Easter is a bitter sweet festival. First comes the grim Friday. Churches are stripped bare. Christians are in mourning. The Gospel story is at its most harrowing, the story of the judicial killing of a man who had done no criminal wrong. For the rest of the country it is a day off.
Then comes the joy of Easter Sunday. The Christian message of resurrection becomes entwined with old pagan rites of Spring, new birth and revival. A modern commercial festival of shopping and indulgence is built on the back of the twin origins. The chocolate makers share the day with the egg producers, the spring lamb farmers and the poultry magnates. The many celebrate plenty around the Easter table.
Almost 2000 years on from the cruel events in Jerusalem it is one of those ironies that conflict and violent death still cluster around the streets of some Middle Eastern towns. In 33 AD the Romans were finding decision making as the colonial government difficult with a noisy crowd wanting to influence decisions of life and death. In 2011 AD the western powers want to influence the government of Libya, but do not wish to put troops on the ground as the Romans did, and as the allies have done very recently in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Today’s Romans are more circumspect about military involvement, preferring to leave the difficult engagements to the French, British and Americans. Maybe the poor press Pontius Pilate received for harnessing popular opinion to guide his decisions as a judge have left a long shadow. It has taught latter day Romans how difficult it is to govern another’s country. Maybe it is just more prosaic worries about the impact on trade and migrant flows if Italy were to take a tougher line.
The Easter stories provide a background to what should be a happy festival, about new life and the triumph of good over evil. The problem this Easter, as on so many other occasions, is the West is still finding it difficult to learn from the problems of the past when it comes to intervening in the government of the Middle East. The Easter present I would like is acknowledgement that the West cannot settle the government of Libya. The UN should not go beyond a No fly zone, which should be policed by the near neighbours, not the UK.