In the Christian calendar Lent is a time for reflection before celebration.
In particular, it is a time to reflect upon the Passion of Christ and the announcement made to three (Conservative!) women at the dawn of the first Easter Day – “He has risen!”
Lent is an important time because that Easter announcement demands clear decision-making. While Christmas is assimilated by many as merely great narrative – the refugee baby, power worshipping innocence, the insights of the lowly denied to the great and so on, Easter is different.
Easter is not a story from which everyone can take something – far from it. However much people may try and find another message – perhaps one about injustice, Easter is undeniably ultimately about a death. And there is nothing less nuanced than death. By definition, death does not leave a narrative to go on exploring.
Instead of inviting exploration of ambiguity, Easter poses a binary question – did a man rise miraculously from the dead 2000 years ago and in so doing prove that Christmas is ultimately about the coming of God as man. In the words of the Easter hymn, “He lives, he lives Christ Jesus lives today”….Or does he? That is the question that Easter asks and which Lent reflects upon. At Easter there is no spiritual Switzerland- no place of neutrality. The New Testament makes itself a hostage to fortune by rejecting any such grey areas- “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith”. The line of the hymn is true or it is untrue.
Lent 2016 has coincided with the early weeks of campaigning for the Euro referendum. Those weeks have been consumed by argument and counter-argument over the implications of “Brexit” and “Remain”. Much ink has already been spilt on the effects on economic well-being, migration, “rights” etc of the decision to be made on 23rd June.
What has, perhaps, been lost amid all the sound and fury has been that the decision to be made in the plebiscite is not ultimately about those things – it too is a binary decision.
In all the debate the question itself seems to have received little, if any mention, and yet it is that which will confront the eyes of the electorate in the voting booth. Do you know what the question is?
The question originally proposed by The European Referendum Act was:
“Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?”
That gave the appearance of being a binary question – it has a “Yes” or “No” answer but that initial impression was deceptive.
For reasons helpfully explained by the Electoral Commission on their website, the question that will now face the electorate will be,
“Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”
In recommending that re-phrasing, adopted by Parliament in September 2015, the Commission highlighted that there was no burden of proof placed on those who argued against the status quo. The question is now a truly binary one – the onus on each side to argue their case is the same. Quite rightly, there is to be no presumption applied or default option allowed when it comes national self-determination.
Binary questions require each side to advance their own case rather than seeking merely to undermine the other. To only or primarily do the latter is in fact tacitly to concede the argument.
For much of our nation’s history, Easter – the season asking the great question of personal self-determination – was understood in these terms. It was widely acknowledged that the New Testament with its eye-witnesses and touch-witnesses to the resurrection (without which there would not be one billion people currently calling themselves Christian, without which history would not be divided into BC and AD and without which there would not be 2000 years of Christendom) had proved its case and that it was for others to refute it.
Although nothing has changed as to the Bible’s testimony and yet, at least in this country, the binary question posed has been manipulated into one where it is assumed that no positive case need be presented as to why the Bible’s claims are wrong. That is as deceptive as was the original referendum question in inferring that “Remain” did not have to argue its own case.
That deception can rob people of hope that could rightfully theirs – “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people to be pitied. “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep”.
Binary questions need not to be feared for their lack of ambiguity but can be welcomed for the hope they may hold out. As Lent ends there will be less than three months to decide whether “Remain” or “Leave” will better produce at least greater temporal life and hope for our nation. Let there be much reflection in order that there might be much celebration.