Thursday 13 April 2017

Roll Away the Stone: Easter for sceptics

If you read my previous post about Good Friday, this one is my attempt to follow it up with a rational, liberal Christian take on Easter, the festival which more than any other defines Christianity, yet which more than anything defies rational or sceptical thinking.

As is my silly habit, I've given it a title taken from a song: Roll Away the Stone, a wonderfully exhuberant piece of glam rock by Mott the Hoople from the gathering gloom of November 1973, has nothing to do with Easter, but works well as an Easter song. Read on, then click on the link above and enjoy the feelgood factor.

Easter is arguably the most difficult festival for Liberal Christians like me to observe. Celebrating Christmas is easy, especially if you ignore the “minor detail” of the paternity of Baby Jesus. It’s a story which demands no understanding other than that of the birth of a child, an event traditionally and easily seen as a cause for celebration. The appealing details of the tired refugee parents, the stable, the animals, the shepherds, the angels and the Wise Men are easy to depict as images, however much they are based on speculation, exaggeration or confabulation.

Holy Week and Easter are, however, different. Although there’s supposedly a happy ending, it’s not at all convincing to those of a rational and enquiring mind. 

The Crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth, is all too easy to believe and imagine, and it is no surprise that its depiction is so central to Christian art in all its forms. We have all seen and heard enough of humankind’s capacity for evil to believe that a patently good man could be condemned to a death sentence by a fickle crowd, and that sentence carried out by a despotic occupying power.

The Resurrection is, however, so beyond our understanding, let alone our experience, that we find it hard to describe and depict. In the secular world we resort to the symbolism of eggs, bunnies and fluffy lambs, thereby turning Easter into a pagan celebration of springtime. The appeal of mainstream Christianity rests in large part on the promise of eternal life, and to a rational or cynical mind this can seem a lot like whistling in the dark. It’s a matter of having faith in a promise with no easy proof of its credibility.

For Liberal Christians like me, the challenge is arguably even greater: to recognise the reality of a living Christ without necessarily claiming he literally overcame life’s only certainty: death. And yet if we wish to give the Resurrection any meaning, it surely behoves us to explain to a sceptical world that the greatest truths are indeed invisible.

There are plenty of other things which are palpably real, yet invisible, just like the Risen Christ. Try any abstract noun for a start: happinees, anger, fear, excitement, or whatever, are things we can see the expression of, or feel the signs of, but we can't "see" them.. Just because we can’t see something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Or to quote a favourite line of mine from Saint Exupéry’s The Little Prince: “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

The Risen Christ, though invisible, is alive and well wherever we see good in our often evil world. No need to believe an implausible miracle, yet every reason to believe in the truth and deeper value of a festival that we all celebrate anyway.

For more sacred and secular Easter-themed music, here's a Spotify playlist:

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