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By Jason Michael
It is accomplished. The scales have fallen from our eyes. The stone has been rolled away. It is the morning, and we have risen. An Eastertide reflection on the story of Scotland – a people awoken, a nation rising, and this is only the beginning.
Easter Sunday 2017, and I am about to let slip my thoughts and allow them to wade out into a place they have never before been permitted. Pádraig Pearse’s great genius was his ability to reach into the deepest recesses of Ireland’s cultural imagination and fuse the language and symbolism he found there with the highest national aspirations of his country. What he produced was arguably the most powerful form of Irish nationalism in the long history of Ireland’s struggle for freedom from British domination. Until very recently, in my own thinking, I have not been a fan.
Religion and the mythology of nationhood are a volatile combination, creating – as we see in the work of Pearse – an ideology verging on extremism. Unionist efforts in Scotland to present the SNP as a “cult” highlight the fact that unionism – which has always been a quasi-religio-political force – is already betraying its anxieties around Scottish nationalism developing a similar dynamic. Whether we are religious or not, the universal themes of religion are what they are, precisely because of the commonality of the human imagination – and there is certainly nothing wrong with reinterpreting and recycling these themes.
Easter is one such theme. Within Christian cultures – including more secular nations such as our own where we have been shaped through history by Christian ideas – we have this story of death and resurrection. This idea is replicated in every religion and tradition. It is a narrative retelling of a human tale embodying the cyclical movement of the seasons; the progress from the death of winter into the rebirth of spring. Pearse retold this story, but he reinterpreted it as a story of the rebirth of Ireland – “the risen people” – overcoming the death that was foreign occupation.
We are free to do the same. Remove the familiar, half-remembered story of the resurrection from all the trappings and baubles – the angels, the rolling stones, the eggs, and bunny rabbits – and what we are left with is a story of complete and utter defeat, of death and rising, and of victorious vindication. Where in its details is this unlike the story of Scotland? We have stood upon the pavement before Pilate and he has washed his hands of us. We have been ignored and neglected. Justice has been denied to us. We have been lashed under the hand of the cohort. We have been stolen from, humiliated, rejected, and despised. We have been nailed to that ignominious gibbet and we too have perished. In Union the placard above us reads: Scocie Mortuus Est, Vivat Rex.
Yes, we too are a risen people. This was not the final end of us. Our story does not end here. We are only at the beginning of our story.
We remember that the story of the crucifixion is set against the backdrop of empire, and its hero a simple man – ecce homo – who would not take up the sword and who taught his followers to turn the other cheek to every humiliation and act of violence. Their every violence has robbed them of their humanity; like wild predators they hunt down and maul the poor, the old, the disabled. Without conscience they take food from the mouths of children, they degrade the degraded, they have become the despoilers of the world and of us. By taking up the sword we become like them. In spite of all this we have risen, and the guards at our tomb have fled away.
It is only a story, but already it is one that has made us evangelical in our zeal to spread the message of our liberation – our rebirth, our resurrection. This is a narrative of national renewal – invested with the language and symbols of our history and traditions – that has made what we are doing an unstoppable force. And look now! We can see it clearly because the night has ended and the morning has broken – the stone is rolling away. Let us arise and be on our way. Scotland has risen. It has risen indeed – Beannuichibh an Tighearn!