Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!
In God’s great mercy, we have been given a new birth
into a living hope through the resurrection
of Jesus Christ from the dead…
1 Peter 1:3
Dear sisters and brothers,
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
I greet you on behalf of the World Council of Churches during this, the most significant week in the Christian calendar – Holy Week, leading to Easter Sunday. This year provides us a special opportunity to celebrate together the Good News of Jesus Christ, consciously bringing to remembrance all that our Lord has done and said.
“To live in the light of the Resurrection – that is the meaning of Easter.”
These words were written in a German jail-cell during the spring of 1944 by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In a letter to a friend, the young theologian and prisoner of conscience observed that what we need most in our lives is “the Resurrection of Christ to invigorate and cleanse the world today.”
God’s self-revelation in the Easter event comes to us as a call to spread the news of redemption, liberation and of our commissioning to mission and service. We recall the women who first found the Empty Tomb, and their zeal to inform the disciples that Christ is risen indeed!
Ancient tradition teaches that the Resurrection of Jesus marks a new beginning, a chance to rejoice in God’s renewal of creation. The late Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann handed on this teaching: “God did not create the world for this separation, dying, ruin and corruption… The Resurrection is the re-creation of the world in its original beauty and totality.”
In 2014, churches of both the eastern and western traditions of Christianity will celebrate Easter on the same day: Sunday 20 April. This is wonderful, and an opportunity for shared testimony to the Resurrection. It is something that ought to happen every year, for the sake of Christian unity and common witness in the world.
But visible divisions remain within the churches’ lives, and one of these is a historic dispute over how we set the date of Easter each year. While there are honest disagreements behind varying approaches, a consultation of many churches held in Aleppo, Syria in March 1997 warned: “By celebrating this feast of feasts on different days, the churches give a divided witness to this fundamental aspect of the apostolic faith, compromising their credibility and effectiveness in bringing the Gospel to the world.” In the light of Easter 2014, let us press on with greater determination in seeking a way forward to the recognition of a common date for this festival.
Seventeen years after the Aleppo recommendations for a common date of Easter, the situation in Aleppo itself provides further warning that churches must enlarge their capacity for common witness, service and peace-building. As we approach the anniversary of the kidnapping on 22 April 2013 of two Orthodox archbishops of Aleppo, our dear bishops Yohanna Gregorios Ibrahim and Paul Yazigi who remain missing to this day, we pray for all who are suffering and in mourning, all who have been abducted and imprisoned, injured or killed.
The common prayer of the church this Easter is that we may become a sign of peace and unity for all peoples struggling for justice and peace, as we pray too for the end of violence in the Central African Republic, Nigeria and elsewhere; for a sustainable peace in South Sudan; for people in those regions suffering from devastations of both natural and human origins; and for the discovery of peaceful and nonviolent solutions to the tensions in Ukraine.
Our prayers are for people and nations everywhere, and so too is the great Good News that the prophecy is fulfilled: “the Sun of Righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings” (Malachi 4:2). May the love of Jesus shine in our hearts, and transform the whole world in joy.
In the name of the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit
WCC general secretary