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Deep calling on deep



Some years ago there was a campaign to put Christ back into Christmas, and to a lesser extent into Easter. The Infant Jesus in the crib and the Risen Jesus were being overwhelmed by Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. That battle has been lost. Christmas and Easter have become secular celebrations in society, though with a sizeable minority recognizing their religious significance.

The important question raised now by Easter is whether the meanings of Australian Easter, and indeed those available to our secular society, have the depth needed to handle our present predicaments. 

In our culture Easter celebrates the benignity of the ordinary. It is a time for getting together with family, for going away to bush or beach, and in southern states a time of mild weather ideal for watching big football matches and other sport. Easter reassures us that all is well with the world and will continue to be well. In the great Australian phrase, she’ll be right, mate. There is no crisis to face, no need to do anything dramatic, we can keep on steady as she goes. We can trust in entropy and in technological solutions to all problems that therefore need not affect our lives. We can be assured that coming Easters will require as little of us as this Easter. The sea is flat, storms are manageable, and the journey safe.

If that description of the Australian Easter is accurate the shape of the emerging election campaign is exactly calibrated to match it. Both parties are a one in assuring us that life can continue as at present with gifts from the government to smooth over bumps, reliance on mining to provide economic growth, and no need for aid to people who are disadvantaged, or for changes in policy that might disadvantage the highly advantaged. Like Easter, election time promises to be party time.

We shall be very fortunate indeed if the assumptions on which the flat Australian Easter and the steady as she goes election campaign rest are based in reality. That, however, seems increasingly unlikely. We may face a series of interlocking crises that will force us to choose between an increasingly dystopian future and radical social change to mitigate its harm.


'In its beginnings Easter was not a celebration of the continuity of good times but of the happy disruption of bad times. Life and hope flared out from where death and darkness had reigned.'


The last few years have provided a glimpse of that future, of the change necessary to avoid it, and of the huge change in attitudes and behaviour that such change will entail. The coronavirus dispelled the trust in an increasingly disease-free future, exposed the growing inequality in society intensified by the response to the virus, and also showed the power of science and technology to help deal with the crisis when harnessed to wise governance. But the social change necessary to deal with change has been avoided.

The greatest challenge to continuity between our past and our future lies in climate change. In Australia and elsewhere we have seen a glimpse of the future in extreme climate events such as floods, heatwaves, rising sea levels and bushfires. These will become more frequent even if we moderate global warming. The latest report of the Intergovernmental panel on climate change acknowledges the part played by technology in moderating the rise of emissions, but emphasises the need for systemic and world-wide change to hold global warming at a less than catastrophic level.

Attempts to moderate global warming are also vulnerable to the division of the world into hostile blocs as a result of the Ukraine war. Nations committed to reduce emissions through fossil fuels are now increasing the mining and export of those fuels to compensate for disruptions to world trade as a result of sanctions. The focus on war and on the demands of security threaten the undivided attention necessary to respond to the environmental crisis.

Finally the growing inequality of society and political polarisation make it difficult for politicians to recognise, still less respond to, the need for radical change.

This suggests that the flat approach to Easter as the assurance of the normal will be inadequate to deal with our situation. An adequate response requires that we recognise the precariousness of our predicament and nourish a hope that gives energy for radical change. That is the vision underlying the Christian understanding of Easter.

In its beginnings Easter was not a celebration of the continuity of good times but of the happy disruption of bad times. Life and hope flared out from where death and darkness had reigned. Easter represented the victory of life over death, of victory over a crushing defeat, connection over isolation, freedom over captivity and hope over despair. It is an exuberant feast in which the overflow of joy is measured by the depths of grief that preceded it. In the Christian churches Easter Sunday follows Good Friday which focuses on Christ’s torture and execution. It represents the hope that speaks to the experience of the loss of everything at the personal, national or universal level.

The temptation for Christians is to smooth over the extremes of Easter. If we underplay the depth of darkness with which the light of Easter contrasts, we finish with a beige feast. Small pain, small gain. Seen from God’s perspective the story of Easter represents God’s salvation of humanity through Jesus’ rejection, humiliation and dehumanising execution, all leading to his rising to life. The Scriptures variously describe this as being taken out of death into life, from slavery into freedom, from sin to forgiveness, and from despair into joy. In each of these images early Christians measured the astounding and exuberant joy of Jesus’ rising by the horrific story of his death. The extent of our salvation is matched to the equally dramatic extent of our need. If we pass lightly over the reality of human sinfulness and the extent of our need, we also minimise the extraordinary gift of salvation, so domesticating the scope of God’s promises. A small human need and a sanitised crucifixion lead to restrained happiness at the minor victory that was won at Easter and little energy for change.

