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Elusive Easter's challenge to wider society

  • 24 March 2016


One of the abiding human challenges is to endure with gallantry prolonged hard times. It is enshrined in Australian memories of long years of drought that drive some off the land while others stay. More jocularly, it is reflected in the mixed pity and admiration accorded supporters who never give up on their unfailingly failing football team.

But the challenge is also felt in everyday, domestic experience. For year after year, for example, a man may spend his days caring for a wife with dementia long after she has ceased to recognise him.

To many the challenge to endurance comes from a public world in which small gains by humanity are overtaken by huge losses.

How can we keep pressing for better times when we rejoice that the Berlin Wall has been excised, only to see it metastasise in the walls of Israel, Europe and the United States?

Why bother about people who seek protection from persecution or about our natural environment when the small initiatives we take are overrun by a flood tide of brutality and cynicism? What hope of building harmony in society when the Paris bombings are followed by those of Brussels?

There are many ways of responding to this challenge. We may simply get on with things, without worrying about any larger meaning or lack of it. We may instead give up on our hopes and commitments, acknowledging that it is all too hard.

We may also deny the intractability of the situation in which we find ourselves, sunnily optimistic that all will be well. Or we can live like Cassandra, daily prophesying doom from the sidelines.

Because this challenge is universal, the Christian celebration of Easter is of wider interest. At its heart it is a meditation on personal and political catastrophe that seems final and ineluctable, and on how such things are to be approached.

The key to the Easter story lies in the relationship between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.


"At the heart of Easter is a meditation on personal and political catastrophe that seems final and ineluctable, and on how such things are to be approached."


Good Friday is heavy and intimidating, full of soldiers in barracks or escorting prisoners, of high officials passing judgment, of horrid sights and sounds of a man being flogged and hammered to a cross, and of dark experiences of betrayal and abandonment. It ends in darkness come early.

There is no escape from Good Friday — it is