The context in which we celebrate Easter is changing. I still find it strange that the Good Friday Walk of Witness picks its way between market stalls and just as many shoppers as a typical Saturday morning. The scene must have been more like Jerusalem on the day Jesus died that it was like Britain on Good Friday in the late twentieth century.
It was stranger still to see the city centre shops closed on Sunday and to remember that this day is one of two in the year on which it is illegal for large stores to trade. However, the recent attempt to deregulate Sunday trading every week was turned down by Parliament because of concern about shop workers and for political expediency rather than because we are “a Christian country”.
Most people shopping in Worcester on Friday or prevented from shopping on Sunday have little appreciation of the origin of Easter. Even some of the associated traditions have been hijacked for commercial purposes. Hot cross buns are no longer seasonal and there is little to link them with the cross of Jesus, or the spices for his burial. (Apparently Mary Berry was educating a generation in this tradition, as well as inspiring them to bake.)
Although this is partly the spread of secularisation, there are some shoppers and would-be shoppers who are adherents of other faiths and have no particular reason to keep this weekend as special. How can we live together in a diverse society, where there is fear of difference, fear of the stranger and fear of change?
Before I came to Worcester I was asked to be part of the Interfaith Forum. I have become increasingly interested in this, but it is a dilemma for any faith leader, how to make this more than a personal engagement. The Forum could become a meeting for concerned individuals. How do our congregations participate fully?
A recent meeting at the end of St Andrew’s Lent Groups expressed a desire to know more about our neighbours from other faith communities, and we will be trying to take this forward in a practical way. Forty years ago we would have been pleased when Lent Groups had been truly ecumenical, so there really is change within the Church, as well as all around it.
It is important to live out our Christian witness in changing times. The alternatives are too dangerous and too sad to contemplate.
Please pray for the family of Asad Shah, the Muslim shopkeeper in Glasgow who was apparently murdered by a Muslim for expressing Easter greetings to his customers. Thank God that people of all faiths and none are standing together in condemnation of this act of violence.
Pray too for the victims relaxing in a park in Lahore, Pakistan, who were killed by a gunman because this was a Christian area, and this was Easter Day. His young victims turned out to come from different faith communities. This is similar to what happened in London in the terror attacks in 2005.
All over the weekend (largely unreported because it was a holiday) leaky boats chartered by gangsters still carried refugees from war zones. Met with official chaos, these people have continued to be greeted by volunteers with warm hearts and practical compassion. These aid workers and those who support them all across Europe, including Worcester, come from many different faith backgrounds and hold a range of humanitarian motives.
It may well be that we regret that Easter is no longer respected as it used to be. We should beware, though, of restricting our celebrations to what we do in Church on this one weekend – helpful, assuring, uplifting and challenging though the Church services were this year. “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as in all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15: 19 – 22)
We need to think big, and share our Easter joy without reservation.