The celebration of Easter challenges human beings to accept death without delusion, but it also seeks to challenge our acceptance that death is without hope and the end to all meaning, says the Archbishop of Canterbury.
In his Easter Sermon delivered at 10.30am at Canterbury Cathedral on Easter Sunday, Dr Rowan Williams said that Easter is not about denying death, that the resurrection does not cancel out the terrifying reality of the death on the cross, and that our contemporary human tendency to sublimate fear in consumption, grasping and self-preoccupation needed replacing with a more healthy outlook based on a commitment to common human community in Christ.
Death, the spiritual head of the Anglican Communion declared, is "a full stop to human growth and response, it is night falling on everything we value or understand or hope for. Fear is natural, and so is grief at the death of another (Jesus, remember, shed tears for the death of a friend). Don't attempt to avoid it or deny its seriousness. On the contrary, keep it in view; remind yourself of it. When the tradition of the Church proposes that you think daily about death and prepare for it, it isn't being morbid but realistic: get used to it and learn to live with the fear. "
Celebrating Easter, said the archbishop, is about celebrating God as the giver of life, God who remains unchanged regardless of our death - as individuals or as a civilization: "When death has done all it can do, God remains untouched and his will is the loving and generating will that it eternally is. When we look at death, we look at something that can destroy anything in our universe - but not God, its maker and redeemer. And if we accept that we shall die and all our hopes and schemes fall into the dark, we do so knowing that God is unchanged. So to die is to fall into the hands of the living God."
Dr Williams criticized modern society's attitude towards death, the way death is seen as something too upsetting to contemplate: "Individuals live in anxious and acquisitive ways, seizing what they can to provide a security that is bound to dissolve, because they are going to die. Societies or nations do the same."
"Whether it is the individual grabbing the things of this world in just the repetitive, frustrating sameness that we have seen to be already in fact the mark of an inner deadness, or the greed of societies that assume there will always be enough to meet their desires - enough oil, enough power, enough territory - the same fantasy is at work. We shan't really die - we as individuals can't contemplate an end to our acquiring, and we as a culture can't imagine that this civilization like all others will collapse and that what we take for granted about our comforts and luxuries simply can't be sustained indefinitely. To all this, the Church says, sombrely, don't be deceived: night must fall."
Easter, Dr Williams declared, is also about overcoming death: "...when we have fallen silent, when we no longer have any freedom to respond or develop, God's word comes to us again and we live. (II Cor 5.17) We can't really imagine it; it isn't just a continuation of our present life in slightly different circumstances but a new world. Yet all that God has seen and worked with in this life is brought into his presence once more and he renews his relationship with it all, spirit and body."
Jesus' death and resurrection, he said, is about God's creative powers to bring about a newness out of nothing: "The Easter story is not about how Jesus survived death or how the spirit of Jesus outlasted his mortal frame or whatever; it is about a person going down into darkness and the dissolving of all things and being called again out of that nothingness. Easter Day, as so many have said, is the first day of creation all over again - or, as some have put it, the eighth day of the week, the unimaginable extra that is assured by the fact that God's creative word is never stifled or silenced."
The full sermon is here: http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/1634
See also: Rowan Williams, 'We live in a culture of blame - but there is another way' (Observer) - http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/mar/23/religion