What have you planned for Easter? It is only three weeks away now or 21 sleeps – if that is how you anticipate exciting events.
Last year I wrote about the importance of Christians using Easter, especially Good Friday, for Christian purpose (https://phillipjensen.com/articles/whats-so-good-about-good-friday/). Easter gives us public holidays to spend time prayerfully reconsidering our Lord and Saviour’s death and resurrection. This year, again, the Cathedral has a full programme of church gatherings, our Good Friday afternoon Convention on the “What and Why of Easter” and the evening presentation of Handel’s Messiah.
How we spend our discretionary time tells us, and especially our children, about our real priorities in life. Work and housework have to be done, but what we do on holidays and where we spend our time, when we have the choice, reveal what we really think life is about. Sport mad parents raise sport mad children, just as nerds raise bookworms and computer geeks because children judge and imitate what they see us do more than what we say or instruct. And in that, children are not wrong. For what we do, especially when we have a choice, says more about who we are and how to live than anything we may say to the contrary (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).
This weekend the Irish are celebrating St Patrick’s Day. It doesn’t have much to do with the Welshman known as St Patrick, or his missionary evangelisation of Ireland. It is really about being Irish – or of Irish descent. For some people in Australia, that ancestry is such an important part of their identity that they take the time and effort to organise and attend a great parade through the centre of Sydney. Their ‘Irishness’ is more than just a hobby, it is them – who they are and what they hold as important. Not to celebrate with each other would be to lose themselves. Giving time and effort to celebrate like this tells their children who they are.
St Patrick’s Day comes from that strange hangover from Christendom called the Church year. As the community moved away from Christianity the Church year no longer really fits the life of the community. The vast number of feast days and fast days has been left behind. Even the major seasons are not counted ecclesiastically anymore. The University of Sydney used to call its terms: Lent, Trinity and Michaelmas (even my spell check thinks that is a mistake!) but now the University uses the much more mundane: first and second semester. All of the church year that remains in most of society is Christmas and Easter.
Many holidays have lost their meaning. The general population tends to focus more on having a long weekend than the reason for the holiday. Few people in June seem to think of the Queen, or in October, remember the battle to win better hours and conditions for workers. This says volumes about the lack of significance of these matters to the present community.
Some holidays have been recovered. Of recent years there has been renewed interest in Anzac Day and when the government changed Australia Day from a long weekend to a specific day, and pressured the community to a new sense of nationalism, it became more than a day off.
The non-Christian Easter celebrations are still dominated by the Northern hemisphere’s climate. Just as Christmas is portrayed as a winter festival, so Easter is a spring festival. The chocolate egg and the Easter bunny speak of the new life that comes after a long northern winter. This is the opposite of our time of year and loses significance – but who is going to refuse the roast and pudding of Christmas or the chocolate of Easter?
For society as a whole, the dominant markers of time and celebration are not contained in the Church Year, but are school holidays and the seasons. So Easter becomes the autumn school holidays. The snow season hasn’t started, but the weather is still warm enough, especially up north, to go to the beach. Down south in the highlands there is the beauty of the changing colours of the leaves. Of course, the Easter show will be in full swing, drawing record crowds. And the house and garden always need a few days of love, clearing away summer and preparing for winter.
However, for many non-Christians, Easter is still a Christian festivity, and strangely many of them celebrate a Christian Easter more than Christians do! Like Christmas, it is the time of the year when visitors come to church in large numbers while the regular congregation members are often absent. Christians are often attending camps and conventions at Easter. Sometimes the absence of Christians from church is for the same reason the visitors are present – namely we are on holidays or interstate catching up with family and friends. However, it is regrettable if Christians are caught up in the world’s celebrations of Easter, especially when the world comes to share in our celebrations. Christians going to the Easter show on Good Friday is as sadly strange as churches giving out chocolate bunnies as the message of Easter.
There is no reason to go to the stake for the church year. It is a man made convention that has no gospel significance. But our Lord did go to the stake for our salvation and that has enormous gospel implications for it is central to the gospel itself. What a privilege to live in a nation that gives us a day off to proclaim and consider that great sacrifice. What a nonsense for gospel people to use the day for anything else. “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:1-2).
If the Irish proclaim and maintain their Irishness by celebrating St Patrick’s Day, how can Christians miss celebrating Good Friday?