Easter as an enduring story of loss and hope

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Over the centuries Easter has changed its appearance to accommodate different societies. In the early centuries its celebration was workaday. The weekly Eucharist was a celebration, often in homes, to prepare for the return of Christ at the end of time.

Woman videochatting with grandson (Getty images/Jose Luis Pelaez )

When the persecutions stopped Easter took on a more elaborate appearance — large churches in the cities, a month of fasting to prepare for Easter and a week to celebrate the events leading up to Jesus’ death and Resurrection.

In a Christian society, too, the events, games, vegetation and meals at Easter were marked by Jesus’ story. Hot cross buns, Easter eggs, brodetto pasquale, passion plays, Easter lilies and passion fruit owe their names to Easter. Their names remain, even as secular events have also come to mark the season: from the football played on Easter Monday and then Good Friday, the Stawell Gift and country tennis tournaments.

In Christian churches the celebration of Easter this year will look more like Lent or Passion week. All Australians, too, will be without football, concerts, interstate and international travel and family gatherings. The atmosphere, too, will be one of constraint, not freedom. Instead of celebrating the present, we may be weighed down by fear and anxiety about the future. We are all captive to COVID-19.

These restrictions are hurtful. But they also open out to the original depths of the Easter story. In the Gospel stories Easter Sunday dawned as emptily as it threatens to this year. There was nothing to celebrate. Jesus’ world had been shut down; his disciples had shut themselves away in locked rooms in fear that they would be the next to suffer; the only people in the streets apart from the soldiers were a couple of Jesus’ friends, mostly women, whose love overcame their fear and drew them out to visit his tomb.

As the sun rose on Easter Sunday his followers had not simply lost a friend and a leader. They had also lost the hope and meaning they had found in him. They followed him because they believed that God would act through him to free his people. His crucifixion had proved that belief to be absurd and had taken away any grounds for hope. The leaders of his own people had disowned him. The Romans had done what they were experts at doing: they had killed him slowly outside the city, leaving him nailed naked and writhing to a timber pole, stripping him both of his humanity and of the credibility of his claim. Easter dawned in a desert.

 

'This year, as we contemplate all the things that could separate us from hope, Easter invites all of us, whether or not we share Paul’s faith, to reflect on what matters to us deeply enough to sustain us in the face of loss and death.'

 

The Gospel stories of Easter are stories of more than celebration. They evoke in various ways the disciples’ transition from despair at the death of their friend and leader and the loss of their own hope, to joy and the understanding that God has freed them though his death. Disciples cowering behind locked doors find Jesus in the room with them. Disciples leaving Jerusalem in grief find him walking with them. Mary Magdalene, grieving as she goes to the tomb to anoint his corpse finds him waiting unrecognised for her outside the tomb. These stories all point to the mystery of God’s presence and victory in what seemed to be a crushing defeat.

In a stirring passage, St Paul begins with the words ‘Nothing can separate us from the love of God’. He goes on to list the human catastrophes that might be expected to do so. He was confident because he believed so strongly that God had raised Jesus from the dead.

Today Paul might have added to his list of things overcome all the experiences of the COVID-19 — the sickness, death, isolation, impoverishment and loneliness that it has brought with itself. For him the raising of Jesus meant that beyond these things lay a hope and love that were stronger than death.

This year, as we contemplate all the things that could separate us from hope, Easter invites all of us, whether or not we share Paul’s faith, to reflect on what matters to us deeply enough to sustain us in the face of loss and death. If the celebrations of Easer are muted, its challenge to reflect on our lives and world is sharpened.

