Today is Easter Sunday.
What does Easter mean to modern Britain?
As I attended services on Good Friday, one of the biggest days of the Christian year, I noticed the attendances were not high given the size of the population. Regular practising Christians I have talked to recently feel they are now a minority group. We have passed through that time when the Church goers could assume that a majority of the rest of the population were Christian but just a bit busy at Church times on Sundays, to a feeling that religious belief and practise is for a series of minorities strongly supporting their own religion or their own Church.
We still have an established Church and an official religion. The shrewdness of the Elizabethan compromise settlement – bishops and liturgy, the bible and services in English, believe as you will on the wine and the bread – has proved long lasting. The Church of England and Christian observation is an important part of State as well as of Church, and still inspires our teaching and charitable traditions. Parliament starts every day with Prayers, and many of our schools have religious connections.
For most people in modern Britain Easter is a secular public holiday, an opportunity to have a long week-end off, a chance to go out with the family or to buy in enough food for a siege and have friends or family round to lunch. For others it is a very busy commercial opportunity, with the shops and service providers working hard ahead of the week-end. It’s a time for hair dos, for new clothes, for special meals, for spending time with family and friends. The local supermarket said it was a big selling point for turkeys and fresh vegetables, just like Christmas. When the weather permits it is the first big opportunity of the year to get out and about for pleasure.
The inconography of easter is more pagan fertility rite than Christian symbolism. Shops are full of bunnies and eggs, daffodils and greenery, signs of new life and fecundity. The easter egg is the main gift and currency of Easter. It is the chocolate industry’s opportunity to come to the retail party.
It is true the hot cross bun survives as a poignant reminder of the Cross and the sufferings of Christ, but in a six pack for 50p probably few pause to remember the events in Jerusalem almost 2000 years ago as they place it in the basket. As I put the eleven apostles on my Simnel cake I wondered how many households still bake one or recreate the gospel references in marzipan?
The muddle is very British. Easter is as each person defines it. Perhaps we should remember our great tradition – do not make windows into men’s souls.