A quick scan of the news on Easter Monday revealed that a cloud formation of the Easter bunny was the closest the media came to reporting anything spiritual about the weekend that had passed.
In fact hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders had attended Easter services.
Newstalk ZB had religious programming on Good Friday and on Easter Monday I was part of a panel being interviewed for the Maori TV programme Media Take, which screened the following day.
All credit to Maori TV for giving this some serious air time. What we experienced though was an example I think of the confused understanding of our secular nation and our history which includes Christianity and other religions, and the role of faith today.
So let’s just clear a few things up – while the Queen is our head of state, she is not head of the Anglican Church here, she is head of the Church of England. The fact that we have the shops closed at Easter is nothing to do with her.
Easter eggs and bunnies are not “ancient” symbols of fertility or spring from a pre Christian era, they are medieval traditions from Russia (eggs) and Germany (hares). They are however, not at all at the heart of Easter for Christians.
Christians do not want to “spoil” non believers’ days off if they want to shop or go to a bar. We do think the concept of sabbath is a healthy one for everyone. People need some days completely off work – if not Easter then let’s choose some different ones. We do appreciate it though when people respect our religious observances enough to give us a day off; just like those who have served in the armed forces appreciate the respect given to ANZAC Day. Our secular state gives us freedom from religion but also freedom for religion.
While Christianity has played an important role in the history of Aotearoa, there are other religions to be found here now and they also need to be respected and honoured. One way to do this would be to have the different religions taught about in schools as part of the curriculum. A few schools do this, many do not. The newly formed Religious Diversity Centre can help us with this. New Zealanders need to be more skilled in understanding the differences between culture, religion and faith; how these can be interwoven or separate.
Good Friday and Easter Day are the most important days in the Christian year, without them there is no Christianity. On Media Take , Pastor Tarry Mortlock and I had a discussion about the resurrection of Jesus. He said, as did the Archbishop of Canterbury in his Easter sermon, that if Jesus did not physically rise from the dead there is no story to tell. They are both quite definitive about that. Well that is fine if that is where your faith is. I tend to be in conversation with people who want to be given permission to explore that a bit more. As I said in my last blog (quoting Stanley Hauerwas) we cannot see resurrection, just like we cannot see God. But we can see the world through the eyes of the resurrection just like the early followers of Jesus did. The Jesus I follow is quite comfortable with including people with many theologies and viewpoints. When he said “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” we are invited to look and see what might be the Jesus “way”. The Jesus way is one of including the excluded, turning over the tables in the Temple, and offering the extraordinary hope of an empty tomb. It is up to us then what we make of that.