Bishop Martin Seeley celebrated a return to Bury St Edmunds' cathedral for Easter
I have just had the extraordinary experience of being in church, in the cathedral in Bury St Edmunds, with a congregation on three occasions within four days. Like buses, nothing for weeks, and then three at once.
It has been glorious.
I was in the cathedral on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and for the dawn first service of Easter at 6am on Easter Day.
This has been so different from last year and, of course, so different from any previous year. Last year church buildings were closed and clergy were conducting services from their homes and live streaming. We had the painful and challenging experience of celebrating the greatest Christian festival remotely.
And this year the congregations are small because of social distancing, but at least some can be in church, even if a smaller number than usual, being there on behalf of those who can’t be.
And since Palm Sunday we can sing outside, so at the dawn service on Easter morning, starting with the lighting of the Great Fire of Easter, that blazing sign of new life, we sang a hymn. That was an amazing feeling after all these months.
There are very few situations at the moment where a group of people from many households can come together to share in an event together, and experience themselves as a united body, with a shared purpose. So this is an immense privilege, to share in worship together.
And it is wonderful just to see familiar faces – actually to see them in 3D not the 2D of the computer screen. And have that sense of them, of all those ways we communicate with one another when we are physically with each other, hearing the inflections of their voice, watching the subtle changes in their face – or that part we can see above the mask – and the little movements of their bodies that convey so much.
There is the simple joy of being together, even if we cannot be that close, shake hands, hug.
For me, this experience alone has carried the message of Easter.
Easter is about breaking down the barriers that separate us from one another and from God. And God wants us to live in harmony with him and one another.
But we are divided and separated, and Jesus died at the hands of those forces that divide and separate us, the forces of fear, hatred and mistrust.
His resurrection means those forces no longer have lasting power, they are overcome by what unites us, which fundamentally we call love.
So being able to gather as a small group from different households who have not gathered for a very long time, who have by forces that flow from the virus been divided and separated, feels to me to be a powerful sign of the truth of Easter.
We have seen much this past year that brings us together, in compassion, care and selfless giving to others.
That has been in the face of so much that has separated us, both the virus itself and then the ways people have responded to it, and the ways people have been affected differently by it.
So being in church, on behalf of not just those who might like to attend, but everyone, is a sign of Easter, an act of defiance in the face of the forces that divide us, and an embodiment of hope.
- Bishop Martin Seeley is the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich and is writing a weekly article for readers while church services are disrupted by the pandemic