It was the late Bishop of Durham, the Reverend David Jenkins, who opined that the resurrection which encapsulates Christianity was “not just a conjuring trick with a bag of bones”. Blunt, but frank, at least. How he loved controversy, yet his opinions probably did more to drag people’s thoughts away from the merciless double standards and shrieking, shameless hypocrisy of the tabloids and into a more reflective mode, than anyone for some time before.
Still, nowadays, where does this ‘Christian’ nation stand in regards to Easter? Probably 99% of the population know that chocolate Easter bunnies and Easter eggs are available in the shops weeks beforehand. I suppose maybe 20% of the populace know what significance Easter Sunday has in the Christian calendar (I’m guessing, based on a lifetime of reading surveys probing into these matters). Probably, to half of those, Easter Sunday signifies nothing personally of either literal or symbolic value, while of the remainder, half of them are the ones who actually will be attending church services on the day. The other half (that would be, about 5% of the total population) probably have a fair old idea of the concept of the resurrection of Jesus, and the various meanings of Easter Sunday, but would struggle to make sense of the Easter bunny and chocolate eggs! Or maybe that’s about 99% of the population who don’t really know what on earth chocolate eggs and bunnies have to do with anything, apart from exciting kids after a cold and dank winter.
So, let’s see if we can make sense of the Easter bunny and the eggs, at least, shall we? Time magazine, citing History.com has it that the Easter bunny was brought to America’s Pennsylvania by German immigrants (not, of course, the plain Amish folk!) in the early 18th century, as an egg-laying hare, which would lay multi-coloured eggs in special nests created by their children. From there this pleasant custom spread across the country, and, naturally enough, over to these shores. An alternative idea suggests “that the symbol of the rabbit stems from pagan tradition, specifically the festival of Eostre . . . Rabbits, known for their energetic breeding, have traditionally symbolised fertility.” I’m not quite sure how the discovery that it was the Romans, post-pagan, who brought rabbits to these shores, fits into this picture!
The association of eggs with Easter, on the other hand, Time magazine recounts, and specifically coloured or painted eggs, can be traced back to the 13th century, during which eggs were among many treats forbidden during Lent, so that their consumption at Easter was cause for some celebration. It’s amazing how far such ‘memes’ (units of social behaviour, now hugely popularised on the internet with video clips) evolved, as Fabergé took the giving of jewel-encrusted eggs to a pinnacle.
But except for the ideas of fertility and new life, bunnies and eggs are really rather far removed from the resurrection concept, celebrated at all Christian churches today, or on some other Sunday (eg the Orthodox churches have their own special calendar of high holy days). Literal or symbolic, it is probably the highest of holy days in Christendom.
We were chatting about the entry for today, in a happy family gathering, with suitably appropriate emotional references and enquiries scattered throughout the conversation: comfortable, but challenging too. Since, on this Easter weekend, I’ve already mentioned our cat happily crunching into baby rabbits’ brains in front of the barbecue, thereby providing enough nightmares for the younger readers of this diary to be getting on with (sorry kids!), I thought it might just be opportune to note, as relayed to me by George Welton, that the 21st of April, which happens to be today, Easter Sunday, is also World Curlew Day! We may be visited by a host of walkers eager to catch a glimpse of the large curlew or three who live in the fields surrounding the house (one sailed by with its plangent cry late in the afternoon, in the same pale blue sky just vacated by a circling buzzard hunting newly hatched lapwing chicks near to the track — nature is merciless up here, sorry to the squeamish!). Still, a special day for curlews would be an interesting sort of parenthesis to the main piece, really!
So, back to the main idea for this piece: if, as I actually think myself, most of the country’s religious fervour today is spent on a pre-occupation with family (either in the context of, or in addition to sport), with little thought to the resurrection catechism of high church, then we should probably rejoice in family, together, while some of us can also rejoice in a more traditional, spiritual way in formal worship as well. Or take a walk with the curlews, whichever seems most felicitous, really.