HHJ Geoffrey Payne
As a child, Christmas was the most eagerly anticipated event of the year for me. Easter was about chocolate eggs, but Christmas was about presents.
In fact, Holy Week (the week before Easter), is by far the most important time for Christians. The week follows the Biblical account found in each of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. It commences with Jesus’ glorious entry into Jerusalem on a donkey on Palm Sunday. The day gets its name from the branches the crowds spread across the road and churches today will give out small crosses made from branches of native trees to commemorate.
With Jesus in Jerusalem, the authorities were troubled and Judas Iscariot, one of the disciples, plotted to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. At the Passover feast on Maundy Thursday, the Last Supper, Jesus spoke of sacrifice and the giving of His body and blood. That is the basis for the sacrament of Holy Communion celebrated by Christians around the world today. It represents a reconciliation with God. Many churches (including my own), commemorate the passion of Jesus the Sunday before Easter Sunday. It involves going through the Gospel account of Jesus’ last days physically on earth.
After a period of sorrow and contemplation in the garden at Gethsemane, and a false kiss from Judas, Jesus was arrested, condemned, and crucified on Good Friday; his body placed in a tomb. Many churches strip their altars bare for this day and services are solemn in nature.
Christians celebrate Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday. We celebrate hope, salvation, and new life and the church will summon all the joy that it can find. This tradition has been alive for many centuries from the days of the very early church. It is a magnificent time of celebration.
What does that mean for me? As a judge, I want to be sensitive to everyone who has a faith and everyone who does not. There is a good summary of the significance of Easter in the Equal Treatment Bench Book; it makes the important point that there are many variations in Christian practice. For me personally, Easter is a family event which involves church services, periods of reflection and quiet, eating together, and thinking about the weeks ahead. And enjoying the odd chocolate egg or three!
Working in the courts can be arduous. There are many pressures. Christians believe that Easter represents a message of hope and reconciliation to God. My hope is that Easter this year will offer us all, whatever our faith or lack thereof, an opportunity to rest, recharge, reflect, and to find renewal in the message of Easter, good food, time with family, and, if not all of that, at least in the consumption of chocolate and the promise of the summer to come. Happy Easter!
HHJ Alan Blake
In his book, Dominion, the agnostic historian Tom Holland highlights the singular ‘weirdness’ of Christianity. A faith that focuses on its leader’s execution rather than any military victory or political triumph. A faith that depends upon an astonishing story of resurrection, perhaps the hardest event for any rational, enlightened sceptic to swallow. Nowhere is that ‘weirdness’ seen in sharper focus than at Easter when Christians celebrate a death on ‘Good Friday’ and an empty tomb on Easter Sunday.
To say that Easter is central to our faith is a rather feeble English understatement. Christmas may have a touch of ‘weirdness’ but the extraordinary events of Easter are fundamental. The Apostle Paul pulled no punches when he declared to the believers in the emerging church in Corinth: “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that He raised Christ from the dead.” A Christian is simply anyone who has found the accounts of the first Easter to be so persuasive as to be compelling.
Such is the spectrum of Christian traditions and styles of worship that it is hard to identify a typical Easter celebration. There will be groups that celebrate with quiet reflection and others that prefer amplifiers and shouts of praise. But perhaps the twin themes common to all Christian Easter gatherings are gratitude and celebration. Gratitude for His sacrifice and celebration for our freedom from judgement.
It is those twin themes that explain the ‘weird’ fascination with the cross, the most brutal instrument of Roman execution. Someone who wore an electric chair pendant or a guillotine lapel pin would understandably attract consternation if not contempt. Christians identify the symbol of their leader’s execution with pride and reverence. Some wear it, some sign it over themselves and others just eat hot cross buns bearing that symbol without much reflection.
For all of us, Easter is such a welcome break when the New Year is no longer new and when the warmth and new growth express the joys of regeneration and new life. It is another opportunity for time to get together with family and friends and to rediscover the splendours of the UK in the spring.
For Christians it is also an opportunity to celebrate the singularly weird but wonderful story of the cross and the one who died on it to bring life.