Bishop Viv's Easter Morning Sermon

First published 31st March 2024

The following sermon was delivered by the Rt Revd Vivienne Faull, Bishop of Bristol at Bristol Cathedral on Easter Morning, Sunday 31 March.

The risen Christ came and stood among his disciples and said ‘Peace be with you’. Words which lie at the heart of this service as we move from exploring God’s word and move to encounter with Christ himself in the Eucharist.

But the gospel we have just heard is framed very differently. We heard how Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, brought the spices they had purchased and went to the garden tomb to anoint Jesus’ body. But the stone has been rolled away and a stranger tells them not to be anxious. But of course they are anxious. The one whom they had followed through Galilee to Jerusalem, to the cross and the grave, is not there. They have lost their orientation, their direction, in a militarised imperial city. There was now nothing between the women and the forces which captured, tortured and executed Jesus. The stranger tells them to go and tell the disciples. But the women were struck dumb:

  • by the incomprehensibility of what they saw

  • by the inexplicability of the empty tomb

  • and Jesus had instructed them so often to tell no one about his miraculous impact, so now, again, they told no one.

Though clearly, the word got out and, as the reading from the Acts of the Apostles records, Peter, rarely short of words, sometimes, as now, finding just the right words.

'They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day.'

The stranger at the tomb said: ‘Do not be anxious.' The risen Christ says: ‘Peace be with you.' But what is it about the events of those cosmos-changing days when everything seemed to be marred and scarred by violence and despair which allowed those declarations of peace not to be superficial, facile good wishes, but words which had the force of the declarations of a new reality?

That is a profoundly important question for us now living in profoundly perplexing and turbulent times, with the incessant background of war, and, close to home, the ongoing impact of poverty and violence. How can Christ’s peace declaration be true for us, and for the world?

Where is peace to be found in all this?

‘They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day’.

They put him to death.

They….first of all, the Roman powers, the local ruler and governors who came to think that Jesus was too much trouble, that he was gaining too much influence, that their already unruly province might become uncontrollable. And that would be costly. Jesus was not the only indigenous troublemaker, but he was delivered into their hands by the local leaders and the opportunity was seized.

They put him to death believing that would bring peace. They had been formed in a religious narrative which recognised the destructive power of sin and violence and ritualised it by leading the sins of the people onto a goat which was then driven out into the wilderness. The scapegoat took the dark horrors of which human beings are capable, and by driving the scapegoat out, left the community in peace.

And that narrative became part of the narrative of the Christian faith, Christ nailed to the cross, dying to end the darkness and violence of the world by holding out his arms on the cross, hanging in the gap between heaven and earth, bridging the gap between humanity and God.

They put him to death. That, the people thought, was to bring peace. That would bring peace.

But peace-making is not as easy as that.

I know from my work on safeguarding that violence replicates through generations. Religious narratives which employ images of violence, divine violence, shift with horrible ease into an ongoing culture of death-dealing as a deluded way of peace-building. Chaim Potok, writing of his experience of the immigrant Jewish community in New York called out to his Christian friend in agony of his experience of how the followers of Jesus took up the cross, as they were commanded to, and then they turned it round upending it as a weapon against God’s people the Jews, whether to his family directly, or in the violence of pogroms and holocaust. And now we see that violence turned against others, particularly against Arabs across the Middle East. Where can this end?

They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day’.

The women came to the tomb and were utterly perplexed. But Peter began to see. A new story was beginning with an event bringing transformational change, in the context of a scene of profound peace. There had been the stark Golgotha scene, the stench of the rubbish dump outside the city walls. Now there is the garden scene: the tomb, now empty, and not just empty by dismantled, the great stone rolled away, the rituals of death disrupted. There was no body of a murdered man to be memorialised and to inspire further murder. A new narrative of life had been constructed and a new cult of life initiated with forgiveness at its heart.

And that is how there can be peace, that is why there can be peace.

Peter began to speak to those assembled in the house of Cornelius  (notice Cornelius, a Roman, a soldier, for most people guilty by association with the death of Jesus) Peter said ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ.

So now, the chasms which divided Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, were dismantled, all are one in Christ Jesus.

And that is the peace in which we rejoice today, the great performative declaration that we now live in an empire founded on forgiveness, not violence, and that therefore the whole world can rejoice.

This Holy Week one of the clergy of the diocese has been in the West Bank living alongside the villagers in the hills as they look out onto their contested pasture lands. Sue has long experience of non-violent companionship in places of conflict. This week she has celebrated the eucharist (with wine and a biscuit), as well as joined her Moslem neighbours for their Iftar, Ramadan fast-breaking, and worked with Jewish peace workers trying to prevent further settler incursions. In her 80s she has come, like the women at the tomb, to weep, but has come also living the resurrection hope of forgiveness and peace, even in these dark days.

She is, as Peter termed it, a witness. And there are so many others who witness, perhaps in our somewhat safer context and through the currency of these Easter days, but still witnesses to the new empire.

There is the witness of the churches in the churches in Weymouth and Dorset who has collected sufficient easter eggs for all those, residents and staff, on the Bibby Stockholm barge. In Portland Harbour.

And the witness of the Easter eggs sold by Tony’s Chocolonely striving to trade more justly, paying West African growers more, so they can pay good wages and so remove modern-day slavery from its supply chains.

And the witness of all the communities of Orkney, delighting in the story from Sanday where a mistake in ordering for a local shop (not 80 eggs but 80 crates of eggs), has resulted in a joyful sharing by each of the islands in the cost of that mistake, resulting in an overflow of new funds for charity, and a sense of community regenerated in hope

However saccharine these are signs of the life of the Empire of our risen Lord, who came to bring peace to all humanity, peace to those far off, and to those near at hand.

'They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day.'


Vivienne Faull
Bishop of Bristol


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