As they walk up the centre aisle of Highclere Church between the dark wooden pews, each member of the congregation enters their own spiritual world. The high vaulted roof of the nave creates space for our heads and thoughts, encouraging us all to look upwards. The large stained rose window faces south east and filters the light into the choir stalls whilst bowls of spring flowers have been lovingly arranged on window sills. It is Easter Sunday and we are all here because, 2000 years ago, a man was horribly executed by those in power and his own people connived and agreed to it.
Jesus died on Good Friday – his family and friends were overwhelmed with grief and it must have seemed as if everything they had believed in was over: death is so very final. He had suffered in life from hatred and betrayal yet from that point the journey of Jesus transforms to offer a new world and a new life.
On Easter Sunday Jesus rose again and the pain and tragedy of his death was turned into something extraordinarily positive, not least because he and his followers were able to tell, record and bear witness to his legacy. His legacy was in the parables told by his disciples and the combination of his words and actions during his life and after his death. As a result, this particular death did not therefore disappear, to be forgotten as just another person who was painfully executed by the Romans.
Words and their meanings shift over the centuries and today the word “legacy” implies a rather dry concept perhaps relating to a person’s will. Originally however, a “legacie” was a body of persons sent on a mission and a legatus was an ambassador or envoy and it was thus a far more pro-active and energetic concept. Legacies in both forms are important in today’s world: charities hope for some in our wills and leaders and famous people have learnt to rush out their own memoirs long before they are dead in order to offer their own preferred version of events. After all, history can be re-written and recollections may vary.
Jesus’ body was never found. He was never buried and there is no memorial or tomb to mark his final resting place. Instead, there is the story of his resurrection and the hope and promise of life everlasting and the inspiring beautiful cathedrals, churches and monasteries that were built in his name.
Today, Easter Monday, is also sometimes called “Bright Monday” or “Renewal Monday” and there are various traditions of what we should eat and all are quite delicious. In many countries it is a public holiday and there are customs of how the day should be spent. In Italy, Easter Monday is an official public holiday “Pasquetta” and it is seemingly a time-honoured to prepare and organise a family picnic in the countryside or barbecues with friends. Given the weather in England, we tend to turn instead to baking, hot cross buns and family lunches inside.
Many religions encapsulate the idea of forgiveness for past transgressions and the ability of people to change for the better. In today’s world never has that been more needed. I have a favourite poem from a particular seventeenth century poet and orator called “Redemption” which seems particularly apt for Easter.
Having been tenant long to a rich lord,
Not thriving, I resolved to be bold,
And make a suit unto him, to afford
A new small-rented lease, and cancel the old.
In heaven at his manor I him sought;
They told me there that he was lately gone
About some land, which he had dearly bought
Long since on earth, to take possession.
I straight returned, and knowing his great birth,
Sought him accordingly in great resorts;
In cities, theatres, gardens, parks, and courts;
At length I heard a ragged noise and mirth
Of thieves and murderers; there I him espied,
Who straight, Your suit is granted, said, and died
Stepping out of the portico of Highclere Church after the Easter service yesterday into the bright sunshine and surrounded by all the scent and signs of spring, it was impossible not to feel thankful.