In his Easter sermon, preached at Canterbury Cathedral this morning, Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams said the Gospel message was that the whole weight of human failure cannot extinguish the creative love of God.
Dr Williams acknowledged that conflict and failure are part of the human condition, but he said that Jesus' death and resurrection radically reorders the situation: “We share one human story in which we are all caught up in one sad tangle of selfishness and fear and so on. But God has entered that human story; he has lived a life of divine and unconditional love in a human life of flesh and blood.”
He recalled a visit to the Solomon Islands in 2004 when one of the leaders caught up in the islands’ recent civil war took public responsibility for failure: “He said ‘I want you to bless us; I need to say in public that we were responsible as well as the people on the islands…’ Here was a politician representing a community that had suffered greatly and inflicted great suffering as well saying ‘We were all wrong. We needed healing and forgiveness…’ And it was as if for the first time you could see the bare bones of what reconciliation means.”
This lesson, said Dr Williams, can be learnt in other conflicts when people learn to listen to stories other than their own: “…going forward requires us all to learn a measure of openness to discovering things about ourselves we did not know, seeing ourselves through the eyes of another. What they see may be fair or unfair, but it is a reality that has been driving someone’s reactions and decisions. We’d better listen, hateful and humiliating though it may be for some of us.”
In Northern Ireland, he said, progress towards reconciliation had made it possible for people to start to hear each other’s histories; this meant that they needn’t be bound by the past: “There have been two stories in Northern Ireland for such a long time, two incompatible stories … and then there comes a moment when the possibility is just dimly discerned that neither of these perceptions is an objective record; that everyone in this history made decisions, some shockingly evil, some tragic, some foolish - and that those decisions and the sufferings that came from them don’t have the power to tell you what decisions you have to make today.”
The Easter story, he the Archbishop declared, provides strength and encouragement: “If we can accept the unwelcome picture of us and our world that Good Friday offers, we are in the strangest way, set free to hear what Easter says. Give up the struggle to be innocent and the hope that God will proclaim that you were right and everyone else wrong. Simply ask for whatever healing it is that you need, whatever grace and hope you need to be free, then step towards your neighbour; Easter reveals a God who is ready to give you that grace and to walk with you.”
He concluded: “When in our world we are faced with the terrible deadlocks of mutual hatred and suspicion, with rival stories of suffering and atrocity, we have to pray for this resurrection message to be heard."