Bishop Richard talks about the Easter message of hope and how it is delivered through our Foodbanks, church projects and other areas. What does hope look like?
The Church of England’s latest twitter campaign challenges people to think through what Easter means, taking part by using the hashtag eastermeans. Now, I don’t pretend to know what a hashtag is or how to use twitter for that matter but I do know what Easter means.
Easter for me means hope. The hope that Jesus offers us when he conquered death and rose from the grave. Jesus offers this hope on a personal level. The Easter hope means that as individuals we are personally forgiven and offered a new life with Jesus. It means we have a share in the grace of God and the eternal promise of better world to go to. But Jesus offers this hope to society. His promise is of a better world, a just society where poverty will be no more and where hunger has been eradicated.
So I wonder what hope looks like for the hundreds of people who have visited a church, school or Foodbank project. What does it look like for many children for whom school is the only place they can get a meal. What does it look like for the family who despite receiving a voucher cannot afford the fare to their local Foodbank? What does it mean for a woman with depression facing eviction because her benefits were stopped because she was too ill to make her interview? Or the woman who couldn’t pay her water rates because her benefit changed without warning? Or the man waiting six weeks for his benefit claim to be processed and facing the stark choice between a job interview and food? Or the Syrian surgeon, granted refugee status but made destitute as a consequence and with little ability to afford to retrain in the profession he can offer so much benefit to others? I could go on listing story after story of people who have been connected to our churches and for whom hope seems a distant prospect.
But being connected to our churches brings hope much closer. That they were shown care, Christian love and compassion from people who barely know them. From what I am told, over the last year our Foodbanks have fed over 25,000 people. But that bald statistics says nothing about the many stories that these people come with. Stories of despair, difficulty and misfortune. Stories of people who, in another life in another time could be you or I. Alongside Bishop Tom Williams, I visited the Whitechapel Centre last week as part of joint prayer for social action. And I was struck, as I have been on previous visits, by the fact they are supported the homeless not simply by offering shelter but through working to support all aspects of their lives.
Because they, like us in the church, see the individual. The human and humanity in the one who stands before them. I can tell some stories of those who have come to our churches and Foodbanks because someone has taken time to listen. To show compassion. To understand the person and go beyond the statistic. I am heartened and encouraged by the pastoral response of many Christians across our diocese to meeting this need in such a practical way. To offer the hope that Jesus offers. To show that Easter means continuing to do as Jesus would have wanted us to.
Yet society should not be like this. I remain gravely concerned about a government who don’t seem able to see the need that is set before them. Time and time again the stories of hardship seem to be a result of an inflexible bureaucratic response to need. A need driven by a society that values, or has been taught to value to keep financial costs down. But at what price? It seems to me that yet again the price is the lonely, lost, least and most vulnerable who are cast aside. This is wrong. It is not the society I want to see for it strips away the hope and dignity of those who need it most.
We can be bombarded with words of hope. Politicians and others can be prone to glib promises of things getting better and us all being in it together for a bigger better society. But words need to be matched by action. Churches and individual Christians are taken that action. I thank God for that and pray that we continue to feel God’s call. It shows that Easter Means hope for so many. It shows we can share that hope. But whilst taking action to relieve the poverty for so many we must also take action to urge for a change in the government’s attitude to welfare. That we may find a way to bring that compassion and hope into a system that seems predicated on institutional rules and bank balances.
Easter does mean hope. That hope was for all. My prayer is we can make Easter mean hope for more people this year and into the future.