Thursday 1 April 2021

An Easter Presentation I Gave in 2018


Photograph: Daryl McCann

Here is an Easter presentation I gave to a young audience three years ago:

In my life I have eaten many Easter Eggs, candy, chocolate, small ones filled with caramel, medium-sized, large ones filled with smarties. Many that were empty inside.  


The only difference between my friends at primary school and me is that my mum, who was very religious, insisted that we didn’t start eating Easter Eggs until Easter Sunday. The idea being that Jesus was raised from the dead on Easter Sunday. When my Easter Eggs did make an appearance, they were always lovingly packaged by my mum, even if it was an empty shoe box wrapped in cellophane with a red ribbon tied around it.  


My mother passed away when I was quite young. And so, I often feel a twinge of guilt when I eat Easter Eggs before Easter Sunday. Thiusually doesn’t stop meAnd so, feel free to share any with me next week. 


Some will argue that Easter Eggs, not to mention Easter Bunny himself, have less to do with the Christian idea of Easter than the pre-Christian or Pagan celebration of Ester or Oster, which supposedly marked the end of the European Winter and the return of the sun and good timesEuropean Spring, in other words. Rabbits and eggs were symbols of fertility and Life. The idea, then, is the Christians, as they converted Europeanschanged the old Pagan Spring Rites about the return of the sun – s-u-n with the return of the son S-O-N. 


Of course, some kind of Spring Rite was celebrated to mark the end of Winter. From my own research, however, there is not an overwhelming case for an egg-fuelled Pagan Ester or Pagan Oster, as nice as it sounds. On the other hand, the egg, from the earliest times and all over Europe and the Middle East, has been associated with the Christian Easter. For example, Christians in lands as far apart as Germany and Anatolia gave up meat and eggs during the season of Lent, which is the forty days before Easter Sunday. Instead of throwing away the eggs, which kept piling up, these relatively poor people hard-boiled theand painted them bright colours, especially red, and then consumed them starting on Easter Sunday. The breaking of the shell symbolised the opening of the tomb of Jesus. 


And then there is the timing of Easter Sunday. We have all noticed that it falls on a different date each year. This year it occurs on April 1st. Last year [2017] was April 26, next year [2019] it’s April 21, and in 2016 Easter Sunday was March 27. Christmas Day, in contrast, is always on December 25. In one way, at any rate, Easter does seem to correspond with the coming of Spring, because it is celebrated at the appearance of the first full-moon after the Spring Equinox, the Spring Equinox being the crossover point between Winter and Spring in the Northern Hemisphere.  


That said, It’s more likely that the Christian Easter shadows the Jewish celebration of Passover, which in turn shadows the Spring Equinox. The Passover is when Jewish people traditionally show the closeness of their relationship with God, and their gratitude that God helped them, in the distant past, to escape servitude under the Egyptian pharaohs. At Passover, Jewish people would sacrifice a lamb – which was a precious possession – to show their faithfulness and gratefulness to God. 


Jesus was Jewish. His disciples were Jewish. All the original followers of Jesus were Jewish, and so Christians – before everybody else joined in – were a kind of breakaway Jewish group. The Last Supper, the Thursday evening before the Romans arrested Jesus and began the process that led to Friday’s crucifixion, is depicted in Leonardo da Vinci’s famous pictureJesus and his Disciples are celebrating a Passover meal. Here Jesus, according to Christians, is inverting or turning inside out or turning upside down the idea that we human-beings need to sacrifice our most precious possession to make things right with God. Instead, God will sacrifichis precious Son for us. 


Therefore, the crucifixion on Good Friday, as Christians believe it, is Jesus being “the lamb of God” – that is, God making his sacrifice for us. All we have to do, in that sense, is accept His gift. Whether someone choses to do so is entirely up to them. I personally find it awkward to tell anybody what to think or what to believe 


What I am comfortable saying, and what I know to be beyond any doubt, is that the Christian idea of the resurrection – Jesus rising from the dead – caused a cultural, religious and psychological revolution in Western civilisation, starting in the 4th Century AD when Emperor Constantine adopted Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire. This revolution, based on the Easter story, might be summarised by the word “hope” – hope that our darkest hour truly is just before dawn, that we are something more than frail mortals doomed to suffer, or fragile creatures hunted and haunted by suffering and mortality and who have no recourse open to us but to avoid suffering and all the heartbreaks of life for as long as possible, before submitting to them when they arrive at our door. 


The greatest miracle we can ever hope for, the greatest message we can ever receive or give to somebody else, is that something wonderful can emerge from the tomb of our darkest thoughts. There is always the hope that our miseries can be transformed for the better. I have felt that particular miracle again and again. You don’t have to be religious to believe in that, although I shall keep my mother’s thinking in mind on April 1st as I eat this year’s Easter Eggs. 


Have a great Easter, everyone.