Services of various kinds today throughout the world have commemorated a day that is holy to all Christendom. Various denominations have participated in other services throughout the week, observing some feature of the last week of Christ before his crucifixion. On Good Friday a Mass of the pre-sanctified was held in Jerusalem’s Chapel of the Calvary. A solemn procession visited Stations of the Cross where brief sermons were delivered.
In Vatican City the pope appeared in his Vatican study window and blessed the thousands of pilgrims in Rome from all over the world to observe the holy week. In the city itself thousands of these pilgrims and the Romans themselves flocked to some 455 churches for the Good Friday services. Religious images and crucifixes were draped in purple mourning. Holy water fonts were empty. In many churches statues and images of the dead Christ were on display.
In Argentina, this Easter is more than usual a time of rejoicing for Roman Catholics. For the first time in more than four months the government has permitted them to march in religious procession. So thousands of worshipers had their Holy Thursday parade in Buenos Aires.
In Rome on Thursday also, the world’s chief Roman Catholic church, St. Peter’s, saw a repetition of the ancient rite of washing the papal altar stone. This is symbolic of Christ’s washing his disciples’ feet at the Last Supper.
This week has been again the coincidence of the Jewish Passover season and the Christian Holy Week. For Jews, the period has marked the joy of deliverance from ancient Egyptian bondage. Rabbi Samuel H. Barron has declared that throughout the ages the story of the exodus from Egypt has been related to the emancipation of all people from slavery. Rabbi Baron is director of religious education for the American Council for Judaism. The president of Synagogue Council of America, Dr. Norman Salit has requested “may a loving God transform the souls of mankind’s rulers so they can thus make themselves the Moses of their peoples, purveyors of liberty and builders of peace.” And so on Wednesday came Seder (say-dehr), the first of the special happy feasts that mark a Jewish celebration that dates back to the time of the pharaohs of Egypt. The week of unleavened bread is being celebrated around the world. And the National Jewish Welfare Board has seen to it that the U.S. servicemen of Jewish faith have had their Seders.
Easter marks the commemoration of an event that resulted from an orgy of violence, which, in turn, resulted in the crucifixion of Christ. Violence has many forms and disguises. It is as cunning, persuasive, and seductive as its father, the devil. It has woven itself into our language, our thoughts; it dyes our emotions and seeps into our sub consciousness. We begin teaching it to our children. To get obedience we spank or flog them. The child, learning the efficiency of brute force from his parent, goes out and practices it. He becomes the bully of the schoolyard. The teacher continues the boy’s course in the art of frightfulness, if not by physical threat, by moral terrorism. When he grows up every motion of his adult mind is spoiled by the poison of the force idea. Violence is the greatest hindrance to reform, to progress. It is the twin brother of autocracy, tyranny, despotism, dictatorship –– whatever alias you choose to use. No greater lie was ever coined than the saying that “God is on the side of the strongest battalions.” War is the perfect flower of the doctrine of force.
The people of the U.S. are caught in the grip of a brutal belief in violence – doubtless, ironically enough, because of having won two world wars fought for the avowed purpose of destroying militarism and the mad militarists. And yet they want to continue and intensify this militarism by telling us now that only by UMT [Universal Military Training] can we find peace, for armed might is the only language we can use that will be respected.
Have the same people who preach this doctrine — a doctrine preached by every military clique in history — given us any indication that they are willing to try any other language? Wouldn’t it be remarkable, and certainly worth trying, if they could but see that a million spent through the United Nations for world recovery is vastly better preparedness than a billion spent in more bombs and guided missiles? No permanent progress has ever been due to fighting: it has all come about by cooperation; very little if any has been made by conflict. And today, it would appear, we are faced with the stark alternatives of either co-existence or no existence. There is no defense against the A- and H-bombs, and we had just as well quit talking and acting as if there were. I personally do not relish the idea of having to co-exist with a communist ideology which I hate, but no amount of ostrich-like activity will cause that ideology to vanish. Only a hard-headed, stubborn insistence on proving that our brand of democracy works better than a totalitarian collectivism will enable us to co-exist without being submerged.
I am well aware that there are those who will call people who speak in this vein naive eggheads. Yet the memory of those who do such name-calling is short; their judgment is even weaker. Even I am old enough to have lived through a series of major disappointments. World War I was “to make the world safe for democracy.” It did nothing of the kind. We turned to the League of Nations and the World Court with high hopes. But then millions marched to war while the buildings at Lake Geneva became mocking skeletons. Then a period of financial extravagance and behavior extravagance was followed by worldwide hunger and despair. The dream of a brave new world of brotherhood faded before a craven fleeing to the past an apostasy to the worth of mankind, taking many forms. In a fit of madness another world was projected.
