by Matthew Davies
Easter sermons and messages from many Anglican religious leaders have, this year, concentrated on concerns for the Middle East and, in particular, Iraq.
The Archbishop of York, the Most Revd David Hope, warned that the post-war situation in the country 'does not bode well', whilst other clergy urged the faithful to pray for all victims of the conflict during Easter services.
In Canterbury Cathedral, Archbishop Rowan Williams delivered his first Easter sermon as the Archbishop of Canterbury. He said, "There is a clinging to Jesus that shows itself in the longing to be utterly sure of our rightness; we want him there, we want him where we can see him and manage him, so that we know exactly where to turn to be told that everything is all right and that he is on our side.
"We do it in religious conflicts, we do it in moral debates, we do it in politics."
Archbishop Williams said the desire to cling on to ways of thinking which feel comfortable has characterised the moral debate surrounding the conflict in Iraq.
"Some opponents of the war have insisted that the motives of those in power must be personally corrupt, greedy, dishonest and bloodthirsty - as if the question could be settled simply by deciding on the wickedness of individuals."
Preaching in York Minster, Archbishop Hope called on coalition forces to put as much energy into reconstructing Iraq as they did into toppling Saddam Hussein's regime. "Quite frankly, despite all the promises, given how things currently are in Kabul and Afghanistan, post-war does not bode well as to how things might be in Baghdad and Iraq," he said.
The Rt Revd Riah Abu El-Assal, Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem, spoke of life in the midst of death and how integral this is to Easter and the resurrection. "In spite of wars and rumours of wars - of the thousands and tens of thousands of those killed, injured in body and spirit, humiliated and turned homeless and made to share in the sufferings of our Lord - we endeavour to defeat hopelessness by sharing hope, and sharing life even in the midst of death," he said. "These are times when we are challenged not so much as to wash the feet of others, but to help wash away their tears, their pain, their wounds and heal their broken hearts."
In his Easter message, Archbishop Robin Eames, Primate of All Ireland, said, "The Christian understanding of the Resurrection compels us to move back into life with the certainty that the God of hope, the God of faith and the God of comfort is with us in new ways. That is the real basis of hope - not just for us in our own land - but for a divided world which is confronted with devastating questions this Easter. Let that courage and certainty give us all courage to reach out into the future with a new confidence in ourselves and in each other."
The Very Revd S Ross Jones, Dean of St George's College, Jerusalem, spoke of Easter as being a triumph over humanity's misguided confidence. He said, "Left to human strategies, the whole world will resemble the Holy Land. Military might is used to pursue materialistic ends and to suppress dissent, with terrible results to both occupier and occupied. Palestinians are confined to their towns and often to their own homes for days at a time. Israelis are confined by fear. Poverty and deprivation are growing in both Israel and Palestine, while the powers of this world are allied to ensure that present governments remain in power regardless of effects on people. The exceptions to that, like the invasion of Iraq, are not very satisfying. No one really wants to live like this, but it is the only answer the world can give."
The Most Reverend Drexel Gomez, Anglican Archbishop of the Church in the Province of the West Indies, said that Easter has always been special for Christians because it places the spotlight on God's victory over sin, death and the powers of evil. In this regard, he said that he prays that the effects of God's victory in the Resurrection may be experienced by the people of Iraq and as persons celebrate the military victory in that land. "Let us not forget the price of that victory in terms of human lives, the wanton destruction of God's creation and the massive dislocation being experienced as a direct result of the military victory," he said. "As Christians, we cannot endorse the principle that 'the end justifies the means' but we should pray that all that has transpired in Iraq over the last four weeks will eventually enable the people of Iraq to enjoy a new quality of life within the community of nations."
Anglican Archbishop of Melbourne, Peter Watson, said that this Easter hearts were heavy and that once again the region where Christianity was born was in turmoil.
"Our prayers cry to God for peace amongst the nations so that He who died to set us free from sin and death might give peace to the troubled and comfort to the grieving," he said.
Australian Anglican Bishop, George Browning, quoted the Book of Lamentations saying the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning: great is your faithfulness.
"The year 2003 has begun with much to be sorrowful about. At home we contend with the repercussions of the bushfires and the continuing drought and overseas with the threat of terrorism and the war in Iraq," he said. "The world context in which we experience these sorrows is one in which the West has constantly to say, 'We have no argument with Islam'. Why is this constantly repeated?
"The Book of Lamentation has the fall of Jerusalem as its context. A mighty bewailing of the reality that it was human greed and self-centredness that caused the collapse of that which was most precious. Easter proclaims that material values and military might do not ultimately prevail."
In a statement from the Rt Revd J Jon Bruno, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, he says, "I join people of faith everywhere who are praying for our military personnel and their families. I daily pray for them myself, and in addition I pray especially for the children and all innocents in Iraq. I also pray for the leaders of all nations of the world.... We need to be ready to make [Iraq] a place of peace, tranquillity and justice. We have an obligation to the innocent." During his Easter Sunday sermon at Washington National Cathedral, the Rt Revd John Chane, Bishop of Washington, said, "Easter is the great paradox for the world because of its clear message that hate, ugliness, intolerance and the violence of human beings will always be overcome by the living Christ's unconditional love, unending forgiveness and embrace of non-violence as the way to overcome violence, hatred and physical repression.
"Today we as a Nation are still engaged in a moderating, pre-emptive war with Iraq. We keep in our prayers today the men and women who currently serve in our armed forces and remember those on both sides of the conflict who have died or have been wounded. We pray for their families and loved ones. We pray as well for the many civilians, especially children who have died or have been wounded. Easter reminds us that war is the ultimate definition of human failure."