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Easter as an enduring story of loss and hope

  • 10 April 2020
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.

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