Bishop of Manchester Easter Message 2019
As one of the Church of England diocesan bishops who is not yet in the House of Lords, I've been spared the challenge of voting on Brexit.
But, like the rest of the U.K., I haven't been spared the debate on the future of our nation. At its heart lies the question of identity. Are we primarily an island people, proud of our separate status and unique heritage? Or are we part of a continent forged through a common Christian ancestry? Like Archbishop Justin Welby, I want to answer that my true identity is not constrained by who I am descended from genetically. Nor, I would add, who I am in England or in Europe. My identity is who I am in Jesus. My real passport is neither blue nor burgundy, it is red with the blood of Christ.
Easter Day is like the stamp of my visa in that passport. It entitles me, without further payment or need of permission, to travel wherever Jesus has gone before me. The cost has been fully met, once and for all. It is St Paul who reminds us that we are baptised into both the death of the Lord and his resurrection. We have followed him into the tomb and will follow him into his Kingdom. Unlike some places I have visited in my years as a bishop, no border guard will stand at the gate of heaven, demanding proof of vaccination. No petty official will be seeking a bribe to let me pass. My identity papers are permanently in order.
St Paul knows what it means to have the right nationality. His Roman citizenship helps him to act and speak boldly, even in the presence of the highest authorities in the land. He can demand a fair hearing in the very face of arbitrary power. And yet it is his citizenship of Christ's Kingdom that is his main source of strength. He has met the risen Jesus, and from that moment on everything else is little more than rubbish. It is this, far more than his rights as a Roman, that emboldens him on his missionary journeys, that enables him to face hostile crowds, murderous plots and shipwreck. His persecutors may ignore or abuse his human rights, but they cannot imperil his status as a citizen of heaven.
My prayer, this Easter Day, is that each of us may know that same assurance that Jesus is risen. And that in the strength of that knowledge, we will not be afraid to bear witness to him. After all, we have the right passport in our pockets.
Happy Easter, and may the risen Lord bless you!