Easter Eggs – how Christian are they?

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The British Prime Minister Theresa May has spoken up in a debate about whether the National Trust and Cadbury (the chocolate brand) should make more mention of Easter in their egg hunts. The chocolate brand partner up with the National Trust each year to provide all the Easter eggs which children search for around country estates and houses in the National Trust’s portfolio. Currently on the National Trust website it states there is a lot of Easter fun but the name of the hunt is: Cadbury Egg Hunt – as you can see missing the ‘Easter’. Is this a problem? How Christian are Easter eggs anyway?

Easter Sunday is the culmination of an entire season in the Christian calendar. Preceded by Lent (a time of penance for sin) at Easter Christians celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But what has this got to do with rabbit eggs?  It is interesting how many Easter traditions can be traced back to long before the spread of Christianity. Easter was in fact originally a pagan festival. The ancient Saxons celebrated the return of spring with a festival commemorating their goddess of offspring and springtime, Eostre

The Easter Bunny may well have its origin in the honouring of rabbits in spring as an animal sacred to the goddess Eastre. Although quite why a rabbit should bring you eggs, no-one is quite sure. It’s likely that the pagan symbolism that’s survived has become merged together and increasingly commercialised.  Meanwhile the egg has long been a symbol of new life, so it’s no surprise that they’re used to symbolise nature seeming to “wake up” and bring forward new life in spring. And guess what, this isn’t a recent thing either. Ancient Greeks and Egyptians placed eggs on their tombs. A Roman proverb states, “All life comes from an egg”.

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So for a Christian remembering the events of Holy Week and Easter Sunday, should they be so concerned with people missing the Easter out of an egg hunt which isn’t completely tied to the Christian story anyway? There is no mention of an Easter festival in the New Testament of the Bible.  In fact the celebration of Easter didn’t finally win out until A.D. 325, nearly 300 years after Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection! The word Easter isn’t even to do with Christianity states a Guardian journalist, who goes on to complain that it’s a shame that people needed Jesus’ death and resurrection to make them believe.

‘Jesus had me at “love your enemies”. He sealed the deal with “let he who is without sin cast the first stone”, the parables of the good samaritan, the prodigal son, his transgression of the gender norms of the time, his emphasis on mercy and forgiveness, his reaching out to society’s outcasts, his practical help to the sick and hungry. That’s enough for me, as it evidently was to his disciples, who gave up what they had to follow him long before any crucifixion or resurrection.’

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Let us even consider hot cross buns – how Christian are they? The tradition of baking bread marked with a cross is apparently linked to paganism as well as Christianity. The pagan Saxons would bake cross buns at the beginning of spring in honour of the goddess Eostre. The cross represented the rebirth of the world after winter and the four quarters of the moon, as well as the four seasons and the wheel of life. The Christians then saw the Crucifixion in the cross bun and, as with many other pre-Christian traditions, replaced their pagan meaning with a Christian one – the resurrection of Christ at Easter. According to one story, an Anglican monk in the 12th century baked buns and marked them with a cross in honour of Good Friday. Over time they gained popularity, and eventually became a symbol of the Easter weekend.

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It might not have been until Tudor times that it was permanently linked to Christian celebrations. During the reign of Elizabeth I, the London Clerk of Markets issued a decree forbidding the sale of spiced buns except at burials, at Christmas or on Good Friday.  A song which some might still know to accompany these tasty Easter treats:

‘Hot cross buns, hot cross buns!
One ha’penny, two ha’penny, hot cross buns!
If you have no daughters, give them to your sons,
One ha’penny, two ha’penny, hot cross buns!’
Finally, a closer look at the criticism directed towards the National Trust and Cadbury’s. It was really kickstarted by the Archbishop of York who said that by calling the event the Cadbury Egg Hunt it was like “spitting on the grave” of the firm’s Christian founder, John Cadbury. John Cadbury was a Quaker. Quakers don’t celebrate Easter, because a Quaker believes that every day is holy, meaning that the criticism towards Cadbury is poorly judged too.
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Desmond Tutu for the Old AQA GCSE

In South Africa there was Apartheid  from the late 1940s that saw the separation of black and white people and was enforced by law. Apartheid came to an end in the 1990s.

