More than at Christmas there is a gulf between secular Easter with its eggs and flowers, chicks and chocolate, and Christian Easter, with its darkness and light, depths of agony and summit of joy.

You can ignore the spring bank holiday froth. Still, whether you believe in its teachings or not, Christian Easter is a complex festival whose shape configures the working week and defines the hope of the Western World, touching you whether or not you acknowledge it or welcome it. 

Easter’s central claim is to resurrection; to the belief that life in this world, “nasty brutish and short”, is not all there is. It is a claim which gives reason, meaning and purpose to our existence, which would otherwise be experienced as futile and empty. 

Easter’s assertion of the triumph of life over death permeates our society, which behaves as though it believes in the resurrection even when it claims not to.

“Early in the morning of the first day of the week the women came to the tomb and found that stone had been rolled away.” 

Easter is the key to the Christian ordering of time, and therefore to the weekly rhythm of Western Society. Weekends are as they are because the first day of the week, the day of resurrection, Sunday, is added to the sabbath. 

Easter is not a day nor a weekend. It is preceded by a season of penitence, preparation and fasting before Holy Week leading up to Easter, and it is followed by fifty days of celebration. 

It is almost a more difficult discipline to maintain the feast than it is during forty days of Lent to keep the fast.

Holy week begins on Palm Sunday, the sixth Sunday of Lenten fasting. 

Christ enters Jerusalem, riding on a donkey, the mount of kings, and the crowds acclaim him with palms of victory. Church-goers carry palm crosses and make processions. But the crowd was fickle, and those who cried Hosannah will soon shout Crucify! A world besotted by celebrities needs to learn where true worth is to be found. 

The first days of Holy Week are working days, in which the faithful come to church in the margins of other duties, the impregnation of formal worship and daily work which is the pattern of Christian life exhibited in the heart of the solemnities. 

On Thursday, begin the Great Three Days, or Triduum; now time is focused on the unfolding events. The Last Supper and betrayal; the arrest and trial; the crucifixion and death of Christ. Then, as so often in life, there is the terrible silence of bereavement, the day of entombment, before the inbreaking at dawn in the garden and the moment of resurrection. 

To those who walk the way of Holy Week, there is an extraordinary experience, the lived reality of eucatastrophe, that moment of glorious consummation when we do not know whether to laugh or cry, and the shiver runs down the spine at the unlooked-for triumph that nevertheless does nothing to belittle the suffering that has been the way. 

The risen body of Jesus yet bore the wounds of the nails. Most people who don’t profess to believe nevertheless, configure their lives in dogged optimism around the assumption that there is more at the end than the darkness of Good Friday. Their hope, even if unacknowledged, stems ultimately from the Easter dawn.

We all face and fear death. Fr George Congreve catches what it is to face death in the light of Easter: 

“Death is no doubt coming nearer every minute to you as well as to me; But we will not allow ourselves to be frightened by the approach of death, as [an unbeliever] might be, as if death were an evil spectre coming to end him. … We will quietly remember that death is Christ our life coming to us: “the Master is come and calls for thee,” opening the door for us out of the world of discipline into the world which is home, to change seeking and desiring into possessing, to change death into life which is life indeed.”    

The Ven Luke Miller has been Archdeacon of London since January 2016, and was previously Archdeacon of Hampstead.