What does Easter mean in an increasingly non-Christian world? What is the message you take from this long weekend? Is it only about a break from work, an excess of chocolate shaped like eggs and bunnies (or Bunyips at home), that still manages to confuse us. How does a man dying on a cross equate with chocolate, eggs and bunnies? No, it still remains a mystery.
As you know I gave up God and religion some time ago but I’m not sure that I’ve given up Christianity, the ideas promulgated by Christ. Here is a neat summary of the best bits of his teachings from the Sermon on the Mount:
Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matt. 5:1-12) found at http://thirdway.com/love-jesus/key-teachings/
The pity is that so many Christian religions and too many ‘Christian’ people I’ve worked with over the years do not subscribe to these views. It’s probably as well to remember that Jesus was a radical, he was preaching against the status quo, he was seen as a trouble-maker, an outsider. Something tells me he might not like how his message and his person have been hijacked by organized religion. Perhaps Allah feels the same about what is happening in his name at the moment?
So, Easter, Jesus, holidays – what is the essence here in a modern world? As we know many pagan festivals were hijacked by Christianity in order to take hold in people’s lives. Thus Easter occurs in the Northern Hemisphere at the beginning of Spring. Honestly so much about Christianity and other bits of the world make sense when you live in the Northern Hemisphere. What does Spring signify – new life, new growth as we emerge from the darkness and cold of winter. There is more light, there are buds on the trees, bulbs blooming in the earth; the world is coming alive again, readying for re-birth. How handy that Jesus dies at this time of the year, so he is linked to this idea of re-birth, of life renewing itself again and again. In Oz, this bit of the puzzle doesn’t make sense, but over here it is abundantly clear. Eggs = life; bunnies = new life. Jesus = the chance to be reborn. See it does link up. Very handily too, as a cynical youth mused in class the other day, that Easter is about chocolate so people can give it up for Lent and then buy shit-loads for Easter. And do it again and again, every year. He was not that aware of the real meaning of Easter at all – seeing only the raging commercial side of it.
But I want to turn away from chocolate and cynicism for a moment and think about this idea of sacrifice; that Jesus lay down his life for us, to take our suffering so we could more easily pass into the Kingdom of Heaven, where we all want to ultimately be. Regardless of whether you subscribe to that or not, I want to consider sacrifice. We see the crucifixion as the ultimate sacrifice: that a man knowingly and willingly gave up his life for others. This is not unique but it is pretty special. This is what happens in war – men fight in foreign places (usually but not always), knowing full well that they might die, that they are fighting for us, so that we will be saved.
Sacrifice is both big – like Jesus and soldiers and small – like us. Like you and me. Consider your own life, what sacrifices have you made? For your career, your health, your family. What have you actually given up for the greater good? Because that’s really what sacrifice is about, the greater good.
Being a mother, a parent is a major area of sacrifice. Many women give up their careers, or put them on hold, never quite regaining their place on the promotions ladder. But the wonder of your own child, the joy of your own family cannot be measured. We sacrifice career, sleep, our figures, our sex lives, sometimes our sanity but for the vast majority of us, it is worth it.
Being successful in life, in your chosen career also involves sacrifice. We study hard, don’t go out on the town, get by on a meager existence in some hovel or another, work in some desperate part time job to get our degree, to qualify. We watch other people out and about, having money already, not being limited and restricted in their lives as we slog our way through our degree. But the sacrifice is worth it – we have a worthwhile qualification, we have the best chance to have the career we want and the life we want.
Sacrifice here is medium term pain for long term gain. We reap the benefits of our sacrifice and our lives are usually much improved for it. The same is true for athletes who perform at the highest level – intense work and sacrifice while they strut the world stage at their magnificent best. Achievement, awards and accolades born of hard work and sacrifice.
Short term pain is something we find much harder. Giving up smoking, alcohol, dieting – sacrificing the small things of life for healthy changes seems much harder and many of us fail here. But if we can get into that zone where we see that sacrificing trivial and often damaging pleasures will lead to a long term gain then we can sacrifice these things for the greater good – for our own health.
History is littered with those who have sacrificed their lives for their beliefs, for saying things that went against the status quo, that upset acceptable wisdom. We admire this in people, the strength of their convictions, that they would rather be outcast, suffer abuse, or accept the final sacrifice – death in the name of the cause. We think of people like Nelson Mandela who sacrificed his freedom for so many years, of the suffragettes who starved themselves for the right to vote.
The troubling side of sacrifice is creeping into our work places. More and more employers are expecting their work-force to give up the rest of their lives for work, for their career. The idea of the 8 hour day, the 40 hour working week is being eroded – well the concept seems completely dead in this country! In surveys we find that teachers routinely work 60 hour weeks, nursing staff are regularly expected to work unsociable hours that do not match with a family life; young doctors are on strike because of the excessive hours they are being asked to work, and less pay and poorer conditions. There are many other professions too, which is deeply worrying. Why are so many of us being asked to live a life based on work? Why are people expected to give up their friends, their hobbies, sporting pursuits, their families for work? What sort of a world do we have if people are expected to sacrifice their lives for work – for a boss who will very quickly turn on them and leave them on the street the moment they under-perform or displease the powers that be in any way.
Sacrifice has many faces. Christ on the cross taking away the sins of man, so we can enter the Kingdom of Heaven; martyrs dying for their beliefs, soldiers at war, women sacrificing their careers for family; people sacrificing their family for work, giving up smoking for your health. But giving up chocolate for Easter is not really one.
What about you, then, what sacrifices have you made to make your life, or those you love, better? Be they big or small, a personal sacrifice to help others is never wasted. This is my Easter message. Go in peace. Enjoy your chocolates too! (Images from Private Collection)