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Many Christians who believed in the Bible’s teaching about equality campaigned against Apartheid. Trevor Huddleston was a white vicar who lived in a black township, he organised non-violent protests and urged countries to boycott sporting and cultural links with South Africa until Apartheid came to an end.

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Archbishop Desmond Tutu was born in South Africa in 1931. He became a priest during the apartheid regime and spent years campaigning to end it. He was a black bishop who used his sermons and speeches to explain how apartheid was against Jesus’ teaching, he travelled to pursue other governments to help bring apartheid to an end. He led non-violent protests and saw prayer as vital to seeing change.After Apartheid had ended, Archbishop Tutu wanted to encourage black and whites to both admit the wrongdoing they had caused and he set up the ‘Truth and reconciliation’ Commission to look into human rights abuses and protect those who were willing to admit what they had done.

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God does not show favouritism” is a quote from the Bible which reflects the belief Christians have that God loves everyone equally. “If there is an alien living in your land do not ill treat him” is another quote that suggests prejudice and discrimination against people of different races or ethnic origin is wrong and that instead we should, ‘Treat others as you wish to be treated’ (the Golden Rule).

Why would a Christian be against Racism?

  1. Everyone is made ‘In God’s image’ therefore should be treated equally
  2. Jesus taught people to ‘Love your neighbour’  with the parable of the Good Samaritan teaching that everyone is our neighbour and we should treat people equally regardless of race.
  3. Martin Luther King was a Christian who fought against racism in America through non-violent peaceful protests. His beliefs in equality for all regardless of race prompted him to change people’s attitudes towards black people in America.
  4. St Paul wrote, ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, all are one in Christ.” This suggests that we shouldn’t discriminate as we all equally valuable regardless of race, gender…

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Life must mean life

The 2016 AQA Religious Studies Morality paper had a question asking students whether criminals who receive a life sentence should stay in prison for their whole life. Students exam answers gave both points of view and then arrived at a conclusion which showed the students’ point of view. Well today in the news European judges have agreed that British courts can give prison sentences which say ‘life means life’ for the most disgusting crimes, such as mass murder.

Life should mean life – it protects the rest of the society from a dangerous criminal; a harsh sentence will deter other from committing a similar crime; it is retribution for the victim and victim’s family that the criminal loses their freedom forever; the Christian ideas of an eye for eye, tooth for tooth from the Old Testament implies an evil act should be met with a hard punishment.

Criminals should be released eventually – there should be the opportunity for reform; some Christians think that only God will judge our sins like in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats; Christians believe that Jesus taught forgiveness by dying on the cross so everyone’s sins are forgiven; “forgive them father for they know not what they do” is a key quote from the Bible which shows that people are sinful due to their free will and so should be forgiven (which Lauren Hill sang about); and the old favourite from the Parable of the Good Samaritan “love thy neighbour”!

 

“No point going to Church” if you don’t really believe in it, says the Pope

Pope Francis has said that there is no point going to Church if you don’t really believe in it and don’t do kind deeds.

“If I say I am Catholic and go to mass, but then don’t speak with my parents, help my grandparents or the poor, go and see those who are sick, this does not prove my faith, there’s no point,” he told young residents of Guidonia, a village near Rome. He is basically backing up the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats which we learn in Year 8 and also for the new AQA GCSE. The Pope (leader of the Catholic church) continued: “Christian faith is expressed with three things: words, the heart, and the hands.”

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The Pope also discussed how difficult it might be to truly forgive and forget saying that it could be difficult to forgive people when they have hurt you, or even, in some cases, committed crimes against you. “It’s difficult, I knew an old woman who was strong, bright, whose husband used to hit her. You should always forgive but sometimes to forget is difficult,” he said, according to La Stampa.

Pope Francis “Abortion is a Grave Sin”

For most of 2016 the Vatican has had a Jubilee year which has been known as the Holy Year of Mercy. Pope Francis, leader of the Catholic Church, has done lots of different things to spread forgiveness. One big events has been that he’s allowed all priests to forgive women for having abortions. Well today in an apostolic letter he extended this ability to forgive.

