Easter buns photo by AlisonYo, www.pixabay.com
Friday on My Mind – Good Friday or just another day
April 7, 2023
By Bob Wilson
At the start of Joe Cocker’s live album, Mad Dogs and Englishman Joe mutter (incoherently) “Uh, uh – it’s Easter.”
Pause – “I was just gonna say don’t get hung up about Easter,” says someone in the band, probably Leon Russell.
A poor pun and in incredibly poor taste when you consider (well, in Australia anyway), that 43.9% of the population identify as Christian.
On Easter weekend, Christians honour the epic Bible story of the crucifixion and the resurrection. They would not care for Leon Russell’s inappropriate pun and some might even be offended that I recounted it, today of all days.
Christians accept the story that Jesus was crucified (by the nasty bureaucrats of the day), locked away in a tomb after his death and then arose from the dead, leaving an empty tomb. This supernatural feat of resurrection underpins almost everything Christianity is about; that Jesus died for our sins and only by accepting his love can we be saved.
I was raised a strict Methodist, by kind-hearted Calvinists who took the Bible literally. At times, I had nightmares after a particularly vivid fire and brimstone sermon by crusty old Methodist Ministers, who, even in the 1960s, were presiding over ever-diminishing congregations.
It’s no accident that the Methodist church has all but disappeared, absorbed into the hierarchy of less extreme religions. I asked my parents one time why they decided to leave Scotland and travel to New Zealand and was loosely quoted scripture (Ruth) “Wither thou goest, so shall I follow.” This was a wee bit before Germaine Greer.
She Who Does Not Go To Church But Lives By Christian Philosophy asked what I was writing about this Friday. When told she replied: “Wither thou goest I go to Wednesday morning coffee group.” A right pair of blasphemers we are, but clearly our hearts are in the right place. Ask anybody.
The correct text from the book of Ruth 1:16 reads:
“And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.”
That particular translation comes from the King James Bible. Theologians will tell you it is about fidelity. No way is it about a mere woman doing what she is told by a man who (citing the old marriage vows), must be honoured and obeyed.
If you are interested, this website cites at least 30 different translations or interpretations of the same verse.
The Census question about religion is the only one on the Australian Bureau of Statistics form that is voluntary. Nevertheless, 93% of Australians answered the question in 2021, up 2% on the 2016 result. This is where I got the statistic that 43.9% of those who filled in their Census form identified with Christianity. If you go back several Censuses, this figure has dropped from 61.1% in 2011. If you go back to 1966, 88% of Australians said they were Christian.
By contrast in 2021, 38.9% of Australians stated they had ‘no religion’ (it was 22.3% in 2011).
Other religions (the ones that are growing) include Hinduism (up 55.3% to 684,002 people (2.7% of the population).
Likewise, Islam has grown by 813,392 people, 3.7% of the population.
The Christian Research Association notes that the fastest rate of decline in numbers between 2016 and 2021 was in The Salvation Army (28%), followed by the Uniting Church (23%), the Presbyterians and Reformed (21%), Anglicans (20%), and Lutherans (16%). There was a slower rate of decline among the Churches of Christ (9%), Latter-day Saints (6%), Catholics (4%) and Pentecostals (2%).
When Easter approaches, it conjures up memories from my teenage years when I left school early and went to work with Dad in the bakery. Dad was an old-school baker, taught his craft in Scotland in the days when bakers used lots of dried fruit in hot cross buns. (I accidentally bought fruitless hot-cross buns- how ‘disappointment’! Ed)
As I recall, the production line began about 6pm on Wednesday and we’d still be hard at it by noon on Thursday. People came from all over the region to buy Dad’s buns. I seem to remember we made 100 dozen or so. We always sold out.
Hot cross buns, with their thin pastry cross tops, symbolise the crucifixion of Jesus on Good Friday.
They were invented by medieval monk Thomas Rocliffe in the 14th century. As the County Life blog opines, ‘were he alive today, he might stop and say a prayer for forgiveness when he reached the hot-cross-bun aisle of a supermarket’. These sticky fruit buns, sold all year round in an assortment of flavours, are pale imitations of the original.
“There are even buns filled with fudge, a sickly notion that might have Brother Rocliffe fleeing back to the safety of St Albans Abbey.”
Dad made his fruit mix a month or so before Easter, leaving it to steep in a marinade. Come the time for baking, he was very generous in his allocation of fruit.
Much has been written about the decline of Christianity in Australia. The reasons are manifold, but statistics suggest the decline started with the cultural changes within the traditional family unit (Dad the breadwinner and Mum the housewife), which held sway in the 1950s. Then came the sexual revolution, hippies, Vietnam, the summer of love, women’s liberation and an ever-increasing level of higher education among people in general. In the past 20 or 30 years, people may have turned away from churches of all denomination after revelations of abuse of powers amongst ministers, clerics and priests.
Despite my stated position on organised religion, I salute those who attended Mass and other Easter services today. As the Census figures suggest, you are swimming against the tide. But it was always thus.
In the years of the Reformation (1550-1600), Thomas Cromwell became a notorious figure in politics as he cosied up to King Henry VIII.
Cromwell was involved in developing much of the religious legislation for the Reformation and was responsible for making sure it became law.
Monasteries owned over a quarter of all the cultivated land in England at the time. By destroying the monastic system, Henry could acquire all its wealth and property while also removing its Papist influence. Cromwell organised the dissolution of the monasteries in England, dissolving more than 800 religious houses in the 1500s. A brutal period in history.
There has always been opposition to (certain types of) religion and persecution often follows. We can see it today in the millions of refugees fleeing persecution, often because they are of a religious minority.
Today in Australia the agnostic among us and those who simply follow their own personal creed see no need to go to church. As comedian and composer Tim Minchin observes in his Christmas song, White Wine in the Sun:
I don’t go in for ancient wisdom
I don’t believe just ’cause ideas are tenacious
It means they’re worthy.
For many of us, this is just a four-day holiday weekend, complete with hedonistic rituals like rugby league and AFL matches and horse racing. For Australians who have declared themselves Christians, it also means time to reflect on their beliefs. Suum cuique, I say (to each his own).