Easter is the most important Festival for the Christian community in the whole year.
The week leading up to the Festival, called Holy Week, recalls the drama surrounding the arrest of Jesus, his trial and his execution on a cross, and his burial in a stone tomb afterwards.
The week begins on Palm Sunday, when the worshipping community recalls Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem for the Jewish Festival of Passover, riding on a donkey and being greeted by his friends and followers waving palm branches.
A few days later Jesus meets with his friends for the Last Supper, and during this meal, washes his Disciples feet, and breaks bread and pours wine, and asks them to do this in remembrance of me.
This day is called Maundy Thursday and is the day when our own Sovereign comes to visit her own Subjects and hands out the Maundy Money to local people – she came to Wakefield Cathedral a number of years ago now. Our own Queen, like Jesus, has her own vocation in life to serve God and her neighbour, and like Jesus washed the Disciples feet and served them, so too does the Sovereign on this day.
The Maundy Thursday Service finishes with Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane waiting for his arrest and trial the next day – Good Friday – the day that Christians remember Jesus crucifixion on the cross – the tree of shame.
This is the most solemn day of the year, with special services and music inspired by the story of Jesus performed and heard. One might ask why the day is called Good Friday, when it recalls the death of a faith leader, and the answer lies in the fulfilment of God’s plan, and how Jesus enabled God to come among us as a human being, and to radically change the world for ever, through his dying and three days later, his resurrection from the dead.
The Sunday after Good Friday is called Easter Day, and for Christians marks the day of resurrection when Jesus rose from the dead.
There are numerous stories that follow Easter Day of how Jesus appeared to his followers in the days that followed: at a meal with his Disciples; on the road to Emmaus; at a meeting behind locked doors; and to Thomas, one of his followers, who said he wouldn’t believe that Jesus has risen from the dead unless he could put his hands in his side, and then Jesus came and allowed Thomas to acknowledge his unbelief, and claim Jesus as My Lord and My God – the climax to the whole of John’s Gospel.
Across our society for some period of time, there has been a debate about the effect of multi culturalism and immigration of our nation. T
here has been a fear that certain British values have been eroded and that our moral compass is under threat. Christianity has been the major influence on our moral compass and the laws that govern our nation for hundreds of years. The Christian values that Jesus promoted have held society together through times of war and suffering, and times of joy and plenty.
Yet today in society, hundreds of adults no longer seem to know the Christian story of Christmas (Jesus birthday) and of Easter, which is why we urgently need to make sure that Religious Education in this country is recognised as essential to understanding British culture, history, and values.
If we are to promote a healthy and stable society, then respect and tolerance of all faiths and none, has to become more of a priority in our schools and in the public square.
Much hate crime comes out of ignorance and fear, and in a modern Britain, we need to promote our diversity as something that enriches our lives and our nation, and something to celebrate together.
May Easter be a time of happiness for everyone, and may God continue to bless this town and Borough, people of faith and none, in the same way he has always done since time began.