This essay appeared in School Report in 2001, and again in 2006. I think it's still relevant. Click here for the whole of Edition 31.




With a few exceptions all will be quiet on the spiritual front again this Easter, just as it has been for many years. Hosannas and hallelujahs will undoubtedly be sung with great spirit in churches of many denominations throughout the western world but the resonance of Christian worship will, for the most part, remain inside the buildings.


There will, of course, be the usual alternative forms of worship on offer over the Easter, associated with the twin deities of pleasure and possessions, and they will have their own distinctive sounds. This worship will be seen and heard over the long bank-holiday weekend in any place where money is too freely spent or pleasure too freely sought: in the shopping malls, at the airport terminals, on the roads to resorts and theme parks, and even in the bare living-room awaiting some new and fashionable piece of DIY.


The religious significance of the great Christian festival of Easter is now probably little understood and largely ignored by most people. Even the hot cross buns which used to be eaten only on Good Friday until quite recently, have lost their symbolic function. Similarly, on this day set aside to remember Christ’s crucifixion, a mood of quiet solemnity was often observed for some of the time at least, leaving Easter Sunday as the occasion for joy and celebration helped along by the consumption of excessive quantities of chocolate egg. It is a small irony that nowadays Good Friday is the noisiest day of Easter, and Easter Sunday is the quietest, simply because on this day the shops are not permitted to open.


Just as society has become secular so too have our schools, even our Church schools. The Easter story will undoubtedly get a mention in an assembly or an RE lesson in the week before the holidays and a popular hymn will be sung, but many schools, I suspect, will not do much more. If this is the case one wonders how many young children actually know the sequence of events which took place during the last week of Jesus’ life and how many older pupils have considered in any depth the significance of these events.


The story which begins with Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey and ends with the empty tomb is not the easiest to understand. I find a lot of it difficult myself, but such is its power, so compelling is its blend of the human and divine and so enthralling is its drama that it does not matter if we do not understand or believe it. We can just allow ourselves to be entranced by the events as the narrative unfolds and leave the theological wrestling about what is truth for another occasion.


We are failing in our duty if we do not teach this story. It has a richness far greater than any work of literature and it has meaning on many levels. It has so much wisdom to impart that hearing it each year should never be a comforting ritual but an opportunity to revisit its familiar themes and discover some new ones.


Spiritually, emotionally and intellectually we can be stirred, uplifted and challenged by the dramatic events and human responses which lead up to the death and resurrection of the Son of God. We can respond to what takes place: to the joy of Palm Sunday, to the excruciating agony of Good Friday and to the revelation of Easter Sunday. We can ponder, and react to, the innumerable facets of human behaviour which are so tellingly depicted. Celebration, friendship, compassion, sacrifice, loyalty, betrayal, fear, despair, anguish; these are all here, along with jealousy, intrigue, manipulation, mob rule and much else.


These are the great enduring themes of humanity which children and adults should reflect upon at Easter. But there is more. For those who accept the Christian faith there is the promise of redemption, salvation and eternal life.

And for all of us, believers and non-believers, there is an uplifting of the soul when we share in the triumphant victories of hope over despair, forgiveness over revenge, love over hate, goodness over evil, rebirth over death.


All of which must be cause for celebration. So this year in schools let’s hear it for Easter. Let’s have some timely spiritual renewal and bring the story alive for our pupils. And let’s have some good singing in our assemblies, and loud hosannas everywhere for something truly full of wonder.