Easter: The Most Extraordinary Celebration of All

Added about 8 months ago by Marcus K. Paul

The Evil That Men DoGUEST BLOG: How should we celebrate Easter? Marcus Paul explores the difficulties faced by Christians in properly observing this feast in today's world.

Marcus is the author of The Evil That Men Do: Faith, Injustice and the Church, which has been selected as our Book of the Month for April 2018.

The season of Lent, just finished (rather early this year), is traditionally linked with austerity and self-reflection. It’s a time to realise again that we are not all we are cracked up to be and need to eat humble pie—well, really not to eat pie at all. All that flour and those eggs should have been used up in the pancakes as a bit of a feast just as Lent was about to begin. Now it’s over we’re inclined to move on.

We tend to forget therefore that the word “Lent” comes from an Old English word meaning “to lengthen” and it speaks of the hope contained in the fact that winter is over and the days are longer, the nights shorter. This is something that should be made more of, celebrated more openly—more wildly, dare I say—because of course it’s a prelude to the wildest, most extraordinary celebration of all: Easter.

It’s hard to imagine anything much bigger than this, so it is curious to reflect on how muted is our annual marking of this event. They do it differently in the Greek tradition. I remember being (as a result of a diverted flight) stuck in Athens late on a Holy Saturday night and climbing a hill to look over the city. As I looked down at the lights there was a sudden explosion, followed by another, then what seemed to be the sound of cannon delivering a fusillade. Suddenly there were then fireworks everywhere and a torch-lit procession wound its way beneath us across a darkened hillside. It was magical. I had not realised it was midnight and that on the first stroke, in the hearts of those below us, it was not just that a new day had dawned but that the Light of the World Himself had broken out of the grave and transformed life and history for ever.

What could there possibly be to compare with that cosmic reversal in the occasions that the rest of the world substitutes for it? A world, humanity, individual lives, no longer moving sparrow-like from darkness to darkness but from darkness to ever-increasing brightness: the brightness of goodness, beauty, truth and justice. The brightness and glory of heaven. We need to recapture our sense of the enormity of the Resurrection, the revolution in thinking which heaven should give rise to, and our desire to get there. Cardinal Basil Hume, when dying, was visited by the Abbot of Ampleforth. On giving the Abbot news of the impending event, the Abbot replied: “That’s marvellous Basil. How soon can you get away?”

This need to exhibit the reverse of the world’s attitude is something I explore in the final chapter of my book The Evil That Men Do: Faith, Injustice and the Church, which also looks at the way Christians are being written out of history (the details are shocking) and are misrepresented in the media, often with deliberate intent. One fairly recent example of this which ties in nicely with the fact that we should celebrate Easter with visible and explosive joy—more like the Greek Church—was Bettany Hughes’s column in The Guardian about recasting sexual relations, in which she depicts Christianity as a killjoy influence which ensured that everyone was enjoined by the Church to see sex as a crime against God. She brings no evidence to support this and ignores the facts that Jesus afforded women a revolutionary respect and dignity unequalled in the ancient world; he meets or mentions women twenty-four times in Luke’s Gospel alone, and every one of these occasions is positive. But such unsubstantiated assertions as Hughes’s are commonplace enough. Christians need to see these for what they are and an earlier chapter of my book deals at some length with this trait of the press. Indeed, the whole book places this sort of unevidenced critique into the spotlight and dismantles it, as the reviews have said, to some effect.

So, to say there’s a lot to celebrate is probably the most inadequate response possible to an event of such ineffable joy. Nevertheless, it’s true, and we need to find ways of doing it communally and publicly as well as privately. If you want some ideas as to how Christians can rejoicingly defend their faith effectively and “in the public square”, then The Evil That Men Do can provide you with plenty. Happy Easter!

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