Given the decline of Christian belief in the UK, it’s surprising to discover there’s quite so much about the Easter story on the airwaves this week. You might have assumed that no space would have been found in the schedules for a retelling of the central but yet most difficult Christian narrative....
Yet on the evening of Good Friday, Radio 2 gave us an hour-long meditation uncompromisingly entitled At the Foot of the Cross [actually, it was two hours-long]. No avoiding, then, the implications of that story — the bloodied hands and feet, the rejection, the pain, the utter despair, and the apocalyptic rupture of the Temple curtain at the hour of three, when the skies darkened and the last words of Christ echoed through Calvary. On 4, there was not only a Good Friday meditation by the Archbishop of York but also The Archers put Chris on the Cross, quite literally, as the Ambridge villagers acted out the Passion with Neil Carter’s blacksmith son taking on the central, sacrificial role. (‘The hunky young farrier with his chest out,’ as Kirsty so memorably foretold a week earlier.)
Radio 3, meanwhile, devoted The Essay all week to five meditations on Christian themes by the journalist Madeleine Bunting.
Charles Moore was impressed with the latter too. As was I.
Radio 4 today gave us not one but two Easter Sunday services - a lovely Roman Catholic Sunrise Service at 6.35 am and an extended Anglican Easter Sunday Service from Stratford-upon-Avon at 8.10 am, complete with music by Haydn and Vaughan Williams. The close of the Bishop of Warwick's Shakespeare-tinged sermon ran as follows (for those of you with a taste for Church of England sermons):
The Orthodox icon of the Resurrection is at one and the same time the icon of the descent into hell. The good news of Easter is not pie in the sky when we die. It does not bypass or deny the horrors of Good Friday. The risen Christ bears the marks of his wounds. He comes to his wounded world and to us in the darkness and struggles of our real lives to draw us into the light of his resurrection life.
So this ‘quintessence of dust’ - your life and mine - is destined for glory, for resurrection life, and that means now! So we can pray with Herbert: Rise heart, thy Lord is risen/Sing his praise without delays,/Who takes thee by the hand, that thou likewise/With him may’st rise.’
BBC TV hasn't been holding back either.
BBC One had The Great North Passion on Friday, and today gave us Easter Worship from Leicester Cathedral at 10.00 am, Pope Francis's Urbi et Orbi (Easter message and blessing) at 11.00 am, a repeat of an old Easter edition of Songs of Praise at 11.20 am, plus a new Easter edition of Songs of Praise at 5.10 pm. [This was lovely but, in typical BBC style, pointedly 'rubbed our noses in diversity': Bill Turnbull is treated to a Polish traditional Easter meal, learns about the Moravian custom of remembering the dead and visits a stunning Greek Orthodox church - all within the boundary of Yorkshire. Young Catholics from across the county sing some old favourites, and there is a performance by the BBC Radio 2 Young Choristers of the Year.]
BBC Two gave us Easter from King's and, somewhat more tangentially, Messiah at the Foundling Hospital (Handel's Messiah is an Easter work, not a Christmas one - though I don't mind when it's performed!), plus King of Kings on Good Friday.
Credit where credit's due to the BBC here - as I suspect Polly Toynbee, A.C. Grayling, Andrew Copson and Richard Dawkins won't be saying (a feeling I'd have shared with them in years gone by).
No one can reasonably accuse the BBC of ignoring/downgrading Easter this year.