Monday, April 09, 2007

Happy Easter

After a week of campaigning in rural norfolk, yesterday was of course Easter Sunday- my sermon follows (as preached at All Saints, Wood Norton). Happy Easter.

Today, we celebrate an event which has shaped and motivated over 2000 years of Christian discipleship and church history and provides the context for life and ministry of all of us-clergy or laity, church leader or community activist, freedom fighter or contemplative mystic.

Yet somehow Easter Sunday can sometimes seem an anti-climax after the solemnity and ceremony of Palm Sunday, Holy Week and its culmination at the foot of the Good Friday cross. There is a danger that amongst the increasing commercialism, cheap chocolate in glitzy packaging, short-term consumerism at a time when our planet is facing unthinkable chaos, Easter bunnies and spring flowers, lots of great sport (though Norwich City winning away is unusual) and local election campaigning, the Easter Sunday message can be overlooked and this becomes just another bank holiday weekend-though maybe one with better weather than normal-so far at least! None of these things are wrong of course, and any time that communities and families come together is all good.

For Christians though there is so much more to it than all that.

Our reading from Luke’s Gospel reminds us that though the resurrection was an earth shattering event with cosmic ramifications, it was played out in a low-key intimate way-a word here, a gesture there and a gradual awareness that something new was being born. As Jesus’ friends stumble on the empty tomb and begin to understand, how their hearts must have burned as these encounters found expression in the words they never expected to proclaim: “He is Risen”

This was no “in your face”, triumphal public statement of victory; no revengeful justification of “I told you so”; Indeed caught up in the Passover holiday hustle and bustle, it could have been missed. Jesus’ rising was a sign to those who loved him, followed him and came to him that God’s divine love is stronger than evil, oppression and even death itself. His mission had been fulfilled, his followers given the sacred task of calling all people into the new life within him- to spread the message in thought, word and deed.

The best thing about the Easter resurrection is that this was not just a happy ending, but a startling new beginning. For those who saw him, the risen Jesus was no resuscitated corpse or someone cheating death and somehow staggering uncertainly on. They had the puzzled air of people saying, “I know this sounds wacky, but this is truly how it was.” They were seeing then describing the birth of new creation, starting with Jesus but intended for the whole world. Nothing would ever be the same again.

If Easter is all about the surprise of new creation, there is every reason to suppose that it will ripple out into the ways we would never imagine. Gangsters and drug dealers get radically converted and set on fire with God’s love while supposed pillars of society mutter nervously and warn against extremism. Yet what can be more extreme than God raising Jesus from the dead after the world has done its worst to him? Supposing the power of that event were to be released into the world, into our local communities, into ordinary lives, here and now? Just think how we could be transformed, ourselves, our church and our community?

We live in a world torn by war, famine, poverty, injustice, environmental disaster and disease. We all seek answers but fail to find them in globalisation, conflict, technology or hedonism. Postmodernism, by its nature, just reveals more questions.

But Easter Sunday Christians know the answer-if encountering the Risen Jesus does not inspire us into prayer and action, nothing will. Some will mock and sneer, even churches sometimes don’t know what to do with it but it is good news that can change the world.

Lets enjoy Easter, but lets not get distracted. Read the story, talk the talk, walk the walk. Pray the pray. Above all Celebrate. Jesus is Risen. Happy Easter.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Time to stop trading in torture

It is time for action. Time for the DTI to close loopholes in our export controls that allow companies to trade in equipment that can be used for torture to be closed. Items involved include wall handcuffs, spiked batons known as ‘sting sticks’ and interrogation equipment such as specially designed foot heaters, which can heat to 200 degrees Celsius. The current list of banned (or controlled) items does not cover these items and using such a 'list' system will not prevent these and other new or dual use items from being used to facilitate acts of torture.

Good work has been done by the UK Government to outlaw the trade in such goods, both through our own export controls, but also more widely within the EU but it is now time to close this loophole and ensure that during the review of the Export Control Act later this year, that the government amends its legislation and develops a 'catch all clause' to prevent torture equipment ending up with potential abusers. Such a provision already exists for weapons of mass destruction (WMD). This means that the supply of any goods for use in WMD programmes are prohibited, irrespective of whether they are named on a specific control list, but where there are reasonable suspicions that they may be used in the development of these weapons.

Please join me, Amnesty International and other human rights organisations in urging the government to introduce a "catch-all" clause to control the export of all types of 'torture equipment' and to encourage other European countries to do likewise.