The Importance of Easter – a titanic battle!
Recently I joined the Catholic Police Guild (CPG). It is an organisation with a tremendous heritage, forming in the Metropolitan Police in 1914, later expanding to cover City of London Police, and in 1974 becoming a national association. Members would acknowledge that the CPG energy is now outside London and so a number of committed officers and staff from the Met are starting the journey to re-energise the Guild in London.
In the coming months the Guild will share more about what it does. This, though, is the critical time of the year for Catholics and it’s perhaps opportune to explain why Catholic colleagues are ‘Easter people’ and will be jolly for the next six weeks through Eastertide!
Sunday, 4th April was Easter Sunday, a four-day extended weekend for much for the country; for Catholics it forms the pinnacle of the year. The calendar of the Catholic year is anchored around three cycles, representing the incarnation and birth of Christ (Advent and Christmas), the life and teaching of Christ (the time after Pentecost), and the death and resurrection of Christ (Lent, and Eastertide or Paschaltide). Why is Easter so important to Catholics?
Catholic officers and staff, and members of the Catholic Police Guild, like millions of Catholics across the country spent the Lenten period, from Ash Wednesday on 17 February to Holy Saturday on 3 April, in prayer, fasting and almsgiving in preparation for the great celebrations of Easter. First, we need to understand the reasons behind this preparatory Lenten period. This answer can be provided both naturally and supernaturally. Naturally speaking, if one lives always in a state of plenty and celebration, the importance and joy associated with key events is thoroughly tainted and diminished. Do birthday presents have the same significance if you've purchased all you want through the year on-demand with Amazon Prime? More significant, though, is the supernatural significance of Easter and its Lenten preparatory period – in policing terms, it is six weeks of human restorative justice before one day of perfect atonement.
Since Adam and Eve let sin into the human race there has continued a titanic struggle between good and evil. This battle pervades our culture – both religiously, and in almost every contemporary film! The notion of some right and wrong is not just a story from the Bible, but inherent to everyone; else why do we feel wronged by some of the actions of others? (We can't be in policing without a notion of good and bad!) These wrongs, as named by Catholics, are sins. Sin derives from the Greek 'harmatia', meaning 'missing the mark', the 'mark' or the law being wholly objective and unchangeable, deriving from the natural law and the decalogue.
There are effects of sins committed against God, the victim of sin. One effect of sin is to separate oneself in various degrees from God, just as one who commits a criminal offence separates themselves in varying degrees from society. But the first sin of Adam and Eve had a more profound effect: all humanity lost its right to the citizenship of Heaven, and thereby succumbed to death. The Lenten and Easter periods are all about the means by which individuals, and all humanity, make amends for their sins, regain their citizenship and overcome death.
As we know in policing, offences require repentance and atonement by the offender. Customary throughout the Old Testament (e.g. Job 42:6, 1 Macc 3:47, Ester 14:1-3, Joel 2:12-18) is the practice of ashes (as now on Ash Wednesday), fasting and almsgiving as an appropriate personal means to repent, being also confirmed by Jesus (Matt 11:21). Throughout Lent, therefore, Catholics undertake six weeks of these ancient practices of penitence and prayer, of this restorative justice, to help repair their personal relationship with God.
These individual reparations do not, however, themselves regain the possibility of citizenship in Heaven. The sobering brutality of Good Friday sees God-made-Man (Jesus Christ) expose to human eyes the terrifying effects of sin. And yet in the same act of His death that day we see the greatest possible love: "Greater love than this no one has, that one lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13). In Jesus laying down His life for the sins of all humanity, He divinely and perfectly atoned on one day for every sin and repaired humanity's relationship with God. In the process He regained for us the possibility of heavenly citizenship.
The tumultuous time through Lent, leads to the final battle against the effects of sin – for good to triumph over evil. The glory of Easter Sunday arrives as it did just a few days ago, with Churches regaining their decorations, smells and sounds (all suppressed through Lent), with the breaking of all fasts and of much merriment! It is the Celebration of Celebrations in memory of the Resurrection of Christ and His victory over death, of good overcoming evil, a victory we can share so long as we atone for our sins. And the celebrations continue for six weeks!
Easter, then, is not merely a spring bank holiday for Catholics, but an active participation in the titanic victory of our Saviour over death, the greatest of all battles. For the Catholic Police Guild and all Catholics – who continue the fight against personal and societal wrongs every day – it is a time of the greatest celebration reminding us all that, even in the darkest times, good ultimately prevails!