Unlike the celebration of Christmas – no-one actually knows the date of Jesus’ birth – the feast of Easter is firmly based on the calendar. Jesus was crucified around Passover time,
as the Gospel-writers make clear. And Passover is fixed around the spring equinox. However, just as a mid-winter Christmas is a powerful symbol of light coming into a dark world, the timing of Easter in spring-time is also full of symbolism. (I do feel sorry for Christian friends beyond the Equator who miss out on this!)
There is new life in the earth. We can almost speak of nature’s annual resurrection. Gardeners may sense this more than most; but almost everyone can hear some fresh bird-song and enjoy the new shoots and buds and blossom. Biologists and botanists can explain the processes at work, of course, but only poets, artists and musicians can capture what it means. Thus Shakespeare describes spring time: “the only pretty ring-time, when birds do sing, hey ding-a-ding ding; sweet lovers love the spring”. The sap is rising and the spirit is lifted.
The apostle Paul writes of three core elements of Christianity (I Corinthians 13 v13): faith (which knows what God has done), hope (which trusts what God will do) and love (which participates in what God is doing). Easter is at the heart of all three. Something happened, no doubt; Jesus’ followers believed he was alive and with them still. The future was claimed as God’s; not even the prospect of death is as final as it once was. And the evidence of Christ’s continuing presence was in the loving, often against the odds, which was the authentic sign of Christianity. Faith, hope and love; Easter is the key to all three.
In poetic vein Paul also writes: “it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2 v20). In the world of nature we know that the life-cycle of buds and blossom will eventually lead to autumn and a more-or-less gracious withering. Our physical life follows this pattern, too. But the new life, the liveliness of discipleship, is not constrained by our physical powers. Just as the inner message of Christmas is more than seasonal and not just whistling in the dark, so the good news of Easter is for ever and ever.
Revd Peter Brain