What has Easter to do with politics? What has the church to do with the state? What has the sacred to do with the secular? What has justice and peace to do with empires? What has Canada to do with the USA?
The Christian understanding of Easter has its roots in the Jewish tradition of Passover. There is, sadly so, a tendency to reduce the Jewish meaning of Passover to all sorts of rites and ceremonies, and, in the process, miss the deeper and more demanding meaning of Passover.
The Jewish tradition of Passover emerged from a clash, within Jewish history, between the Jews (an oppressed people) and the Egyptian empire. Pharaoh (the leader of the Egyptian empire) treated the Jews as cheap labour and mules. They were hewers of wood and drawers of water for the affluent Egyptian middle and upper class. The clash between Moses (who stood for the oppressed Jews) and Pharaoh is now part and parcel of western lore and legend, fact and feelings. Passover, at core and centre, was about an oppressed nation seeking and finding liberation from an imperial and unjust overlord.
Jesus, being Jewish, was steeped and saturated in such a memory. He lived at a time when the Jews were oppressed by the Romans. The script was the same. The actors were different. Once it was the Egyptians. For Jesus, it was the Romans. The Jews were still an oppressed people seeking national liberation. Jesus came preaching notions of the Kingdom and justice/peace.
The Beatitudes sum up his disturbing vision of the Kingdom quite well. Such a life and such insights did not please the power elites. Things did not bode well for Jesus. The Romans were not pleased. The Jewish leadership (Sanhedrin) was on the same page as the Romans. In fact, most had bent the dutiful knee to Roman power.
The Christian notion of Easter was formed and forged on the political anvil of the Jewish liberation from Egypt. Jesus sought to liberate both the Jews and Gentiles from Roman oppression. The Romans knew what Jesus was doing and why. They only put two types of people on the cross: common criminals and political subversives. Jesus, like Moses, was seen as a threat to the empire.
We, in the West, have tended to privatize, domesticate and sanitize the political meaning of Passover and Easter. It is now a rather quaint and nostalgic event with little political clout. In fact, both Passover and Easter have become rather harmless events in the liturgical life of the church. But, was this always so? Moses and Jesus would be rather shocked by the way such an event has been privatized and depoliticized.
Moses confronted the Egyptian empire. Jesus confronted the Roman Empire. Both men confronted the empires of their time. It is rather ironic that many Christians today bow and genuflect before an empire greater than Egypt and Rome. It is even more ironic that this is done in the name of being conservative.
The historic Canadian conservative tradition from Bishops Charles Inglis and John Strachan to Sir John A. Macdonald and John Diefenbaker to Suzanna Moody and Mazo de la Roche to Stephen Leacock and George Grant have been wary of the American empire. Such an empire is not much different from Egypt and Rome. Passover and Easter, in their beginnings, were political events. Can we imagine Canadians seeing Easter as an event about liberating Canada from the USA? Hardly!
This does speak volumes about how many Canadians have become tamed. The high point in the Christian calendar (Easter) has become, in many ways, a safe and innocuous event that has little to do with its political origins.
Is Easter ever likely to become a substantive political event? Not likely! The myth and ritual are now safe, domesticated and sanitized, But, for those with some memory, they know there is more to the event, and they cannot but feel the loss and lack.