Friday, 21 March 2008

The triumph of Good Friday

Patrick Comerford

Two newspapers – The Irish Times and the Church of Ireland Gazette – carry leaders today that reflect appropriate themes for Good Friday and the Easter weekend.

The leader in The Irish Times is headed “The Triumph of Easter” and says:

“Good Friday has been free to date of the tendency to commercialise and secularise every religious holiday. So far, there are no noticeable efforts by card makers to cash in on it, nor have the windows of the best department stores been decorated with Good Friday themes. For the theme of Good Friday is stark and challenging: it asks questions to which there are no easy, slick, commercial, profitable answers.

“The mainstream churches share a lengthy but common reading today from Saint John’s Gospel (John 18:1 – 19:42). It is a desolate story of isolation, betrayal, false accusation, miscarriage of justice, denial, abdication of responsibility, rejection of ambition, questioning of values, torture, vilification, crass power play, humiliation, dehumanisation, abandonment and – ultimately – cruel death. And yet it is a story in which gentle tenderness and compassionate love continually break through the walls of hatred and in which light persistently pierces through the dark. It is a story for today for it is the story of our world.

“On this day, Christ is taken to be executed outside the city walls. On this evening, he is buried hastily outside the city walls. In his dying and in his death, he is placed forcibly outside the city limits, outside the realm of civil society. Who are placed outside the limits of our society today? Pushed to the margins and outside the boundaries to places for which we no longer feel responsibility, where we are no longer called to have compassion or challenged to show love?

“The sad stories where love and compassion fail to break through are told throughout our cities this day. There are the experiences of Polish workers, for instance, who are isolated and marginalised, those whose only social life is with one another, who are the victims of racist taunts and – as recent events have demonstrated – appalling violence. Despite popular myths, figures show that immigrants are more likely to be the victims of crime than the perpetrators; a disproportionate number of immigrant children end up in hospitals; and too many immigrants are over-qualified for the jobs they do here.

“Those who are pushed beyond the walls of our cities to the margins of civic life must find it easy to identify with the Christ who is crucified on a hill outside the city, with the Christ who is buried on the margins and the edges, beyond polite society. But today’s reading from Saint John’s Gospel is not the end of the story. The end is not rejection, injustice and eternal marginalisation. Rather, the climax of the story is in the triumph of the Resurrection on Easter Day when night becomes morning, when darkness turns to light, when despair is redeemed by hope and when hatred is conquered by love.

“That Easter message is not easy to package and commercialise. But it challenges us all to look again at how we value the new lives and the new life among us, to ask how we can welcome in from the margins those who should to be accepted and embraced within our civic, political and polite society.”

An Early Easter

In its editorial today headed “An Early Easter” the Church of Ireland Gazette says:

“Easter has arrived early this year. As we noted last week (Gazette, 14th March, Editorial, p.2), Easter is so early that the Church calendar for Holy Week demanded a change to the day on which we celebrated St Patrick. No other festival, mo other commemoration, can be as important as Easter in the life of the Church. However, the fact that most people in Ireland – and at least one cathedral in the Church of Ireland – continued to allow St Patrick to displace the solemn commemorations of Holy Week shows how difficult it is for the Church to communicate its core beliefs and the Good News of Easter in an increasingly secular and secularised society.

“The very name Easter has questionable origins, traced by some authorities to the names of long-forgotten Germanic or Greek goddesses. But in all the Romance and Celtic languages, the name for Easter is derived from Pascha and Pesach, the Passover, the great celebration of liberation and deliverance, while in almost all Slavic languages the name for Easter translates as ‘Great Day’ or Great Night’.

“Easter is truly our Great Night and our Great Day, and, as Christians, we should be able to celebrate our greatest festival in unity. But our linguistic differences are less of a division than the great divide which still exists between east and West when it comes to calculating the date for Easter. In the Eastern Orthodox Churches, Easter comes much later this year, with Easter Day falling on Sunday 27th April, five full weeks after Easter in the West. We celebrated Easter on the same day last year, but this coincidence will not recur until 2010.

“In 1997, the World Council of Churches proposed reforming the way we calculate Easter, sidestepping the differences in the eastern and Western calendars by using direct astronomical observations of the moon. The reforms were to come into place in 2001, but were never adopted by any member-Church. Other proposals included observing Easter on the second Sunday in April, or always having seven Sundays between the Epiphany and Ash Wednesday, but all failed to attract significant support. Legislation in the United Kingdom 80 years ago proposed setting Easter on the first Sunday after the second Saturday in April. These proposals were never implemented either, although the legislation remains on the statute books and could be implemented if the Churches agree.

“If we are going to reassert that Easter is the greatest festival in the life of the Church, then we need to renew our efforts to ensure all Christians celebrate Easter on the same day.”