The usefulness of hot cross buns on New Year's Day
How did you feel when hot cross buns appeared next to the Coles checkout on January 1st? Thrilled that you could transfer your Christmas spirit on? Annoyed at the commercialization of Easter? Pleased that they are again doing the chocolate option? Dismayed at the thought of the Facebook and newspaper column complaints?
Personally, I groaned, because ‘Jesus cross buns’ are my child’s favourite food in the world, and I wasn’t enjoying the thought of the months of begging ahead. If people like hot cross buns so much, can’t they just buy fruit toast? Why start bringing Easter to mind so early?
But I don’t think we Christians should really criticize Woolworths and Coles for working to get the most mileage they can out of Easter. We ought to be more excited about Easter than any company; we ought to take a leaf from their book and start planning for Easter.
For example, now is the time for us to be preparing our non-Christian friends to accept an invitation to come to church on Good Friday. We don’t need to spring the idea on them a week before Easter; we can be sowing seeds in their hearts and minds now to make it more likely that they will say yes. In fact, if you start now, they may even come to faith beforehand and you will have the privilege of celebrating their ‘first’ Easter with them!
How do we do that? I suppose turning a conversation about early hot cross buns into a discussion about how important Easter is to you could be a beginning! Be praying each morning for the opportunity to bring up Easter with someone you’ll see that day. Once you’re on the topic, if they’re a reader, give them a gift like Naked God or Made for More—and if not a reader, go for a booklet like Can we trust what the gospels say about Jesus? (this is why you always want to have a range of evangelistic resources hanging around the house!). Talk about what you usually do for Easter, and why. If they already know what you do at church, it will be that much easier for them to say yes when you invite them in a month or so.
If you can plan ahead to have the time free, it would be even better to sit down together and read through Mark 11-16, say once a week over five weeks. You don’t need anything but a venue and a Bible to do this (though if reading the Bible with someone is scary for you, there’s help here). Could you have breakfast with a colleague before work starts? Could you grab a coffee with another parent after school drop-off? If you can manage your diary to free up time connected to when you’d see your friend anyway, it will feel more natural on both ends (and probably also be less likely to be cancelled week to week).
This is also the time for church staff to be planning how they will serve all the people that the wider congregation are going to bring with them at Easter. Is it time to organize some Easter lunches, so that people can be invited to church and a meal at the same time? Those from non-Western cultures often quite like to come and see what ‘Australian’ traditions are, like how Westerners go and gawk at temples in South-East Asia (a Japanese friend I invited once stood up in the middle of the Easter service to take photos), so a lamb roast may be a great drawcard. Doing a great job on these kinds of events takes time and commitment; finding the right people now is essential.
And what tracts would suit your community? The Godforsaken God? A translation of Two Ways to Live? Giving a tract away with a chocolate egg is an old move, but it still works better with strangers at the train station than anything else I’ve tried, so it pays to think through what your likely demographics are (and even have a few options in your hand).
One of the reasons the supermarkets find it both easy and profitable to co-opt celebrations like Christmas and Easter is because traditions are developed by humans to serve human needs. People like to meet and party, to feel the comfort of the same thing happening at the same time each year. As Christians we are people who benefit from a collective annual reminder that we needed saving and that Jesus was willing to do it. Why not gain some spiritual profit off people buying hot cross buns for months by using it as an annual reminder that sharing the gospel at Easter can also take months?