Easter holds special significance across this island. Many people will mark twenty years since the Good Friday Agreement and some will commemorate the Easter Rising of 1916. But many more will celebrate that first Easter rising at churches across Ireland and the world
Easter is a season of new life and hope - when resurrection life triumphs over death. The stark contrast with moves across Ireland to liberalise abortion laws is hard to miss.
We live in uncertain times. There is deep concern about the impact of Brexit on relations across Ireland. There is uncertainty about the future of Stormont, and politics globally is becoming more fractious. There are also questions about the role of Russia in the US elections and how they poisoned a former spy here in the UK.
The Easter story reminds us that governments come and go. The Romans thought they had killed off Jesus- unaware that his kingdom would far outlast theirs. It reminds us that attempts to rewrite history are futile - the truth will ultimately always win out. Jesus was convicted on false charges and many have tried to deny the reality of the resurrection, while today more people worship Jesus than ever before.
On Easter Sunday morning, Christians around the world will celebrate communion. As we take bread and wine we will remember the past - the passover meal and the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus made. But as we take communion, we are also to be the first fruits of the life to come - a community of young and old, male and female, rich and poor, unionist and nationalist, modelling the future. We are to be a sign of the what the kingdom of God can and will look like.
In light of the forgiveness we have received we are to be merchants of holy hope. We are to step out of our comfort zone- extending generosity and hospitality.
In that vein, I for one would welcome Pope Francis to Northern Ireland. Not because we agree on everything. On the contrary, reconciliation happens despite our differences, not because we have ignored them or resolved them all. And in an age when religious liberty is under increasing pressure, it is important to champion the religious freedom of everyone.
The Good Friday Agreement was a first step, but Good Friday was not the end of the Jesus story. The cross is not a celebration of violence but the moment when Jesus absorbed the violence of this world and took it out of circulation. On the cross, God’s love and wrath were satisfied. Justice was done- and we were forgiven. The cross was not the end of the story.
Jesus rose again on Easter Sunday morning. Sickness and death have been defeated. Forgiveness, healing and hope are available to anyone who believes. Good Friday was the beginning- not the end. As a society, we need an Easter Sunday Agreement to complete our journey to true peace and reconciliation. That is my prayer this Easter.