A Letter from Rt Rev’d Paul Butler, Bishop of Durham

Dear Sisters & Brothers,

Today is Passion Sunday, the gateway to Passiontide where our focus turns towards the suffering of our Lord Jesus as we journey with him towards Holy Week and the cross and, in time, to the Resurrection.  In all honesty, something of the rhythm of Lent has been lost for me over the past two weeks. So much has happened in our nation, and we as the Church of England have had to play our full part in helping others as much as we can to respond wisely to the very hard situation that we all face. We are in this together, as a nation and around the globe. So there has been much work taking place, locally and nationally, happening at a fast rate and changing by the day.

There is a lot of emotion surfacing at the moment and I feel it too. The first is fear; that natural fear of what is happening and lies ahead; fear for our own families and friends; fear for ourselves. Then there is sadness; sadness for those whose loved one’s funerals and their own grieving have been disrupted; sadness for those who have had to postpone weddings and baptisms; sadness that our schools have had to close; sadness at not being able to visit people as we long to do.  For many of us, there has also been the more uncomfortable sense of anger; anger at the virus; anger at those ignoring guidance and stripping shelves bare needlessly. There is also pity; pity for those who are suffering badly; pity for those who are dying and those bereaved. Finally, there is pride; pride in our NHS and the amazing staff; pride in our Emergency Services and Armed Services; pride in all those working in Government and the civil service to handle this at breakneck speed. I am immensely proud of the clergy, lay leaders and others who have responded so amazingly quickly and adapted in a whole host of ways to keep the church worshipping and praying in our homes. I am proud of the way you are praying, caring, supporting, volunteering and seeking to be the body of Christ in ways we have never experienced before so broadly.

Thank you for all you have done, are doing and will continue to do.

I recognise that the coming weeks will be very difficult indeed. There is much more sadness ahead before we begin to come through the other side of this pandemic. So pray honestly; lament, rage, cry out, thank, intercede and keep looking to our Lord who will keep saying to us, ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.’ (Isaiah 43v1)

The gospel reading for today from John 11 begins with the reality of death. It includes the fear of death. It has Thomas rather bravely, and yet grimly, committing to die with Jesus if that is what following him means. It then goes into the extraordinary story of how Jesus responds to both Mary and Martha’s grief at the loss of their beloved brother Lazarus. Jesus then raises Lazarus from the dead. In the midst of this we have Jesus declaration, ‘I am the resurrection and the life’, that hope that lies at the heart of our faith’. In the weeks ahead there will be sadness at loss. There will be a need to be like Thomas, sticking with Jesus even though the outlook looks grim. There will be a need to comfort those who have lost loved ones. There will be suffering and pain. Most who catch the virus (and it is likely to be most of us at some point in the coming months) will recover; we might not even be that ill ourselves. But we already know that it will be a very tough battle for a significant number, and it will end in death for some. So just as Passiontide begins with this story of Jesus bringing hope so too we will need to travel this road knowing that God travels it with us. We will need to hold onto our Easter hope and the truth of the resurrection. There will be much Good Friday and Holy Saturday but Easter is coming and beyond the great day of resurrection that is yet to be.

My sisters and brothers you are in Bishop Sarah and my prayers. Thank you for being faithful to Jesus. Hold fast to God. Fear not. Trust in the one who is the resurrection and the life.


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