SPIRITUALLY SPEAKING: Charles Dickens’ great expectations at Easter

Do you have great expectations for Easter? I have always loved Easter, particularly our family turkey dinners.

My earliest childhood Easter memories are of bunnies, chocolate, eggs, bonnets, lilies, flower crosses, and joyful singing. Easter can be a time of reconnecting and celebrating, a time of healing and new life. In Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities, as the hero Carton takes his friend Darnay’s place on the guillotine, he repeats Jesus’ Easter words: “I am the resurrection and the life.” Because of the unforgettable Christmas Carol book, most associate Dickens more with Christmas than Easter. Yet Dickens had great expectations not just of Christmas but also of Easter. In most of Dickens’ novels, there are Easter moments of unexpected hope, transformation and breakthrough. Dickens rarely leaves us stuck in despair. The Easter moment in Oliver Twist was Oliver being welcomed into the kindly Brownlow family.  

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In Hard Times, life without mystery, creativity, and the supernatural is portrayed as barren, meaningless, and empty. In contrast to Easter, the materialistic philosophy in Hard Times taught that everything could be reduced to utilitarian facts and monetary gain.

Even heaven, said the teacher Thomas Gradgrind, could only be entered through earning one’s own salvation. Other people to Gradgrind were little more than depersonalized machines only to be valued as they served the industrial complex.

Gradgrind was like an Easter Scrooge, saying bah humbug to anyone with great expectations. But no matter how hard he tried, Gradgrind could not crush the Easter imagination, expectations, and compassion seen in Sissy. Only when Gradgrind’s daughter Louisa emotionally collapsed did Gradgrind finally realize that life is more than just bare cold facts. Even Scrooges can discover great expectations.

In The Life of our Lord, Dickens shared the deep faith he had in Christmas and Easter. Easter for Dickens was about great expectations, about Jesus’ resurrection love. To Dickens, Jesus “was always merciful and tender. And because he did such good, and taught people how to love God and how to hope to go to heaven after death, he was called our Saviour.”

Dickens explained that the Saviour would teach men to love one another, and not to quarrel and hurt one another; and his name will be called Jesus Christ. Dickens believed in the Easter resurrection of Jesus.

In The Life of our Lord, Dickens recorded five accounts of Jesus’ resurrection appearances after his crucifixion. Dickens had great expectations at Easter because he looked past the Easter baskets and bunnies to the very heart of Easter: Jesus’ death and resurrection. As an Easter person, Dickens wanted his children to know because Christ is risen indeed, there is always a way forward. My prayer for the Deep Cove-Seymour community is that this Easter would be a time of great expectations, great breakthroughs, and great hope.

Rev. Ed Hird, is rector, St. Simon’s Church North Vancouver.

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