It is Easter in the UK. I am away from home for the weekend and will be walking on the South Downs later. At the moment I am sipping coffee and nursing a hangover. I really love the spring in Britain. Our countryside is green, and lush, and full of delicate blossom and the tender petals of bulbs that flourish early in the year.
I am not religious, but I guess I have been reflecting this Easter on the state of things here in the UK. I went to a Church of England school when I was young, and learned many of the stories that form the basis of the Christian teachings. I was particularly struck by many of these stories, and as an adult am still taken with the elegance with which some of these stories convey quiet but clear messages about compassion, and empathy, and understanding. In the Good Samaritan it is not the men with the status of religious authority who come to the aid of a man who has been robbed and left beaten by the road, but a relatively modest outsider, the Samaritan who is from a different, despised tribe and a different place. I do not remember the story in which Jesus spent his time enjoying the pleasures of schmoozing with rich bankers, but I do remember the stories in which he tended to the sick, and gave comfort to those in need, or those who society would have cast aside.
I bring this up because last week our prime minister found time to make a fuss about the packaging on some chocolate eggs, which did not have the word Easter on them, and she felt it important to speak out as a ‘vicar’s daughter’. Yet she presides over a government that seems very comfortable with directly attacking the living standards of people living with long term illness and disability, and with pushing families with young children over the poverty line. Food banks have become commonplace in this country once more. I bring this up because in the last 12 months every time I have heard someone use the phrase ‘this is a Christian country’ it has some how been linked to a statement about turning away refugees from war torn countries. It has been used to justify some in saying that there is simply no room in this inn for 3000 children who have been separated from their parents during the trauma of their flight from war and termoil. I bring this up because we seem to think that protecting wellbeing of the corporate businesses and banks is more important than protecting the workplace rights of ordinary working people. We have become intensely relaxed about giving the money lenders the keys to the temple.
Now my recollections of many of the Christian teachings of my childhood is a bit hazy, so maybe I don’t remember those bits where Jesus spoke of how fine it was to take money from disabled people, or deny shelter to people in need of it. Maybe it’s just my own personal biases that draw me to focus on the bits where he spoke about compassion and about treating others as we may wish to be treated ourselves.
At this time of rebirth and renewal maybe it is a good idea to re-visit what we mean when we say ‘this is a Christian country’. Jesus was a champion of the poor, and the sick, and the different. Perhaps this would be a good time to have a think about what a ‘Christian country’ that took his vision seriously would look like.