 

 

Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street

Main image: Palm tree in desert (Getty images/Jose Luis Pelaez)

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, COVID-19, Christian, Easter

 

 

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Easter invites us 'to reflect on what matters to us deeply enough to sustain us in the face of loss and death...' Eloquent and insightful, thank you.
Barry Gittins | 10 April 2020


This Easter I have reflected more deeply on loss and separation. Family members who are far away, who are particularly vulnerable to the current virus, our physical distance from loved ones we would normally embrace. These hard truths do not diminish our love but do create an unsettled space. Our younger family members will be sharing with us their Easter egg hunts on Easter Sunday (via FaceTime) and we grandparents are staging our own small Easter egg hunt for their benefit. Maybe this resonates a little with Jesus' appearance to his disciples and their wonder and eventual delight. Blessed Easter.
Pam | 10 April 2020


I love these inspiring words around Easter even in the face of the pains and challenges of Covid 19 - thank you. It is hard however as a Christian to not be deeply saddened for the churches massively inadequate and in parts arrogant response to the Pell acquittal (even from our Pope). The response from the church, to have any ongoing moral authority, must be compassion and belief in the victims of abuse, nothing else but humility and apology, remorse and regret! Until the so called "sanctity of the confessional" is abandoned and the safety of children honoured as the higher cause, the church is dead to me unfortunately....... But Fr Hamilton's words remain inspiring through all of this, thanks Andy for the message of hope amid whatever darkness there is!
Stephen Moss | 10 April 2020


One of the things which struck me about the Prime Minister's Easter Speech from his home was that he had an icon of Christ behind him. In Orthodoxy an icon is not just a picture but 'a window into Heaven'. It is significant to me that the man leading this country at this time of COVID-19 is a man of strong Christian faith who has stood by it at times it was unpopular such as at the time of the SSM vote. People often want a friend who will stand by them and not desert them. Jesus' testimony at the Crucifixion is that he was such a friend. He did not desert his mission when just about everyone deserted him. I think sometimes individual Christian churches become co-dependent islands closed to 'outsiders'. This was something I experienced with an Anglican church my wife once belonged to in Sydney. This stance is nonsense. As the late, saintly Metropolitan Anthony Bloom said, Jesus came not to found an institution but to save the world. Christianity is 'inclusive' in that it is open to everyone. One of the interesting parts of the Prime Minister's speech is that he wished everyone, Christian or other, a 'Happy Easter'. Joy is a Christian virtue. It was epitomised by the Resurrection. How come so many Christians are such joyless prigs?
Edward Fido | 10 April 2020


Thank you, Andrew. Beautifully written. May God continue to Bless you.
AJM | 10 April 2020


I can't think of a more horizon-opening starting point than St Paul's hope and its foundation for the reflection Andrew invites in these testing days.
John RD | 10 April 2020


Thank you very much Andrew and Happy Easter. We might take a little comfort in seeing we this year have something in common with the first disciples. At the Last Supper, Jesus told them, “All of you will be scattered, each to his own home.” (Jn 16, 32 NRSV) The Lord and the disciples made a very strong comeback; let’s hope it’s the same for the whole world in 2020.
Gerard Hore | 10 April 2020


A beautiful article which helps us make sense of our present situation and shows how our faith's story is repeated generation after generation. At this difficult time for the Christian church, our faith is affirmed and strengthened. thank you
Robin Beech | 10 April 2020


Andrew, this is not a criticism but an observation, as well as a query. I find it interesting that when you list the people who experienced the risen Jesus, you put Mary Magdalene last in the order of events. (And/or importance?) And yet she was the first to whom the risen Christ chose to reveal himself. There has been a lot of extra research and speculation about Mary M in recent years, as well as the discovery of a Gospel "according to her". Yet she has been historically vilified and smeared as a prostitute, and identified often with the woman who committed adultery, although new discoveries imply she was anything but these things. Is this perhaps an unconscious ranking more automatic and unconsidered, rather than thought out? Should we be more forgiving these days of her alleged "sins", and more careful of how we talk about her?
PaulM | 10 April 2020


At this time with so much packaged stuff going out, for Holy Week and Easter, mostly devotional materials, I am reminding myself that Christian life doesn't come in a package, but is rather a project, the very one that Jesus saved his costly energy for, viz., what he called the kingdom, which according to his testimony is meant to keep coming at ground level, through our living in his spirit.
Noel McMaster | 10 April 2020


