Easter: actually it's 50 days, and nothing to do with 'Christian country' ideology

Easter: actually it's 50 days, and nothing to do with 'Christian country' ideology

Easter is not one day. It is not a week. Easter is not 40 days. Easter is actually a season of 50 days in the churches' calendar.

Is this pure ecclesiastical pedantry? No. Easter is the season where the continual human realities of betrayal, death and waiting-in-suspense are transfigured by the unpredictable, unmerited and unbargainable gift of new life, fresh possibility and hope.

That is what the Christian community is invited to proclaim, live and commit itself to - and it needs continually to be reminded of and recalled to this vocation… perhaps especially when so many of the headlines the church attracts these days are to do with infighting, wrangling, the continued exclusion of QLGBTI people, and other matters that have little to do with the Gospel and much to do with its abandonment by those of us who are supposed to be its custodians.

Back in 2008 I edited and contributed several chapters to a book that tackled this challenge. It was co-published by Ekklesia and entitled Fear or Freedom? Why a warring church must change.

I was honoured that Emeritus Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote a short foreword for it. He remains one of the beacons of Christian freedom for a world and church all-too-often in chains. I imagine that UK Prime Minister David Cameron, currently trying to shore up the votes of religiously inclined conservatives with vacuous 'Christian country' rhetoric, would claim to be an admirer of Dr Tutu – while pursuing policies that contradict everything the great church leader stands for.

As my colleague and friend Dr Michael Marten has pointed out (www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/20445), what Mr Cameron appears to believe in is not the Christianity of solidarity with the poor, putting the last first, peacemaking without weapons of mass destruction, dissent against wealth and power, or rejection of privilege. It is, rather, a version of historic Christendom (the alliance of church with governing authority) that keeps people in their unequal place, blesses war plans, anoints kings and offers balm instead of justice for those wounded by the system it soothes.

Easter Christianity, however, breaks free of the tombs of establishment religion, confronts death dealing and 'business as usual', tears down the barriers between sacred and secular erected by those who want to keep God in the temple and most of the people out, and shows that only the power of love can overcome the love of power.

Christendom has bequeathed fine cathedrals, outstanding thinkers, fine saints, significant acts of charity and enduring institutions. It is neither to be dismissed nor mocked. But alongside and interweaved with those things it has also left a legacy of betrayal, of stuffing empty tombs with gold, and of abandoning the way of Jesus for that of Princes.

The challenge today is not to defend, rebuild or reinstate Christendom, but to take what is of benefit from its legacy while recognising that the future of Christianity is not to rule over others from on high, as in much of the past 1700 years, but to build communities of resistance and hope from the ground up among those frequently despised by 'traditional religion'.

Easter faith is not about a few days of ritual. Less still is it about imposing religion as a national ideology or romanticising a mixed and troubled past to buttress the moral vacuum created by rapacious, free market capitalism.

"Why do you look for the Living One among the dead?" is the difficult, biblical question that Easter, all fifty days of it, poses for us as we stare at the tombs religion has built and consecrated. The answer to that interrogation will never be found in restoring Christianity as a British heritage industry, but rather in seeking out God's heart among the excluded, the marginalised and brutalised within all our societies – and reconstructing our agendas, beliefs and communities with the power of the Spirit who is to be found there, by Christ's side.

Tha Crìosd air èiridh! Gu dearbh, tha e air èiridh!

* Easter is Fifty Days (on Facebook): https://www.facebook.com/events/237796566416496/241992599330226/ and via Bosco Peters: http://liturgy.co.nz/easter-50-days

* More on Easter from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/Easter

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© Simon Barrow is co-director of Ekklesia.

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