A Cross on a hot cross bun
By Sammy Jordan Project Leader HOPE For Every Home UK
How can we engage non-Christian friends and neighbours with the Easter story in a culture where Easter celebrations now make no reference to it, save for the cross on the top of a hot cross bun?
Sammy explores the links between the Easter story, our current context and shares what this looks like in her community setting.
No sooner do we get Christmas out of the way than shops start getting ready for Easter. We’ve all seen the social media posts of hot cross buns and Crème Eggs on sale on 26th December. I’m not usually in a supermarket on 26th December but last year I was doing an emergency shop for my mother-in-law before extra guests arrived and my surprise was twofold: not only were there Crème Eggs and hot cross buns but all the Christmas stuff had gone! I don’t know if Christmas was cleared for Easter or if Easter was filling a convenient gap, but on 26th December I could buy a hot cross bun but not the Christmas pudding on my shopping list!
Easter preparations in the shops might start early but I’m struck by how far we’ve come from the Easter story. What does Easter mean to people these days? Decorations in shop windows and supermarket seasonal aisles suggest that Easter is about chocolate eggs, bunnies, chicks and top of the list, egg hunts! Pink, yellow, white, brown and green are the colours of bunnies, flowers, chicks and chocolate rather than the cross, the garden and a special sunrise. People seem to have a sense that Easter is about new life and reference eggs, baby chicks and cute fluffy lambs but not the resurrection life of Jesus. It seems to me that the only reference left to the Easter story in popular culture is the cross on the hot cross bun but that this goes largely unnoticed.
The Easter story doesn’t help its popular appeal. At Christmas we have a story about a cute baby to share, and school nativity plays with the opportunity to dress children up in costumes that then festoon the social media feeds of proud parents. Easter is a harder, grittier story to try to share with people if they have no Christian background. The Easter story is more ‘argh’ than ‘ahhhh’. It’s a story of occupation, politics, tensions, disloyalty and the most brutal of deaths to someone who hadn’t done anything wrong. Jesus comes back to life but to a Disneyfied world this can seem as imaginary as Captain America being older than he looks. In a world used to heroes and villains it’s also hard to explain why Jesus had to die when he wasn’t the bad guy.
So how do we approach the Easter story without the cute baby and opportunity to wear a tea towel or a crown? This is what I have been grappling with on the new estate where I live and serve as part of a church planting team. Somehow I have found myself as the chair of the local community group, which runs events and initiatives on the estate. Together we are planning an Easter egg hunt and activity morning, full of chocolate, bunnies, and flowers! To include the Easter story I have permission from the group for one of the activities to be based around the Easter story and to link some of our egg hunt trail to the Easter story videos via QR codes. That’s the practical side of inclusion, but what about the actual story? How do we build a bridge to the Easter story when people’s natural reference point is the eggs and bunnies of the supermarket aisle?
This takes us back to the cross on the hot cross bun, the sole story reference point amidst a sea of eggs, bunnies and chicks. After inviting people to think about whether they like them and which is their favourite (chocolate hot cross buns are a favourite in my house) I’ll ask people to notice the cross on the top and wonder if they know why it’s there. What has it got to do with Easter? I’ll think aloud, that crosses usually mean a kiss for love or 'ooops I got it wrong' and explain that the cross in the Easter story is both.
I’m going to link my video Easter story to parts of the estate featured on the hunt trail. Beginning on the main road to the estate we’ll explore Palm Sunday with the idea of welcoming special visitors and hopes. It will explain that the world is broken, sad and bad things happen. The world isn’t as God wants it to be. Two thousand years ago people wanted freedom, their country had been invaded. People wanted rescuing, people wanted hope and that’s why they waved and cheered with palm branches when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem. Although I’m not talking about Ukraine, but people might make the link and be drawn into the story.
The story will develop on the children’s play park where I’ll ask about their friendships and what happens when they have an argument? Has a friend ever let them down? I’ll explain how people were hoping Jesus would rescue them from the rulers, but how they were disappointed that Jesus wasn’t the rescuer they wanted him to be. Jesus was going to fix things, but not in the way people expected. I’ll tell them that the rulers didn’t like Jesus because he was popular. They thought he was lying and breaking a law when he said he was God’s son. One of Jesus’ friends was so disappointed that he told the rulers where to find Jesus so they could arrest him for breaking the law.
The story will move to the war shrine on the estate, full of the names of local people who died in the wars; names given to the roads on the estate. Do they know anyone who has died? Perhaps they visit somewhere special to remember them. The story will explain that the rulers wanted to punish Jesus for lying and decided that he would die, even though he hadn’t done anything wrong because he really is the son of God. Jesus’ punishment was to die by being nailed to a wooden cross, and Christians, people who believe in Jesus, remember this on a day called Good Friday. I’ll explain that it’s called Good Friday because even though it was bad for Jesus, it was good for people. Jesus died because he loves people. Jesus did fix the broken world by taking on himself all the wrong we do. Finally, we’ll come back to the cross on hot cross buns, which reminds us of the cross Jesus died on. It’s a cross for wrong, the wrong which breaks the world and means sad and bad things happen, and a cross for love, that Jesus loves people enough to die for them.
The story will end in the park green area amidst the trees and bushes where we’ll explore what we like to do in gardens. I’ll explain that our story ends in the garden where Jesus had been buried. How Jesus’ friends went to the garden to clean Jesus’ body, but when they got there the tomb was empty. At first Jesus’ friends didn’t know what had happened, but then they saw…Jesus was alive! I’ll explain that this is what Christians celebrate at Easter, that Jesus died and then came back to life which is why we think about signs of new life – eggs, chicks and bunnies. It's also why the cross on the hot cross bun is empty.
Finally, I’ll add that new life wasn’t just for Jesus. Because he died and came back to life, anyone who is his friend is offered new life and hope too.
The Easter story might be harder to tell than the Christmas story with its cute baby, but it does speak into the hopelessness many feel and the need for hope which we all have. The Christmas story can often stand on its own in a nativity play, no explanation needed. The Easter story, however, is so alien to our culture it demands an explanation. Dig below the surface, to the very contemporary themes within it, and the opportunity we have this Easter is revealed.
I’m hoping that the Easter hunt and activity morning will lead to conversations. I’ll have copies of the latest HOPE for All magazine with its article about celebrities who wear crosses, so that I have something to offer when opportunities present themselves. HOPE shop : Hope for All Magazine 2022 (hopetogether.org.uk)