Christians of all stripes come to the holiest weekend of the year in a spirit of renewal and joy. Despite the march of secularism, faith in the resurrection of Christ still sustains millions in this country and a great many more beyond its shores. Indeed, contrary to the received wisdom, some Anglican dioceses have recently seen attendances rising – and not simply as a result of immigration, which is often held to be the only thing keeping the Church in Britain from collapse.
Yet the elation of Easter will undoubtedly be overshadowed by the knowledge that Christians around the world face persecution for their beliefs. They are not alone in that, of course. Brutal conflict between Shia and Sunni Muslims across Syria and Iraq is driven by religious ideology; Hindu minorities from Pakistan to Yemen face harassment for reasons of religion too. Anti-Semitism is on the rise here and abroad.
Nevertheless, recent horrors have thrown the threat to Christians into sharp relief. The appalling slaughter of Christian students on a campus in north-eastern Kenya by the Islamist al-Shabaab militia is the latest attack by that group, which was also responsible for the slaughter of dozens of people in the Nairobi shopping centre outrage of 2013.
In Nigeria, massacres by the extremists of Boko Haram have left Christians in the country’s north afraid to worship in public. The recent beheading of a group of Coptic Christians by Isis killers on a Libyan beach brought the slaughter to Europe’s doorstep. Churches in Lahore were bombed last month. Mosul, a city where Christians had worshipped continuously for 1,600 years, is one of several in Iraq from which entire communities have been driven out.
Turning the other cheek is not easy: religious hate all too often begets more persecution in return. But people of all faiths and none must ultimately live on a single planet. Better to do so peaceably than in a state of perpetual conflict. This Easter, believers and non-believers alike could do worse than reflect for a moment on that hope.