The extremes of Easter speak to our times. This year has revealed the depth of our need as persons and as a human community. The inadequacy of our response to climate change and other crises speak to the need for a salvation greater than technology and business as usual can provide. They demand a united human response where communities and nations come together to act for the common good.

To make this response we need a hope based on a realistic estimate of the crisis we face. Easter Sunday invites us to ask where we shall find that such a hope in the face of the things that make for despair. The Australian Easter is too shallow to provide it. It invites us to ask where else we might find it in a secular society?   





Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street, and writer at Jesuit Social Services.

Main image:  Chocolate Easter bunnies in a row. (Betsie Van der Meer / Getty Images)

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, Easter, Jesus, AusPol, Election



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Existing comments

This perspective on our appreciation, or lack thereof, of the sacrifices necessary to maintain our living space and our peace, and the saving grace that will bring this redemption from the "four horsemen" of threats to our lives and well-being, is a salutary reminder that the world does not owe us. We need a wake-up.

That puts a new frame around a series of stories lately about demonstrations in our streets. Generally people demonstrate about things that are important to them. If their feeling of threat is strong enough to impel them to dangerous and illegal steps, then the likelihood is higher that they are moved by conscience to act.

That puts a different perspective on actions to encourage more emphasis by government on countering the dangers of climate change. This is an existential threat, and yet our governments, state and federal, don't seem to want to face up to the threat. The people who are trying to awaken us and them are, in this perspective, prophets.

Patrick Mahony | 14 April 2022  

Yes, deep... Andrew, if I wasn't sure you have a support network of friends to illuminate the darkness down there, a bit of faith and that "big Fella" on your side I'd be worried about you. The Reality of which you speak is a land not too far, no visa or passport required but seldom visited by politicians on the hustings; the tour brochures for Reality are usually prepared by a those who live through it but can't escape or others unfortunate to visit hoping never to return; similar to Trip Advisor, but collated by (Royal) Commissioners who prepare endless reports stating the obvious (again) then make recommendations to be considered for several years then archived conveniently to be consulted and reviewed at subsequent Commissions... which is I'm sure what inspired Xerox to invent a photocopy machine and Microsoft the "cut and paste". An eternity of knowing better, doing less but promising more; a spin cycle of re-inventing the obvious to claim ownership of a "new" solution. Enjoy your Easter, thanks for the article.

ray | 14 April 2022  

The Almighty really pulled the ultimate swifty when Jesus rose from the dead. Karl Barth said Christianity rose or fell by this glorious mystery. Many modern militant atheists seek to ridicule and thus destroy Christianity, just as the Soviet Union tried. That experiment failed spectacularly. Russian Christianity coped with the likes of Ivan the Terrible, Catherine the Great and Joseph Stalin and it will survive Vladimir Putin. Jesus, in his short ministry, concentrated on the moral and ethical revival of the religion of his day. He carefully differentiated the religious and political spheres. That does not mean all the issues you have raised are unimportant. My own opinion is that, until we sort out our own inner spiritual life, we don't have a proper base with which to save the world and could end up worshipping Gaia. We must not confuse Greta Thunberg, estimable as she may well be, with Mother Theresa, who is a saint. They proceeded from different motives to do different things. Mother Theresa dealt with "the hopeless". Jesus did too. In our ignorance of what really matters and trying to get it right, I would contest we are all "hopeless". The Abrahamic Faiths promise help. We should take it with open hands. It is a gift.

Edward Fido | 15 April 2022  

“The Scriptures variously describe this as being taken out of death into life, from slavery into freedom, from sin to forgiveness, and from despair into joy.” To dwell on “from sin to forgiveness” it is worth considering Sin with a capital S as it conveys the entropic experience of Paul the Apostle: execution never fully realises intention, whether the intention be good or bad. As this entropy will grind on, so do false consciousness and invincible ignorance increase. We see the signs all around us as pundits and others demand impossibly perfect solutions to the problems that assail us: DV, international hostilities, environmental vandalism, technology led consumerism etc. Times like Easter can reinforce the ‘power of one’, here Jesus of Nazareth, who nevertheless saw the negentropic value of “where two or three gather …” There is hope in the emergence of pretty ordinary twos and threes who so often give the lie to the total irresistibility of Sin. Think of the homegrown modest responses to recent fires and floods and refugees fleeing war. There is hope even that rampant false consciousness and invincible ignorance will not be totally consuming scenarios.

