When I were a lad, in long socks and short trousers, I attended the village school. This was a Church School where the local Rector was a significant member of staff. One of the advantages of going to a church school was that we “scholars” would get a ½day holiday on Ascension Day after attending a Church Service to which we were taken in crocodile formation for the ¾mile walk from the school to the church. Six groups of 30-50 children each, progressing from school to church in line took a lot of marshalling and caused lots of disruption, but this was a long time ago. After the service we were free for the rest of the day! No crocodile back to the school just 240 or so kids released into the environment. Think St Trinians (Google that if you need) but with a co-ed rather than a single sex school. The holiday was not popular amongst parents/guardians as that day there were no school dinners and unless an adult was at home the latch-key kids had extra time to mess up the home.
In the run up to Easter many families will have pancakes on “Pancake Day” and the supermarkets certainly push the sale of lemons and pancake mixtures for that, and many people “give up something for the 40 day Lenten fast”: this may be just not eating chocolate or drinking alcohol, but it is something. Easter with its Easter Eggs and two bank holidays is firmly still part of the “system” and the psyche of modern life. But Ascension Day & Whitsunday barely get a look in. It’s probably because no one has found a commercial exploitation of these two days, Historically Whitsun was such an important festival that in Mediaeval times Villeins were even released from their obligations to work for their lord for a whole week.
According to the Bible Jesus took 40 days after his resurrection to complete his earthly mission before ascending into heaven (Ascension Day) and then a few days later the Holy Spirit arrives (Whitsun or nowadays Pentecost) and fills the Apostles with vim and vigour to start their mission to preach the Gospel. So much so that Peter is recorded as having to tell the listening crowd that “no, these men are not drunk as it is only 9o’clock of the morning!”
As we slowly come out of the semi-hibernation that will forever be associated with COVID19 and all its offspring we will need a bit (or probably more) of the vigour shown by Peter and the others to get back to some form of “normality” whatever that will mean. So “gird up your loins” and prepare for the work required to repair us as individuals and society in general both mentally and physically; and hopefully we could end up in a better place than where we were before.
It was just after 3pm on the 3rd April 33AD. The Roman Army Execution Detail noted that the first of the three prisoners being executed that day had just died. It was a bit of a surprise because normally a prisoner took much longer to die, but as the Detail had to remain until all the prisoners were dead it was probably more of “One down, two to go” feeling than anything else. In the meanwhile it was back to gambling to while away the hours until they could return to barracks; after all they were just Roman soldiers carrying out their orders.
The background to this? At the time the Roman Empire was busy being the Roman Empire. The Emperor Tiberius ruled in Rome and Pontius Pilate (a junior Roman Civil Servant) was the Roman charged with keeping order in the province of Judea. To keep things rosy he had cosied up to the Jewish Religious Powers and they to him, but being Pilate he had still managed to alienate others. Also in the frame was Herod Antipas (a son of Herod the Great) who was the Roman appointed Tetrarch of Galilee and Perea. So far so good.
Then along came trouble, a 30odd year preacher who had gone about preaching that the Kingdom of God was close at hand had come to town. The new preacher was accompanied by a band of rustics (including ex fishers, an ex tax collector and an ex zealot), he did not rail against the Roman Authorities but preached that one should love God and love one’s neighbour as one’s self. He had upset the Religious Authorities by declaring that the Temple was a place for prayer and worship and not a place for commerce. For the Religious authorities the question of the day was how to neutralise this threat without upsetting the status quo?
Herod Antipas had incarcerated a previous troublesome preacher (and cousin to the new one), then without trial the preacher had been beheaded, his head put on a platter and presented to a young dancer who had pleased the said Herod Antipas. This option was no longer available.
The preacher was detained by the Temple Authorities and after a confrontation was handed over to the Roman Authorities. The death penalty was demanded by the Temple Authorities and to avoid trouble this was granted by Pilate, which takes us back to the start of the article.
Epilogue: Pilate was removed from office 36AD, Tiberius died 37AD, Herod was removed from office 39AD, the Temple was destroyed 70AD and that rag tag army of fishers and others (excluding the zealot) spread the teachings of the executed man until in 313AD Christianity was recognised as an acceptable religion within the Roman Empire. Now THAT is a story!
PS. The date quoted above is believed to be the most probable, by many scholars.
We are through the Solstice, the daylight hours are increasing, we have survived Christmas, we have survived Brexit, we have survived Hogmanay and there is seemingly even a Covid19 vaccination that gives protection (starting a couple of weeks after the inoculation) enabling us to survive exposure to Covid19 unscathed.