Gospel accounts of Jesus' dying are echoed in your title. His dying protestation is of hope riding above desperation. The Greek-speaking Evangelists chose Hebrew & Aramaic to cite Jesus' imprecation from the cross "He cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?" (Matt27,46 AV) It was the way of identifying a text, before there was an enumerated canon. It's the 22nd Psalm in Judaism and all Protestant Bibles, the Vulgate's 23rd. I'd like a shekel and a didrachma for every pseudo-theolog i've heard discuss Christ's intention behind those words, seen in textual isolation. I interpret the original Koine as "He INTONED THE 22nd PSALM" as did tens of thousands of other Pharisees crucified by Rome from 12 C.E, and hundreds, victims of Pilate, in Galilee that fatal month of Nisan. Jesus lived and died a faithful Jew. Read the Psalm closely, people.
james marchment | 10 April 2020


If Australians were truly Christian, the shops would shut from 8 pm on Holy Thursday until 9 am on Easter Sunday and people (apart from those employed in essential services or the corner store) would be at home reflecting. From that perspective, perhaps COVID-19’s little brother should swing by Australia every year around this time, much like the Passover Angel, and disappear mysteriously after the son has risen. The palaver about emotional consequence is over-hype. Blaise Pascal’s “All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone" seems to ring true. Trappists don’t blow up buildings or (literally or metaphorically) each other. Would that we all be Trappists one week a year.
roy chen yee | 10 April 2020


Thank you Andrew, As I watched the Good Friday service on my Computer streamed from our Parish Church, I was reflecting on a comment my wife made. She talked about the massive pain that the loved ones of those dying in isolation because of the COVID-19 Virus must be feeling. Each news bulletin gives us yet more horrifying numbers. I could not imagine in my wildest dreams being physically separated from my wife , children and loved ones when my time comes , nor could I imagine my wife in the same situation. Jesus death on the cross must have been terribly lonely. Deserted by his friends and followers and jeered at by a hostile crowd . The passage in John's Gospel of the exchange between Jesus and his apostle John is especially moving for us at this time. The blessings and joy of Easter to all readers of E.S.
Gavin O'Brien | 11 April 2020


Fr Andrew, in a world of darkness, Easter remains a time of hope. The Resurrection overcoming the callous arrogance of the Pharisees, the brutality of the Roman occupiers and the symbolic washing of hands by Pilate. Whilst we contemplate the release of Pell by the High Court, we are reminded that the hierarchy of the church, pay lip service to the victims of abuse and rally to support the conclave and the elite within their ranks. The Vatican runs one of the most successful businesses on earth. From the Vatican bank to the $30 bn of property owned by the Church in Australia. A Pope who refused to condemn both Pell and Corradi even though he was repeatedly warned for years about both. And McCarrick. Should we be cynical about the church? Despite the CV19 attendances were dieing off at mass because the Bishops, Archbishops refuse to listen to the laity. Why? They have power, privelege, wealth, great incomes to protect, legacys, art treasures, palaces and classic buildings to attend to. Meanwhile the plight of the homeless, the scornful treatment of women within the church continues, the trappings of office are back in vogue and Rome makes appointments of power worldwide. Christ himself would have to wonder if his death and resurrection was in vain.
Francis Armstrong | 11 April 2020


I realise it's a bit late now to be sending through a comment on this article by Fr Andrew Hamilton. I found this article very inspiring. Thanks very much Andrew.. I know Easter is a time to celebrate the triumph of love, joy and hope over pessimism and despair, yet there is an ever present dark shadow in our world that defies clear definition. I find myself in furious disagreement with much that I read in the Eureka Street articles but my world looked and felt a lot better after reading Fr Andrew's article and I want to record my thanks for his words. There aren't many articles that I download and save but I have downloaded this article and I will return to it for inspiration.. Thanks again !
Brian b | 27 April 2020


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