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Restoring Health: body, mind and spirit

Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations at Easter

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By the Rev. Dr. Ed Hird

Do you have great expectations for Easter? I have always loved Easter, particularly our Easter 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 Sydney Carton takes his friend Darnay’s place on the guillotine, he repeats Jesus’ Easter words: “I am the resurrection and the life; he that believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever lives and believes in me, shall never die”.[1]  Most of us, because of the unforgettable Christmas Carol book, associate Dickens more with Christmas than Easter.[2]  Yet Dickens had great expectations not just of Christmas but also of Easter.  Dickens was a true Easter person.  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.[3]

In Dickens’ book 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: “Now, what I want is facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but facts.  Facts alone are wanted in life.  Plant nothing else, and root out everything else…”[4]  Even heaven, said the teacher Thomas Gradgrind, could only be entered through earning one’s own salvation: “Every inch of the existence of mankind, from birth to death, was to be a bargain across a counter.  And if we didn’t get to heaven that way, it was not a politic-economical place, and we had no business there.”[5] 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.[6]  Only when Gradgrind’s daughter Louisa emotionally collapsed did Gradgrind finally realize that life is more than just bare cold facts, saying “The ground on which I stand has ceased to be solid under my feet.”[7] Through his Easter moment, Gradgrind began “making his facts and figures subservient to Faith, Hope and Charity, no longer trying to grind that heavenly trio in his dusty little mills.”[8]  Even Scrooges and Gradgrinds can discover great expectations.

In The Life of our Lord, Dickens’ least-known book, he shared with his ten children the deep faith that he had not only in Christmas, but also in Easter.  Easter for Dickens was about great expectations, about Jesus’ resurrection love: “No one ever loved all people so well and so truly as He did.”[9]  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.”[10] 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.[11]  Dickens believed in the Easter resurrection of Jesus, saying “as he is now in heaven, where we hope to go, and all to meet each other after we are dead, you can never think what a good place heaven is without knowing who he was and what he did.”[12] In The Life of our Lord, Dickens recorded five accounts of Jesus’ resurrection appearances after his crucifixion, commenting that the resurrected Jesus “was seen by five hundred of his followers at once, and He remained with others of them forty days.”[13]

Charles Dickens had great expectations at Easter, because he looked past the Easter baskets, bonnets, 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, even in hard times. My prayer for those reading this article is that this Easter would be a time of great expectations, great breakthroughs, and great hope.

The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, BSW, MDiv, DMin

-an article previously published in the North Shore News/Deep Cove Crier

[1] Charles Dickens, Tale of Two Cities, 3.9.89.  Right before his guillotining, Carton memorably said: “I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss, and, in their struggles to be truly free, in their triumphs and defeats, through long years to come, I see the evil of this time and of the previous time of which this is the natural birth, gradually making expiation for itself and wearing out.” (3.15.46)

[2] Charles Dickens, Christmas Carol, http://www.stormfax.com/1dickens.htm

[3] Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist, https://books.google.ca/books?isbn=1904232469 , 40, http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/730

[4] Charles Dickens, Hard Times, (Pocket Books, Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2007, New York, NY),  9.

[5] Hard Times, 376.

[6] Hard Times, 410.

[7] Hard Times, Third Book, One Thing Needful, Chapter 1, p. 2.

[8] Hard Times, Chapter IX, https://books.google.ca/books?isbn=1136413251http://www.victorianlondon.org/etexts/dickens/hard_times-0037.shtml

[9] Charles Dickens, The Life of Our Lord, http://www.chucknorris.com/Christian/Christian/ebooks/dickens_life.pdf

[10] The Life of Our Lord, 8.

[11] The Life of Our Lord, 14.

[12] The Life of Our Lord, 3.

[13] The Life of Our Lord, 31.

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Author: edhird

I was the Rector of St. Simon's Church North Vancouver, B.C for 31 years, from 1987 to 2018. Ordained in 1980, I have also served at St. Philip's Vancouver and St. Matthew's Abbotsford. My wife Janice and I have three sons James, Mark, and Andrew. I was Past President and Chaplain for Alpha Canada. While serving as the National Chair for Anglican Renewal Ministries of Canada, I was one of three co-signers of the Montreal Declaration of Anglican Essentials For the past 31 years, I have been privileged to write over 500 articles as a columnist on spiritual issues for local North Vancouver newspapers. In the last number of years, I have had the opportunity to speak at conferences and retreats in Honduras, Rwanda, Uganda, Washington State, BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland, and Ontario. My book For Better, For Worse: discovering the keys to a lasting relationship, coauthored with Janice Hird, can be purchased at https://www.amazon.com/Better-Worse-Discovering-lasting-relationship/dp/0978202236/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1535555614&sr=8-1 My sequel Restoring Health: body, mind and spirit, with a foreword by Dr JI Packer, is online with Amazon.com in both paperback http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/097820221X/ref=redir_mdp_mobile and ebook form http://tiny.cc/tanhmx . In Canada, Amazon.ca has it available in paperback http://tiny.cc/dknhmx and ebook http://tiny.cc/wmhmmx . It is also posted on Amazon UK (paperback and ebook ), Amazon France (paperback and ebook), and Amazon Germany (paperback and ebook). Restoring Health is also available online on Barnes and Noble in both paperback and Nook/ebook form. Nook gives a sample of the book to read online: http://tiny.cc/vj3bmx . Indigo also offers the Kobo ebook version: http://tiny.cc/kreonx . You can also obtain it through ITunes as an IBook: http://tiny.cc/1ukiox The book 'Restoring Health: body, mind and spirit' focuses on strengthening a new generation of healthy leaders. Drawing on examples from Titus' healthy leadership in the pirate island of Crete, it shows how North Americans can embrace a holistically healthy life. In order to obtain a signed copy in North America of the prequel book 'Battle for the Soul of Canada', Blue Sky, or God's Firestarters, please send a $25 etransfer to ed_hird@telus.net . Cheques are also acceptable.

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