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Easter - A Story of Hope

“The Real Easter Egg”

Saturday 30th March 2013

The Archbishop reflects on the Easter story talking about “The Real Easter Egg” – the first Easter Egg to tell the Easter story on the box and getting out the Easter message in a new, simple and accessible way.

When someone mentions Easter, what is the first thing you think of?

Whilst I hope it would be the loving sacrifice of Jesus, dying for our sins on the cross of Calvary, and his glorious resurrection on the third day – I am realistic enough to know that for many the reality may be different.

Back in 2010, there was a survey that showed 53% of children in the UK were unaware of the religious significance of Easter and 30% thought it was to celebrate the birthday of the Easter Bunny!

It is sad that millions of our children don't know the great news of the true meaning of Easter. There are many people in our society today, young and old alike, who are searching for meaning and a realistic spirituality that will bring them inner peace, as well as a fresh way of relating to God and to the world. St Paul tells us, in Christ there is a ‘new creation’– a whole new world. If we can only perceive it.

So how do we start addressing the fact that there is such a lamentable shortfall in the knowledge that we have of our national Christian religion?

Undoubtedly, good religious education in our schools is a must – including acts of shared worship at the beginning of the school day – to ensure young people understand the Christian values of forgiveness, generosity and the importance of serving others.

But, as a Church, we also need to ensure that the message is going out in new and accessible ways. It is not very productive or spiritually uplifting to be sitting inside our church buildings expecting people to come to us, we need to reach out practically.

One of the symbols that has been used to communicate the story of Easter down the years, has been the tradition of giving Easter Eggs to each other on Easter Sunday.

Some Easter Eggs are made of precious stones, or carved wood. Others are painted in beautiful colours. But the one that has been most popular has been the one made of chocolate. I am sure we can understand why!

The giving of chocolate eggs on Easter Sunday reminds us that the Easter season should be a time of celebration.

Lent – the 40 days preceding Easter Sunday – is a time of prayer and fasting, a time of solemn reflection, penitence and self-denial. It symbolises the 40 days that Jesus of Nazareth spent in the wilderness being tempted by the Devil. Often Christians will give up certain items during this period – most commonly products such as chocolate or alcohol, or meat – and use the money saved for meeting the needs of others. Because of this, the chocolate egg we receive at the end of this period is a real treat.

But why chocolate in the shape of an egg? Some people say that eggs are exchanged as a symbol of hope and new life. Others say that when the egg cracks open it reminds us of the stone that was rolled away from Jesus’ tomb when he rose from the dead.

It seems that this symbolism has gradually been forgotten by us as a society – and it is right that we should reclaim this imagery of hope and joy.

With all this in mind, I was delighted when in 2011 someone came up with the idea of “The Real Easter Egg” – the first Easter Egg to tell the Easter story on the box and getting out the Easter message in a new, simple and accessible way.

From day one, I could see what a fantastic idea this was, but the challenge was to ensure that the product got into the shops as widely as possible.

I can remember one discussion with the Chief Executive of one of our major supermarkets at a public forum in Leeds. Whilst there was genuine interest, it seemed the shops were unwilling to take a risk on a product that was new to the marketplace.

So did we give up? No. We had confidence that this new ethical, fairly traded Easter Egg with an explicitly Christian message, would do really well – if it was given the chance.

So The Real Easter Egg went on sale online, and the take up from churches and schools in particular was fantastic. Though the only major retailer nationally who took a punt on stocking the product was Waitrose – and our local Waitrose here in York sold out the Real Easter Egg in days.

Two years on, this is now the third Easter that The Real Easter Egg has been on sale. I am delighted to say that this egg is now also being stocked by Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and the Co-op. It seems that not only does the product make sense from a religious perspective, but also from a commercial perspective – it’s great that consumers can now buy the Easter Egg that is fairly traded and spiritually uplifting.

The Real Easter Egg is ethically sourced and as such promotes fairness and generosity in a practical as well as a symbolic way. Too many chocolate products on the market today are still not Fairtrade, so it is wonderful that one of the first decisions taken was to ensure that only fairly traded cocoa beans would be used in The Real Easter Egg.

Not only is the egg made from Fairtrade chocolate, but also some of the purchase price is donated to help small-scale farmers and producers in the developing world. In buying this egg, we can be sure that the people who produced the product will receive a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.

In our celebrations it is right that we give thanks for the people who helped put the egg on our table – it is wrong that so many producers, both at home and overseas, are still not paid a Living Wage for their labours.

Money from sales of the Real Easter Egg is also donated to the Traidcraft charity. This helps small-scale farmers and producers in the developing world gain the knowledge and confidence they need to be able to trade their way out of poverty.

I believe that we need to work to create a world free from the scandal of poverty – we need to ensure all people and communities can flourish, wherever they live.

And what is the message on the box – what is the truth of Easter we are so keen to promote?

2000 years ago a baby named Jesus came to earth. He was God’s son. He brought a message of love and taught people to serve others in all they do. This revolutionary message undermined the authorities and religious leaders of the time, so he was arrested and executed in the most painful way imaginable, crucifixion – this day is called “Good Friday”. Jesus’ body was removed from the cross and his body put in a tomb. Three days later, on Easter Sunday, the stone of the tomb rolled away and Jesus rose from the dead. Inviting all people to participate in God’s life offered freely. For Jesus Christ did for us that which we could not do for ourselves.

That’s it. A simple story of hope. Because Jesus died for all the unGod-like things we have done, we can be forgiven. We can all start anew and hope is offered for all! Hallelujah!

Sadly, this message of new life, forgiveness, reconciliation and hope, has been hidden from society because too often as a Church we have not kept to the core message of making Jesus Christ visible. Our focus should be on God’s divine love and forgiveness which offers hope to every single person regardless of what they have done in their past.

We can live our lives free from guilt and shame, safe in the knowledge that Jesus who died and rose again is with us still. Let us make Christ visible in our communities, by loving God and our neighbour, as well as loving ourselves.

We should shout the message from the rooftops – so why not put it on the shelves of a supermarket? The Church needs to go out to where people are and talk in ways that they understand.

Enjoy your Easter Eggs but remember why we eat them! As the Psalmist says, ‘O Taste and see how gracious the Lord is’.

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