Noel McMaster | 15 April 2022  

Andrew Hamilton, I greatly appreciate your input to Eureka Street.
In your article above, you express the anxiety I feel to our world’s reluctance and seeming inability, to come together with any real truthful and urgent commitment to our planet, it’s people, animals and insect population, and its deep problems.
I feel God can only help us if we see and admit to how we have lost our way. God help us in our ignorance.

Linda Rees | 16 April 2022  

Fr Andrew the problem with Easter from a religious pew perspective is that it has been rammed down our throats since we were infants, at mass, at primary and secondary school, at University and beyond.
The distinction between the secular version is that it's a selling tool for chocolate, bunnies, dvds in the supermarkets and online books with Amazon in particular jumping on the bandwagon.
The regurgitated religious sermonising is long overdue for a completely fresh approach.
One of the most idiotic lectures on Macbeth I witnessed at University involved the lecturers and tutors at Melb University crawling around the stage, books clutched in hand, reading from their Shakespeare play lines.
No disrespect but the current parts reading during Holy week, (Palm Sunday) and Easter is not much better.

Francis Armstrong | 16 April 2022  

‘That battle has been lost.’

Has it? Has Putin yet lost in Ukraine? Not while he keeps going. He loses when he stops. If he doesn’t and turns all of Ukraine into useless rubble, he’s still won.

The purpose of Easter is for Christians to have a similar mono-focus, to re-fill the churches, and with orthodoxy, because other flavours of claimed christian-ness are merely one or other kind of idolatry. Re-fill the churches with orthodoxy and eventually the nation will become novaturient in the correct way.

The question is whether social improvement leads to God or whether God leads to social improvement. The Great Commission, given by the man who spent much of his time in eleemosynary miracle-work, but only after making the petitioners listen to instruction in orthodoxy, implies that after the nation knows God, because the Word of God needs to be received before bread from God, other things will fall into place. If God knows how to look after creatures which cannot spin or weave, he knows how to look after those which can.

Although it is only the Catholic and Orthodox which are true Church, other Christian denominations being ecclesiastical organisations, sometimes those other Christians can be more incisive, as this account, which implies that war is just a repetition on a wider scale of the breakdown of connection to God sponsored by the likes of local teal philosophies in Warringah and other similar places. If John Lennon is in heaven, he would be the first to agree to the somewhat acrid comment on his earthly self, and, from the Lennon comment, it can be extrapolated that it cannot be a welcome sight for an alternative prime minister to be campaigning with the intimate support of someone other than his still-living sacramentally-wedded wife:

https://www. presbyterian.org.au/index.php/17-general/222-the-grief-of-war

The theme of the article is what should a world which takes Easter seriously look like. So, what should it?

roy chen yee | 18 April 2022  

Provocative invitation, Andrew. Our Australian Easter is beige indeed. And the Triduum ceremonies which I attended (could hardly say participate) did little to change the colour. We are invited into a profound transformation, And we are challenged to keep finding ways of letting the real Easter be a reality.

vivien williams | 18 April 2022  

Corrupt societies don’t “have the depth needed to handle our present predicaments”, but ipso facto can’t even recognize those predicaments.
The response to Covid did not show “wise governance.” Lockdowns represented a rejection of a century of settled science. Fear-mongering politicians and governments suppressed science supposedly in the public interest, but often for political and financial gain. All dissent from these buffoons was demonized.
We got “the worst of all worlds—a reaction that failed sufficiently to protect those who were at risk while imposing hugely damaging lockdowns on those who were not.” (Mark Woolhouse, professor of infectious diseases)
It was immoral to make children suffer emotionally, socially and educationally, and forced to pay an economic cost for the rest of their lives.
Governments are also failing to protect vulnerable children from radical transgender activists. Academic and medical research has become politicized and “high quality research casting doubt on affirmation has been suppressed, and low-quality research in its favour gets fast-tracked to publication.” (Helen Joyce, “Trans: When Ideology Meets Reality”)
Children are further being frightened by questionable climate alarmism.
The post WW2 order is collapsing, and a delusional gerontocracy in the US facilitates internal chaos while emboldening tyrants.

Ross Howard | 19 April 2022  

Judging from the responses you 've garnered, Andy, I worry that you might lose hope. Your fervorino, coupled with Natasha and Barry's offerings today, highlights a way out of the encircling gloom. A pity some here 'cannnae see' the difference between lighting a candle and cursing the darkness!

Michael Furtado | 30 April 2022  
Show Responses

The problem is those who hold a candle and then walk backwards.

roy chen yee | 08 May 2022  

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