The 79-year-old Argentine said he wanted to “restate as firmly as I can that abortion is a grave sin, since it puts an end to an innocent life”, but “there is no sin that God’s mercy cannot reach and wipe away when it finds a repentant heart seeking to be reconciled with [God]”.

In our GCSE classes we’ve learnt about repentance – when you fully ask for forgiveness and promise to do everything in your power to not make the same mistake again.

Les Miserables

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Based on the book by Victor Hugo, first published in 1862, Les Misérables has been running as a musical on the London stage since 1985. It is without doubt one of the world’s most popular stage productions, and has toured the far corners of the globe with its powerful, haunting music and deeply human, bitter-sweet story. A few years ago it was brought to life on film in an exciting production which featured a stellar cast including Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and Russell Crowe.

Against the background of social unrest in 19th Century France, Jackman brings to screen the tortured soul of Jean Valjean, a French convict of nineteen years, newly released from prison. Life is hard for an ex-convict, and he steals from the first person who is kind to him, a bishop. Threatened with re-arrest, Valjean is startled when the bishop rescues him and gives him a new start in life. This experience of mercy redefines Valjean and he attempts to help the destitute Fantine and her daughter Cosette, all the while attempting to escape the determinedly ruthless Javert.

Exploring the themes of passion, sacrifice, love, justice and redemption, Les Misérables sings the human story with an impact that is timeless.

Here are some questions from Damaris Media to help you consider the religious links in the film connected to Fresh Starts:

  1. Javert thought his way of justice was the way of God. He could not accept Valjean’s generosity towards him so he never experienced a fresh start. Indeed he did not believe a person could change. What holds us back from new beginnings? How can we help people who are holding back from a fresh start in their life?
  2. Jesus said that we are forgiven as we forgive others. Valjean demonstrated his grasp of this command from Jesus when he released Javert. But offering forgiveness to another can be extremely difficult, especially towards those who may have hurt or deceived us. How can we move towards this? `Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us’ Luke 11:4
  3. Do we need to balance forgiveness and protecting ourselves (or others)? How do we do this?
  4. Valjean’s life was transformed by his response to the mercy offered by the Bishop of Digne. The ultimate fresh start for Christians is, of course, the one offered by Jesus through his sacrifice on the cross. `For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures’ 1 Corinthians 15:3-4.
  5. What does it mean to you that Jesus died ‘to set you free’? How free are you? `if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.’ John 8.36
  6. The revolutionaries tried to create a fresh start for the downtrodden poor of France. How much can we create our own fresh starts – or fresh starts for others? One solution to the problem of the disparity in French society was to take up arms against the ruling elite. This happened several times, and barricades like the one in Les Misérables really were erected more than once.

Here are some questions from Damaris Media to help you consider the religious links in the film connected to Difficult Choices:

  1. Les Misérables raises questions about the nature of wrong-doing. Would you steal to save the life of a family member, as Valjean did? Was it wrong for Fantine to turn to prostitution to make ends meet? It is easy to condemn the innkeeper Thénardier and his wife for lying, cheating, and attempting blackmail, but were they just trying to survive? Does trying to make a living in desperate circumstances make what they did less wrong?
  2. Jesus said ‘Do not judge, or you too will be judged’ Matthew 7.1. Like Javert we can also be quick to condemn others. What makes it so challenging to obey Jesus’ teaching on this? The Christian church can have a bad reputation for treatment of others. People easily refer to the Spanish Inquisition, witch-hunts, and the public pronouncements of judgmental preachers. It’s easy to forget the powerful influences of people like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr. and William Wilberforce.
  3. If you had been a friend of Fantine’s, what would you have advised her to do in order to be able to care for Cosette?
  4. One of the stirring songs in Les Misérables is Red and Black, the call to arms sung by the revolutionary Enjolras. These young people decided to fight in an attempt to change the world by force. How does this compare with Christian martyrs in history and today?
  5. Fantine sings ‘To love another person is to see the face of God.’ Is this true?
  6. The people by the docks quickly condemned Fantine and she was only saved because Jean Valjean stepped in. What are the parallels with the account of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery? The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’ They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ John 8:3-7