The Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, writes:

Death does not have the last word

As we prepare to celebrate the Easter feast my prayers and good wishes are with you and with the parishes and communities you serve.

However, this year we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ against the backdrop of an ever more terrifying and unstable world. On top of Covid, which still hits the poorest communities of the world the worst, and with the horrors of the climate crisis ever more visible, we now have war in Europe. The world has changed. Everything feels more precarious than ever. Our hearts are filled with sadness and fear.

As we move into Holy Week, I have turned to a painting as a way of apprehending the dreadful terrors of what is happening in Ukraine. Otto Dix’s The War Triptych (pictured) is a large oil painting of gruesome images of WW1. There are soldiers marching through fog into battle, a devastated urban landscape that is littered with body parts, and finally a self-portrait of the artist helping a wounded comrade, which is reminiscent of Grunewald’s Pieta. This gruesome triptych bears more than a passing resemblance to the equally famous Isenheim Altarpiece where we see Christ being buried as well as his tortured figure on the cross.

Death is always messy. Christ crucified was not a clean act – it was bloody and shocking and horrible. A reminder that Christ suffered as we suffer. Moreover, God is no stranger to the battlefield; and that is the powerful Easter message – that death does not have the last word. That the ultimate promises of God are for a world where suffering will be no more, and where our mourning will be turned into joyful dancing.

The challenge of the risen Christ to us this Easter is to live in a way that speaks of this flourishing life for all people – living Christ’s story calls us to live become more Christ-like - to help injured comrades (as Dix so carefully portrays), to welcome refugees, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, and to bind the broken-hearted.

By the time you read this, I hope as a diocese we will have been able to find ways of supporting refugees arriving in our country and that our government will have been able to be more generous than appears to be the case right now. We are actively looking into seeing how we can welcome a refugee family here at Bishopthorpe.

Year after year, we mark Holy Week with a palm procession, washing of feet, keeping watch with Christ, an empty tomb on Good Friday, the silence of Holy Saturday and finally the joy of Easter Sunday. There is comfort in ritual, and surely this year our delight will be great at gathering together again. In doing this we will be reminded that even though we walk in dark times, the joy of Easter will be ours once again.

So do not lose heart, sisters and brothers; cling fast to the promise of Easter. Though we may now walk in darkness, God’s light shines in the darkness, because Christ is risen. He is risen indeed!