Airline passengers arriving in Dublin will, as they leave the airport, pass a billboard poster advertising the Airbus A350 airplane. I have observed this several times and remain unsure of what it is there for. I don’t suppose we are being invited to consider purchasing one of these quality items. But maybe some bright spark at Airbus Industrie SA thought it would make a neat and rather exclusive gift; and in that case the decision to put up the poster around the Feast of the Epiphany (which is when it first appeared) made some sense.
Perhaps it is still possible to take the currents and rhythms of modern life and set them into the context of the church year. The Wise Men did not turn up in Bethlehem bearing the gift of an intercontinental jetliner, but even in our secular culture we have heard the references to gold, frankincense and myrrh enough to feel that what they did bring still has a contemporary resonance, and we can track the Christmas narrative into today’s world, including the world of commerce.
But is that true of the Passion and — if we can mention it gently during this week — the Resurrection? Dublin airport is still advertising the A350 today — so you have not missed your chance to take the special offer — and inside the terminal building the shops and other outlets are full of suggestions for gifts and delicacies ‘for this family season of giving’ (as one poster there suggests). I remember Dublin as recently as the mid-1980s, when you would in Holy Week hear only sombre music on the radio and see edifying black and white films on the television. Now all is changed, and Holy Week has become another great shopping opportunity, with Good Friday now one of the most lucrative days in retailing outside of the pre-Christmas season. Conversely Sunday and Monday will be rather quiet, and in Ireland there will only be a rather smaller number of people preparing for what for them is one of the absolute highlights of the year: the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse on Easter Monday.
As Anglicans, we believe that the Passion and the Resurrection are indispensable ingredients of the Christian narrative, and complete the story of the Incarnation. Is this a message we can no longer communicate to the wider world, leaving what is left of Christianity in the sentimental state to which it is consigned by the makers of Christmas cards?
In fact, religion as a Disney product doesn’t work. We understand the ups and downs of life, and the story of the Passion has its own resonances in today’s world of famine and terror and tyranny. The planes that brought you to exotic holidays also destroyed the World Trade Centre on 9/11. In Ireland specifically, Easter has a strong historical association with passion and redemption, from Easter 1916 to the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. All these associations are still there, but the church has become bad at prompting them in the public mind.
I fear we have become bad at ‘doing Easter’, and sometimes are uncomfortable with the Passion. This Good Friday, as on every Good Friday, I shall find myself moved again as I approach the great Cross during the Liturgy of the Passion. Maybe I shall make just a bit more of an effort not to come to that alone. I don’t necessarily mean that I shall ask my secular friends to accompany me — though perhaps I should — but I shall bring into church with me just a little bit of the world of Easter eggs and special April gifts, and the world of all those travellers on the A350, and maybe I shall take back out with me just a little bit of the Cross, and the great gift of Him who hung thereon.