Letter from the Vicarage - March 2016
BLESSINGS FROM THE VICARAGE
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I expect you may have heard that, for the sake of convenience and to bring more routine to life for people of all ages, and especially for things like school holidays and setting term times, politicians are considering making Easter Day a set day in the calendar year, like Christmas.
Christmas, of course, always falls on 25th December, even though that has never been thought by scholars to be Jesus’ actual birth date (believed to be 11th September 3 BCE). It was changed to the date we have always known because Church leaders in the 4th Century were overlaying pagan festivities with Christian ones, in order to gain adherents and stop the intoxication, debauchery and human sacrifice that was occurring in these festivals. Thus the previously wild pagan festival of Saturnalia was ‘converted’ into the light, hope and joy of Christmas. But I digress…
Easter is different.
Easter is a continuum. It has always tied in with the seasons of the moon and the sun throughout history. It has always melded with the integral life of the earth and its creatures, with the pattern of life, death, life, death, life… and the Christian story of Jesus is, and obviously has to be, part of that. It is honestly unsurprising to me that Jesus Christ suffered and died and rose again at this time of the spring equinox, as many occurrences of this sort of thing had happened in the centuries before.
The Name “Easter” originated with the names of an ancient goddess. The Venerable Bede (672 – 735 CE), a Christian scholar, first asserted in his book De Ratione Temporum that Easter was named after ‘Eostre’. She was the great mother goddess of the Saxon people in Northern Europe. Also, the Teutonic dawn goddess of fertility was known variously as Ostare, Eostra, Eastur, Ausos, etc. meaning ‘spring’. Also the general symbolic story of the death of the son (sun) on a cross (the constellation of the Southern Cross) and his rebirth, overcoming the powers of darkness, was a well-worn story in the ancient world.
There were plenty of parallel, rival resurrected saviours too. The Sumerian goddess Inanna, or Ishtar, was hung naked on a stake, and was subsequently resurrected and ascended from the underworld. One of the oldest resurrection myths is Egyptian Horus. Born on 25th December, Horus and his damaged eye became symbols of life and rebirth. Mithras was also born on what we now call Christmas day, and his followers also celebrated the spring equinox.
Now I can hear you asking, where is Jane going with all this?
Well, what I am getting at is that we have all had the frailty throughout history of separating everything out too much and we have also claimed possession of things too much. We have always understood that some things are better than others and we are always comparing and contrasting rather than seeing that everything is connected in life and we all have to live in the same boat, as it were.
As people trying to be Christians, we are no less fallible than everybody else and, just like everybody else, have over the centuries separated and elevated Christianity almost above all other forms of life, which is ludicrous! We have become just as idolatrous, at times, as non-religious people and we often worship the man Jesus rather than identifying with the Christ and the fact that He showed us THE WAY. I’ll repeat that – what Jesus Christ showed us, was THE WAY - the Way of Life that is ‘about Life’ - about coping with change and growing up in body, mind and spirit. And, in order for things to grow, other things have to die to give the space for growth. The Way = life, death, life, death, life… We do it in life and beyond life – this is what Jesus Christ taught us and showed us in himself.
But who was it for?
Most of the pagan gods - heroes, saviours – were, and still might be, idolised simply for being themselves and perhaps for their leadership, guidance, teaching or healing, for example. Their myths often stay with them. I am not belittling them because they are part of the journey of all learning in life – they may have helped creation to a certain point in its development.
But Jesus did not come to be idolised, He came to live his life for others, not himself, to the point of sacrificing himself unto death. He came to be followed, as in ‘followed on’, as in ‘grow from what you have learnt from me’. He knew that if his disciples followed The Way, they would bring a positive change to the whole world where more and more people developed in The Way: The Way being Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Generosity, Faithfulness, Gentleness, Care, Compassion, Healing, Wholeness, Self-Discipline… the Way of God, the Creator, who showed in Jesus Christ the joining of the Divine with all life (not just humanity).
This Lent and Easter, may we begin to see how connected we all are on stages along The Way. It is a great time of learning and revelation, of self-discipline and of practising the above characteristics. Let’s see if we can effect change, and open ourselves up to learning and developing. These are the things that make the world a wonderful place to wake up to on Easter spring mornings when the Son has indeed risen.
Happy Easter everyone!
With love and blessings,
PS. If the government or others try to ‘control’ Easter they will be denying the natural rhythms of Life as well as the Way which enables growth and development. I don’t think we were supposed to be so automated - after all, God did not make us to be robots but wonderfully living, creative, developing people…