It would seem that when conditions become complicated the old men of the nations can think of no better solution than to set the youth of the nations to killing each other. And they call that patriotism. In our worst moments of depression and disillusion we could conclude that the world is ruled by blockheads; that there is no healing in Zion; that all that remains is to curse God, or McCarthy, and die. But despite the blockheads, there is the comforting thought that it just might be those same eggheads whom they despise who may yet save mankind from its own madness, for the egghead tries to think problems through to a sound and sane solution rather than to resort to brute force of the kind that cannot but lead to Calvary for mankind, for he who takes the sword perishes by it.
Well, it is not difficult to be somewhat bitter, even on Easter, when we reflect today that after 2,000 years of stupid force, the rulers of the world have nothing better to offer, it would seem, than a continuation of the same old eye for an eye. But the one whose resurrection we commemorate today brought to the world a new vision, a different version as to what constitutes sane and proper conduct.
Easter, like many of the other days, both holy and secular which we commemorate, is not only closely associated with our religious beliefs, but it also has a counterpart in the non-religious sphere. Its name in English comes from an Anglo-Saxon goddess, “Eostre,” who represented light or spring. The Anglo-Saxon tribes, who had never heard of Christianity, held a festival in her honor every April. To the Christian, it marks the resurrection, or rising from the dead of Jesus. In most Christian churches, it is preceded by a 40-day observance of Lent.
Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, 40 days before Easter, excluding Sundays. The name comes from Lenten, an Old English word for spring. Lent was at first a 36-day period, but during the reign of Charlemagne, about 800 A.D., four days were added to the 36, making it correspond to Christ’s 40 days in the wilderness. Thus, from Ash Wednesday until Easter, fasting is prescribed by some faiths, special devotions are held, and many entertainments and amusements are given up.
Holy Week, the seven days before Easter, is a time in many churches for deep religious feeling and worship. The Protestant churches commonly observe with special services, music, and flowers. Many of the churches hold a special baptismal service. A mass on Easter Sunday closes the Lenten season in the Catholic Church and in some Episcopal or Anglican churches. Many Easter customs are quaint, and others are full of meaning. Just as the earth is dressed in a new cloak in the spring, people often wear new clothes for Easter. The idea of Easter eggs came to us from ancient Egypt and Persia. The eggs are a sign of new life. Legend has it that they are laid by the Easter Rabbit on Easter Eve. Churches often decorate with white lilies, a symbol of purity and light. The cross reminds worshipers of the religious meaning of Easter.
The first Nicene Council of the Church, in A.D. 325, fixed Easter as the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after March 21. The earliest possible date of Easter is March 22; the latest is April 25.
And thus it is that out of the past, the past of the Christian religion, comes to us this Easter, bringing with it customs drawn from numerous, and sometimes non-Christian peoples. It is for some a day of solemnity in what they consider to be a proper reverence of the tragedy that preceded Easter Sunday that first time: with others, the emphasis is on the resurrection itself as a symbol of victory over death. To all it is a day of religious significance, regardless of variations in the way it is observed.
And it is these variations among us in the celebration of a religious day that bring me to the item with which I should like to conclude this broadcast.
It was an English Unitarian layman, one Sir John Bowring, who wrote the well-known hymn “In the Cross of Christ I Glory.” Now the Unitarians are a religious group whose members believe in seeking the truth of religion within their own souls. They encourage freedom of belief, and promote the interests of religion which Jesus taught. Here is a group who do not accept the orthodox conception of the metaphysical nature of Jesus, but who respond in vital faith to the Jesus of the cross. This ought to remind us that the quality of personal faith and living cannot be judged by a person’s attitude toward dogma, even the dogma that others might consider to be the most sacred and necessary. There is much about the hymn that this Unitarian of the 19th century wrote. First there is the picture of a Unitarian glorying in the cross of Christ, and glorying in a very vital and personal way. The human reveals how much the cross meant in his life, glowing with peace and joy and adding luster to bright and radiant days, with a peace that knows no measure and an always abiding joy. But many who sing “In the Cross of Christ I Glory” today in their churches sing also the equally great hymn of the Roman Catholic Newman entitled “Lead Kindly Light.” If the Unitarians represent the extreme of liberal approach to religion, with scarcely any attachment to dogma, the Catholics represent extreme orthodoxy with respect to religious dogma. Between these extremes are the hymns of saints and believers of all faiths and sorts whose common experience is devotion to God.
If we are realists, the use of the hymnbook should make us tolerant and humble, rebuking all narrow and sectarian ways in recognition of the wholeness of the unity of Christ. Paul set glorying in the cross against the attitudes of those who would make religion a narrow and circumscribing thing, a matter of ritual observance for the sake of ritual alone. The cross of Christ is what Sir John Bowring called it. In his words, a cross that was “towering o’er the wrecks of time …,” a symbol of eternal greatness and grandeur.