Easter message, 2023

Date: 06 April 2023

by Carlos Sanvee, Secretary General, World YMCA


Words matter.

They are how we express ourselves; and they are how God expressed Himself through his Son, ‘the Word incarnate’.

At Easter time, Christians hear big, big words, which in truth may be far beyond our comprehension.

“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though he dies.”

People understand and use those words very differently, but they constitute the glorious message of hope and new life embodied in the risen Lord.

Consciously or not, we can do terrible things with words.

I can hardly explain the hurt I felt in church recently when our congregation sang: Notre monde est accablé de noirceur; il attend un sauveur.

It’s a hurt shared by many black people.

In this context, Noirceur translates as blackness.

Why is there consistent reference in church and in society to black as bad, devilish and sinful?

Church is supposed to be a liberating, safe space – but not all its vocabulary attests to that.

The American novelist Toni Morrison called words ‘a battlefield – a place of oppression, and also a place of resistance’.

At the moment, we in the YMCA Movement are trying to seek a form of words on which we can all agree, to articulate our Christian identity, expression and narrative in the 21st Century worldwide YMCA Movement.

A small Steering Committee encompassing those of Christian faith and no faith, young and old, male and female from every continent, is now preparing a Movement-wide conversation on the issue, to unfold later in 2023.

We met for three days in Geneva in February, and then shared our findings with National General Secretaries and the World YMCA Executive Committee in March.

It was far easier to agree, than to find the words to express our agreement.

We aligned on three simple things, and tried – always painstakingly, sometimes painfully! – to find the words to express them.

First, that the Christian roots, heritage and identity of our global YMCA Movement are clear.

We affirm them and, while not being blind to some of the bad things done in Jesus’ name, we celebrate them.

Second, that the Movement is now home to a broad and diverse spectrum of people and YMCAs who are Christian, or from other faiths, or secular.

We welcome our diversity, and the fact that inclusion embraces everyone, and allows all to keep their own beliefs.

We emphasised the value of continued dialogue for mutual understanding.

And third, we were clear that our overarching unity of purpose continues to be, that we seek to serve all people everywhere, in line with YMCA Vision 2030 and its goal of creating a just, inclusive, sustainable and equitable world.

We spent two years agreeing the wording of our vision and mission set out in Vision 2030 – it may well take just as long to find the words to express our YMCA Christian identity.

Our priority is for all to know that they belong.

And perhaps we are going to have to agree that however hard we try, we may not find the find the words that work for all.

Perhaps this is where we have to let go, and have faith in ourselves and our Movement: this ‘great global good’ which has the power to transform young people’s lives, and to build individuals and communities in body, mind and spirit.

Perhaps it’s also the moment when I as a Christian, and the millions of Christians in this Movement, accept that our words can never quite do justice to the extraordinary gift of life, and the grace by which we live.

My thoughts turn to another Easter message.

‘Do not be afraid’ said the angel to Mary Magdalene and ‘the other Mary’ on that first Easter morning, as they found Jesus’ tomb empty.

‘Do not be afraid’ is the message, too, of our planned Movement-wide Conversation on Christian identity.

All are welcome, and our words seek to express that.

Do not be afraid to be part of the YMCA: we know that many among us feel insecure, and threatened – be it by religious extremism or secularism or other trends in their societies which trouble them.

Do not be afraid if your mission is not expressly Christian: our collective purpose to serve is the same, built around dignity, equity and compassion.

There is far more that unites us than divides us.

Do not be afraid: ‘I have overcome the world’ said Jesus in John, chapter 16.

‘We shall overcome’: it’s a song we sing regularly in the YMCA!

At Easter we celebrate how Jesus overcame death, and rose again.

A happy, joyous and hopeful Easter to all.

I continue to pray for renewal, rejuvenation, unity and belonging across our YMCA Movement and the world.