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Bishop Martin Seeley welcomes the change of mood as spring arrives

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Spring and the signs of spring means there is a sense of hope in the air.

And we need that right now.

Just casting our minds back to the last two springs we will remember they came at particularly challenging times in the pandemic, and gave us a perspective of hope to sustain us.

Bishop Martin Seeley.
Bishop Martin Seeley.

And this year, despite the lifting of regulations around Covid, we probably all know more people now who have it or have had it recently than at any time previously. While the numbers seem to be going down, it still is a very unpleasant illness.

Then, the Ukraine war does not show signs of ending, and seems more and more dangerous each day, with the horror of killings and devastation shocking beyond words. It is very difficult and concerning to see how this will be resolved.

And the rise in cost of living, pushing more and more people into poverty, with predictions of inflation continuing to rise, and fuel prices at unprecedented levels, adds a third dimension to the sense of uncertainty and mounting anxiety people are feeling.

So spring and the hope it carries is very welcome.

The Jewish Festival of Passover always falls at this time of year, this year from April 15 to 23, celebrating the release of the Israelite people from captivity in Egypt, and is a festival of thanksgiving, liberation, and hope.

The Christian festival of Easter, whose date is based on Passover, celebrating Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, is a festival of new life, new beginnings, and hope.

The resonances of both of these festivals with the outward signs of spring is no coincidence, although that only really works for us in the northern hemisphere.

Except an Australian friend said that the summer where he comes from is so dry and parched, the autumn – so now – is a season when the leaves turn green again for a little while, so that too resonates with the celebrations of liberation and new life.

But these religious festivals are not just about external signs and resonances.

To find real hope, to be able to be resourceful, constructive, and purposeful in the context of a world that can feel threatening or limiting, means being able to dig deep inside.

For Christians, Easter is a special time for people to be baptised and confirmed, and that has been so since the earliest years of the Church.

And baptism and confirmation, ceremonies in which people declare their commitment to the Christian faith, are also occasions where people are declared to receive particular gifts, of, for example, wisdom and inward strength.

Our capacity for hope and the gifts for hope come from inside.

While I have the privilege of baptising and confirming people throughout the year, it is a particular joy to be able to do so at Easter.

This Easter I confirmed a great array of people in the cathedral in Bury St Edmunds, including a wonderful group of teenagers who had been nurtured in their faith by their families and the cathedral community.

I also had the joy of baptising a prisoner in one of our county’s prisons on Easter morning.

Both these events were testimonies of hope, and for all involved, they were indeed about inner gifts of strength, wisdom and courage, to face the future with confidence.

The young people at the cathedral had already expressed this in their active and practical engagement in tackling the climate crisis.

Action in the face of danger always carries hope, and their development of an ecological garden at the cathedral, and then challenging the cathedral itself to become carbon neutral have been serious expressions of that hope.

If we do nothing in the face of danger, then we have lost hope, and there is no way that these youngsters have lost hope.

They are very determined, and rightly, that the world needs to change.

And the prison resident whom I baptised on Easter morning spoke to me of his deep gratitude that this had been possible.

As most people in prison do, he had dug deep, looked hard at himself, and his openness and honesty had led him to take the step of seeking a new life, expressed for him in baptism.

“Is this your faith,” I asked him as part of the service, right before the actual baptism.

“This is my faith” he replied with a quiet dignity and confidence.

This was his future now, his hope and his strength.

The signs of spring are all around us, and they touch in each of us that stirring of hope and strength, of courage and determination, that will sustain us through all that is ahead.

-- The Right Rev Martin Seeley is Bishop of the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich