Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, was reported recently as telling militant atheists “We’re a Christian nation. Get over it.” He pointed to the existence of the Church of England as the Established Church for his evidence. Constitutionally, he is on strong ground, though not even the Church of England’s greatest devotees would argue that is enough on its own to make us a Christian country.
There is, however, one fundamental fact of life which Christianity brought into the world, and of which everyone can be unequivocally proud: it introduced the assumption that every human life is precious. We forget how revolutionary this was in the ancient world: masters had a right to kill slaves; massacre was a normal weapon of war; crowds took delight in seeing prisoners torn to pieces in theatres. Against all this, Christianity said that no life could be regarded as expendable or disposable; violence or death could not eradicate human value. We all matter. No-one is forgotten.
And it said the evidence for saying this lay in the great event of Easter. The rising from the dead of Jesus gave us the assurance that all would be raised; that death does not put an end to relationships between people, or between people and God. No-one can be ‘airbrushed’ out of the human story, because resurrection means all have a value, a worth, in the sight of God. Here at the heart of Christian faith – in its most basic doctrine – is the beginning of an understanding of human rights that has changed the world irreversibly.
It is a vision of God’s world as it is meant to be. And it is deeply and unashamedly Christian.
Sometimes Christianity has failed to live up to its own vision, and that is always a matter for regret and repentance. Sometimes the world acts as if this Christian truth about human beings can be put to one side. We’ve just had the 20th anniversary of the appalling genocide in Rwanda, when the world stood by as 800,000 Rwandans were slaughtered in 100 days. So many lives counting for nothing: so many deaths forgotten. At such times the gospel of resurrection, with its proclamation that no-one is forgotten in the sight of God, is a word of judgement that wounds the whole human family.
This month – still in Eastertide – we have Christian Aid Week (beginning on the 11th of May). Here is an opportunity to demonstrate that gospel truth that no one is forgotten, that in the power of the risen Jesus all matter, everyone counts, everyone has value, worth and dignity. It is easy in a time of domestic austerity to put out of our minds the needs of those who have so much less, and for whom simple things such as clean water and basic health care could transform lives. But they are not forgotten by God. Their dignity is held and affirmed by him. The resurrection of Jesus Christ places upon all of us a duty to remember them, and the responsibility of service to them that is laid upon all of us who seek to be followers of the risen Lord.
The same, of course, is true in our own society. Think of those who die alone and unloved; think of those without a home, or the mentally ill whom many would rather not think about. We do forget so many people in our own society, or see them as someone else’s ‘problem’. Yet in the risen life which Jesus brings, none are excluded; all are equal; all have the same dignity before God. God’s justice therefore demands that all who call themselves Christians should make a particular point of noticing them. We do not have the luxury of choosing not to bother about those the world has chosen to forget, because the resurrection is a constant reminder to us that just as God will not let go of any of us, so we above all people are charged with remembering them and serving them. In the kingdom of God, no-one is forgotten.