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Andrea Mantegna's 'Lamentation over the Dead Christ', noted for emphasis on the humanity of Jesus. 

This time of year is considered the holiest for most Christians. However, there are some - for various theological reasons - who diverge from dominant church opinion.

For the Quakers, although some do mark Easter - particularly those within congregations known as Friends Churches rather than Meetings - many do not. This is based firstly on the reason-based observation that there is no direct Biblical instruction for a set Easter period and secondly, and perhaps more importantly, based on an experiential observation that all days given to us are holy. 

The Quaker testimony against 'times and seasons' extends from Easter to the traditional keeping of Christmas and Pentecost - with Quakers of yesteryear going even further and refusing to use the terminology of the Gregorian calendar, instead using 'first day', 'third month' etc. when speaking of dates.

Speaking to an older Friend about this some weeks ago, he noted this practice still existed during his childhood although it was already fading from use all of the time to use in official documentation - and is now maintained only as the preserve of a few 'quirky' traditionalists.

As with Christmas, in recent years I have continued to mark Easter with a nominal keeping of Lent usually followed by attending a more traditional church during the Easter weekend. This year may be the first in which I do not - instead choosing to maintain my Sunday habit and attend Meeting for Worship.

The key factor in me becoming less engaged with Easter is the atonement theology that goes hand-in-hand with it - and the fact there is not much substantive alternative interpretation out there. And of those other readings which do exist, I have found the Easter story mainly becomes reduced to a story of socio-political martyrdom - interesting and inspiring but not fully sufficient given the Bible is essentially a didactic text, a spiritual discourse, rather than a historical record.

Having said that, I recently read a quote from Margaret Fell and it caused me to reflect on how we, as in those Christians who do not fully subscribe to Trinitarian doctrine, have a responsibility to know scripture and arrive at our own credible narratives for what remains a landmark Gospel event. The quote is from 'The testimony of Margaret Fox concerning her late husband,' from 'The Journal of George Fox'. In this excerpt, Margaret Fell is describing George Fox's sermon at a church in Ulverston. It was the first time she had heard him speak;

"And so he went on, and said, "That Christ was the Light of the world, and lighteth every man that cometh into the world; and that by this light they might be gathered to God," ...I stood up in my pew, and wondered at his doctrine, for I had never heard such before. And then he went on, and opened the scriptures, and said, "The scriptures were the prophets' words, and Christ's and the apostles' words, and what, as they spoke, they enjoyed and possessed, and had it from the Lord": and said, "Then what had any to do with the scriptures, but as they came to the Spirit that gave them forth? You will say, 'Christ saith this, and the apostles say this;' but what canst thou say? Art thou a child of the Light, and hast thou walked in the Light, and what thou speakest, is it inwardly from God?" ... This opened me so, that it cut me to the heart; and then I saw clearly we were all wrong. So I sat down in my pew again, and cried bitterly: and I cried in my spirit to the Lord, "We are all thieves; we are all thieves; we have taken the scriptures in words, and know nothing of them in ourselves."

I think, in some ways, this relates to my previous entries to this blog which express concern and frustration over the seeming lack of theology within liberal Christian circles, and more specifically, within the Quaker tradition. Yet it is also a prompt, words to the effect of 'stop moaning and start rebuilding'.

Another extract, from 'This We Can Say - Australian Quaker Life, Faith and Thought', has also stayed with me this past week or so:

"The human spirit finds its witness in metaphor rather than in definition, in poetry rather than in dissertation, but the clearest evidence for the reality of the human spirit is to be found in the lives of human beings in whom the Spirit has struggled for expression.

Surely this was the source of Socrates' willingness to drink the cup of hemlock rather than betray his 'inner god'. This too was the 'inner voice' which Gandhi said had urged him to lead his people to freedom without recourse to violence. This too was the source of the dream of Martin Luther King which called him to walk up the mountain of his vision even though this meant the assassin's bullet.

But the richest evidence of all is in the person of that intriguing, elusive, yet compelling figure of Jesus of Nazareth. He, like so many other explorers of the potential of the human spirit, suffered not only a death from crucifixion, but another sort of death at the hands of those who would exalt him by enshrining him in an institution and encasing his inspiring life in a mesh of dogma and ritual.

Jesus represents one of those great quantum leaps in the evolution of the human spirit. No distinctive culture, no self-appointed religious cult has proprietary claims of possession, nor exclusive rights of dispensation. There, deep within each one of us, is this evolutionary potential.

It can stand the searching light of reason, but it relies upon its own intuitive powers of imagination to guide it through the surrounding darkness beyond the reach of reason's searchlight.

This too is the source of the promptings of love and truth in every one of us, if we but heed them and trust them." - William Oats 1990

This is useful in reminding us that any reworking of Easter and theology in general, in which our brains must be deployed, must remain heartfelt and free rather than academic or inadvertently overbearing. We could add that it also must be done, at least in part, with others. It is a worthy reflection at this time of year but also requires a longer term commitment - such is the challenge of liberal Christianity.

Whatever your reading, may your Easter prove restful and fruitful.

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