by the bravery of young Bradley Lowery’s fight with Neuroblastoma. We rage against death but struggle to talk about it openly.
Jesus’ friends wanted to do the very best for their crucified friend and teacher. So the women returned to the tomb early on the Sunday morning to finish the task of anointing the body properly. But they were in for the biggest shock of human history. When they reached the tomb the stone was rolled back; the body was gone with the grave clothes left lying on the slab. An angel appeared to the women telling them that Jesus was risen. It was too much to take in. The women fled back to tell the men who were hiding in fear for their own lives what they had found. Mary Magdalene staying around the tomb met the risen Jesus. Over the next hours many more met Jesus alive again. It became clear that Jesus was alive. Death had been defeated.
This is the Easter story, and the Easter hope. Death need not hold us in fear because it has been overcome. Jesus, in dying, defeated death. This is why Easter is so important. This is where hope in the face of death truly lies.