When I saw this statement a couple of weeks ago about the churches and other places of worship closing in order to comply with covid 19 legislation I thought is Easter really cancelled.? True, it will be very different or even unique this year. It is true also for those of both the Jewish and Muslim and Budist faith too as they have religious festivals at this time of year. Will these festivals really be cancelled too?
Throughout history the major religions of the world have had to face restrictions and even periods of persecution for holding their beliefs.
At Easter we see the early Christian Church being attacked and the Roman Empire trying to kill off the threat coming from the ministry of Jesus Christ. For 3 years he had moved around Galilea with his disciples preaching a message of peace and love for those around you even those who wished you harm. .
At the start of what the Christian Church refers to as Holy Week we see Christ coming through the streets of Jerusalem on a donkey and huge crowds celebrating his arrival and laying palm leaves on the road before him. For those like me who come from Wales and speak Welsh it’s known as ‘Sul Y Blodau’ (Flower Sunday). Those who had heard him preach thought he was here to help overthrow the Roman Empire and give Israel its freedom back. This was the origin of Pilate calling Jesus the ‘King of the Jews’. A title the Sanhedrin hated.
As the week went on the local Roman leader, Pontius Pilate and the religious leaders of the Jewish faith, the Sanhedrin led by Caiphas, started to worry that things were getting out of control for both groups. They decided that action needed to be taken in order to get rid of Jesus and his message before it was too late. Jesus gathered his disciples together in the upper room of a house and celebrated what was to become what we know as the ‘Last Supper’. There he told his closest followers that he was to die and that 1 of them would betray him in order to help his death to occur. The man in charge of looking after the money to fund Jesus ministry was a man called Judas Iscariot. Like many people throughout the centuries who deal with financial matters he was too ready to be corrupted. The Sanhedrin offered him 30 pieces of silver to lead them to the group. He accepted the money and when Christ and his disciples were resting and praying in an area known as the Garden of Gethsemane Judas led the Sanhedrin and its guards to them. He greeted Christ and kissed him on the cheek. Christ was then arrested in the garden of Gethsemane and then both Pilate and the Jewish authorities had to decide what was to happen to him. As we know from the New Testament, Pilate and his wife wanted to dodge having to make a decision as she especially was attracted to Christ’s message. It was decided that a tradition was to be followed whereby they could release a prisoner at the time of passover. Pilate hoped they would release Christ. Sadly for him the Sanhedrin had arranged for the crowds to gather and call for the release of a prisoner called Barabus. This then led to the sentence of death on the cross being carried out on what we refer to as Good Friday. Like many others I have found the name ‘Good’ puzzling. Some scholars say it refers to days within a festival or being ‘belonging to God’ .
On Good Friday at around 3pm he and 2 common criminals were put to death. His family and disciples were devastated. They had lost someone close to them and the disciples were scared for their own lives. In the Easter story we have noted that 2 parts of Jewish society wanted Christ dead. The Romans and the Sanhedrin. Strangely there was a third who could see what was needed in the area and the wider world, God.
At Christmas God brought his Son into the World to live among us. He led Christ to be baptised by John the Baptist and to become the person to share his message and to make those who heard the message believe and share it with others too. Something we as Christians have the privilege to do today.
At the time of writing this blog post the world is facing one of the biggest threats in centuries with the arrival of the Coronavirus. It doesn’t discriminate. It has seen in the UK alone the heir to the throne and the Prime Minister laid low as well as young children and the homeless. Thousands have caught it and many have sadly died. What we know is that in time the experts will find a vaccine and this will hopefully safeguard us and then we can resurrect our countries, our communities and our lives. At Easter those of us with a Christian faith will celebrate the resurrection of Christ and the new life that comes with it. I really hope that this Easter, unlike any other, we will see our world ressurected into a much kinder place due to the shared experience that humanity has had with coronavirus. After all we have been told, ‘We are all in this together’. Let us all carry on believing that we will stay all in this together. In this period the music world lost the singer Bill Withers. He wrote the soul classic ‘Lean on me’. At this very uncertain time lets see it be an anthem for the campaign to fight the Coronavirus. Love and togetherness is what will keep us safe and healthy.