Taking the Christ out of Easter

Every Easter the news carries stories of complaints about the religious significance of Easter being pushed out by chocolate, bunnies, and flowers.  This year the issue seems to have gained particular momentum, helped by the alleged omission of the word “Easter” from advertising for a National Trust egg hunt, and the decision of the Prime Minister to speak out in response.

I’ll be honest, I’ve read few of the stories about this, but the ones I have followed predictable lines.  Well meaning Christian voices protesting that Jesus is the real meaning of Easter, being driven out by a secular agenda.

I would, of course, affirm completely that the central meaning of Easter is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  But I disagree that this is being pushed out by other celebrations.  Jesus has long since been pushed out, past tense.  Easter for the vast majority of people is a secular holiday involving time with the family and lots of chocolate, on which these Christians do keep trying to impose a religious story.

As just one example of this, I occasionally complete online surveys, and four times this year I have been asked how I will celebrate Easter.  Of the tick-box options given, not one of those surveys included an option for attending church.

So how do we respond?  I would suggest that the answer is to stop trying to pretend that our religious remembrance and the secular chocolate-fest are one and the same.  They are two distinct events that happen to share a common date.  (Incidentally, I would suggest a similar approach for Christmas, but that’s another blog post).

What does that look like?  Well it doesn’t look like retreating into our church buildings to hold our religious observance hidden from the world.  But it does look like making our faith in the events of Easter known in a way that recognises that the Jesus story of Easter is completely alien to most people, and completely ‘other’ to everything they associate with the word Easter.  It looks like letting people celebrate Easter according to their understanding of what it means, without moaning that they haven’t recognised our understanding.  It looks like telling our own story, and celebrating our own events in a way which doesn’t try to pretend they are the same thing.  And it is important that we do tell our story, and continue to celebrate our faith in a public way, as the Christian story of Easter still has the power to transform lives.

Tomorrow I, along with others from my church and other churches in our town, will stand in the main shopping street and hand out free Easter eggs.  Each of these has a sticker saying, “Easter shows that God loves you” with a picture of a cross.  At first glance this could seem to contradict some of what I am saying here.  But for me it is important that this isn’t an attempt to browbeat others into seeing Easter our way, or to claim that they have got it wrong.  Rather, it is a means for us to communicate what for us as Christian people is central to our understanding of Easter, and the fact that we can do so in a way that recognises the other meaning of Easter simply makes it all the more powerful.

Easter

Firstly, apologies for ages with no posts.  On top of the busy-ness of church and study, we have moved house, so life has been a bit hectic!  But I hope to get back to blogging again now, and by way of a start here is my latest contribution to the Beverley Guardian.

This weekend we celebrate Easter, when Christians remember the death of Jesus Christ.  It is one of two Christian festivals which are observed in some way by people outside the church: shops will shut, time will be taken off work, and lots of chocolate will be eaten.

The other festival is of course Christmas, which is the larger occasion for most people, but for the church it is, or should be, Easter which is the main festival.  It has been argued that you can’t have Easter without Christmas – Jesus couldn’t die unless he was first born.  But I would suggest that without Easter there is no need for Christmas.  If he wasn’t going to die there would be no point in Jesus having been born.

The events in the life of Jesus which took place over the first Easter weekend make for unpleasant reading.  An innocent man stripped of his dignity, betrayed, tortured, beaten, subjected to a mock trial and condemned to death in a miscarriage of justice that would not look out of place in the most corrupt of dictatorships.  There is nothing uncommon about political executions or people dying for their religious beliefs.  It has happened in our own country in the past and sadly still occurs almost daily around the world today.  But we don’t remember the names of most of the victims even two years later, never mind 2000.  So what makes Jesus different?

For Christians, the answer is that the death of Jesus was not just the result of a plot between authoritarian religious leaders and the occupying Roman political power.  It was the willing act of a man who claimed that he was God and that his death would achieve something.  On the first Good Friday, Jesus died the death that was due to each of us, as rebels and outcasts, so that we no longer have to die in that way.  The story doesn’t end on Good Friday, and Jesus coming back to life on Easter Sunday shows the new life which is now available to each of us through what he has done.

This is why the events of Easter are the biggest festival in the Christian calendar.  They were the most important events in the life of Jesus, and indeed in the history of the world.  In one weekend God did everything that was necessary to deal with evil, suffering, and death, and offer a new way of life lived in him and through him.  So yes, Christmas is important, but for me Easter will always be the most meaningful weekend of the year.