England’s green and pleasant land…

As this article is being published the Church is entering the most holy time in its calendar of celebrations and commemorations: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Day. These great moments, which recall the end of Jesus’ earthly life and the beginning of the new resurrection hope of Easter, coincide with the new hope we have been offered by the government’s road map for the lifting of the restrictions that have dominated our lives for the past year. The hope of the resurrection takes on a new significance as we do not only rejoice in the holy, but also in the mundane and worldly. But, as we revel in all this ‘hope’, we need to be careful to keep everything in perspective.

As we enter April 2021, we can look back and say that it was just over a year ago that the country entered its first period of lockdown. All places of worship, and not just Anglican churches, were closed as a precaution against spreading the coronavirus that had just established its foothold on a global scale. In reality, many people had already died of the virus before we entered lockdown for the first time, but there was much obfuscation over the reality of the situation. And there was much criticism of our politicians and their scientific advisers over whether lockdown was necessary or whether it should have been introduced far earlier. In the midst of all the wrangling and pseudo-philosophical debate, Christians across the world felt a double sense of loss as Holy Week and Easter celebrations were halted, and the best that could be offered to the faithful was some form of guided private prayer. The last year has been difficult for so many people in so many ways. This year is different because we have a vaccine that promises the possibility of a return to some form of normality, but what exactly does that mean?

In the 1945 general election campaign Winston Churchill, the war leader who was fighting to lead the country into its newly won post-war peace, said this: Let us make sure that the cottage home to which the warrior will return is blessed with modest but solid prosperity, well-fenced and guarded against misfortune. As we know, Winston Churchill lost that election and a Labour government was to take us into a new world that was dominated (according to most history books) by the establishment of the brave new National Health Service. Some were surprised that the inspirational war leader was defeated in the election while others recognized his completely out-dated rhetoric as a the recipe for political disaster. There was no hope of returning to a country that looked just like it had between the two World Wars. Things had to change. That is where we are today.

A significant group of people have spoken to me about our return to the ‘old ways’ as we enter a post-virus world. That cannot possibly happen, just as it has never happened after any global turmoil throughout history. For the Church there has to be a time of regrouping and realignment; not a change of doctrine or belief but certainly a change in attitude and practice. What better time to contemplate what England’s mythical green and pleasant land might look like in the coming days than at the time when we celebrate the event which, two thousand years ago, changed human history for ever?

The author L. P. Hartley wrote these words: The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there. We are being given the opportunity to embrace the future, rather than fight it. We are being given the most exciting opportunity to examine our lives and attitudes in the light of the resurrection hope we are given at Easter. We are being commissioned to embrace Jesus’ teaching of true and demonstrable love for neighbours, and enemies. But are we brave enough to receive that baton and run the race before us?

On the first Easter day the risen Jesus appeared to his faithful disciples and said: Peace be with you. They were sceptical and confused at first, but they did not stay in that dark place. They chose to take the path of faith and to share the love and joy of Jesus’ resurrection with those around them. That love and joy then spread further and further abroad until it penetrated even the darkest corners of this world. As we emerge from the ‘darkness’ of the last year, let us resolve to pick up that baton and become beacons of the hope we are given in Jesus’ defeat of death and sin, no matter what route the path may lead us along.

Revd Stephen Buckman