Behind the dark silhouetted trees at the front of our house, the remains of a pink-tinged sunset are just visible. Today started misty but the promise of warm sunshine held true and the superstitious person may claim that even the weather celebrated Easter. My husband & I went to church this morning, ate far too much chocolate this afternoon and had a wonderful family dinner together this evening.
Over the entire day, I have had an’alleluia’ just on the tip of my tongue. For I am a Christian and today is uniquely significant in the life of my faith – it is the day when you are asked a single, simple question that can result in a lifetimes’ worth of groping towards an answer. I believe that Christ rose from the dead on that first Easter morning all those years ago. Why I believe, how I believe and how I demonstrate that belief are questions that I will spend my entire life answering.
For me, Easter day is uniquely holy. It is the high point of the Christian year. I could even go so far as to say that reactions to Easter distinguish true believers from those people for whom Christianity is merely a habitual identity. And in times past I remember it seemed as if the whole nation celebrated with me, with all shops and businesses closed, The Greatest Story Ever Told showing (again!) on television and a wealth of chocolate eggs being saved until after you’d gotten home from church.
But today seemed much like any other Sunday. Tescos was open as normal. When we passed Aldi on our way home from church, the car park was full of shoppers. The television mostly showed the usual Sunday tripe and far more people seemed to visit their local B&Q than any place of worship…… Actually, that’s not true. It wasn’t like any other Sunday. There were chocolate eggs everywhere, children’s Easter Egg hunts at garden centres and historic properties. Posters of huge bunnies bedecked in pastel ribbons and carrying yet more baskets of eggs adorned shop windows. It was, Monty Don, told us, the traditional time for planting potatoes. The smell of barbeque smoke hung in the air in our village this afternoon and lawn mowers seemed to provide a constant drone of noise from the moment the mist lifted.
It seemed as if people were almost worshiping nature and the natural world – not in a conscious way but in a sort of unthinking drift, recognising something deeply rooted in humankind, almost primeval, that makes us want to celebrate the springtime. And so people worship in the way that feels right for them – they do their gardens up, they clear their vegetable plots and allotments of the winter’s rubbish, they encourage their children to run around in the sunshine and they smile to see images of fancy eggs or cute rabbits all about the place.
The early church fathers knew only too well the draw of traditional ways of worship among newly Christian people. Beliefs are deeply entrenched and a fun festival or traditional celebration wouldn’t be given up just because they happened to be associated with paganism rather than Christianity. To put it rather bluntly, this was the very reason that the early church more or less ‘nicked’ the key festivals of the year.
The ancient winter solstice celebrations turned into Christmas, the autumnal commemorations of the dead and the ancestors turned into all saints/all souls day (which of course is now Halloween), and the celebration of the rites of spring, the new year and new life turned into Easter, (which, incidentally takes its name not from a Christian word but from an ancient Germanic goddess of the dawn, Eostre – who also gives her name to the direction ‘east’ and to the female hormone oestragen.)
I’m not sure what I can do to counter this movement. I’m not really sure what anyone can do. Springtime will be always be celebrated, no matter what a person’s faith, especially in countries where winter is particularly dark, damp, cold and depressing. Whether that celebration is marking the death and resurrection of a man who was God, or whether it simply marks the point when you take your winter coat off, pick up your spade, and start planting seeds in your veg patch, there will always been an air of excitement. It’s strangely significant that even professed atheists get excited and, dare I say it, a little spiritual, at the prospect of chocolate eggs or the first fresh flush of primulas or daffodils.
But as a Christian, I just find it sad that the most important day of the calendar now seems to slip by almost unnoticed. I recognise that many people are not Christian and I respect other people for holding a firm belief in a faith other than mine – even if that faith is to have no faith.
The problem I have is that so many people claim to be Christians but do not make today different, either by their words or by their actions. There is no longer the reverence, the holiness, the beauty of worship, that Christians in times past would have recognised as being essential to the festival – for the vast majority of Christians, or at least people who claim to be Christians, it seems as if it’s simply another day.
But for me it’s anything but….
Alleluia, Christ is Risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!