To some Easter means chocolate eggs and having a good time. To others it marks the death of Jesus, probably on Friday 3rd April AD33. However, for many there is room for both. Good Friday can therefore be a day of celebration, of sad reflection, or both.
So it was that on Good Friday this year I decided to walk into Battle on a sunny, if rather fresh spring morning to observe the town and some of its people.
My first port of call was Battle Baptist Church. As I sat amongst the gathering throng I considered the rough cross, at the front. It seemed strange that this instrument of execution and torture should form the centre-piece. Strange, but powerful, on this of all days.
As the service commenced, dominated by the singing of Easter songs, I was nearly brought to tears. It was as if I were attending one of many family funerals, scattered over the years. In reality I was. The occasion was oddly cathartic, but leaving me emotionally drained. I confess I left before its conclusion, yet uplifted.
As I returned to the spring sunshine, a group of ladies dressed as boxes of Easter eggs, went before me. As we made our way down the High Street, joined by others in fancy-dress it was evident that I had effectively moved from the atmosphere of a funeral, to that of a wake.
Arrayed round The Green were enough trestle tables to equip a wall-paperer’s convention. Each offered tempting foods, games or artefacts designed to entice the Easter celebrant. The smooth tones of a crooner filled the air, mixing with the smell of burgers and everywhere was bright colours. Probably half of those attending, sported unusual dress. Nursery rhyme characters, a bridal entourage and even Captain Mainwaring and his home guard, mingled with an air of conviviality. Bizarrely, the components of a full English Breakfast sat exchanging views on one of the benches.
Central to it all were the marbles’ boards, overseen by top-hatted umpires intent on ensuring due propriety between contesting teams. The competition bore none of the intensity I recall from my playground years. Back in the 1960s the stakes were high, with winner takes all. Instead members of each team politely took it in turns to propel a large ‘glass-alley’ at a collection of small white marbles, gathered at the far end of a board. Whenever a marble was struck, a ripple of applause and cheering broke out.
This was essentially a sport for the committed participant. So as a mere spectator I quietly melted away and returned to everyday life. Perhaps as most spectators to the events in Jerusalem did two thousand years ago?