The disruptiveness of an election year Easter

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The secularisation of public life is marked in the public imagination as well as in popular philosophies. It can be seen in the disjunction between the public and the religious iconography of Christmas and Easter.

Autumn leaves in Carlton Gardens, MelbourneShops at Christmastime are full of green Christmas trees, the red and white of Santa Claus and the gold of gifts. The straw and animals of cribs, the crooks of shepherds, crowns of kings and swaddling clothes of infants are increasingly confined to churches and church schools. In Easter, the public iconography is usually dominated by brown hot cross buns, white candles and chocolate eggs in coloured foil. Images of the crucifixion and of Jesus' rising are found mainly in churches.

A further disjunction divides both Christian and public iconography from the Australian seasons of the year. Many of us, labouring on a 30 degree day within a Santa Claus rig or eating a roast meal, have felt the dissociation of climate from story. Most traditional paintings of Easter, too, depict springtime: green grass, flowering shrubs, colourful birds and lush growth.

That is understandable, because the painters were European. Easter was celebrated in the European spring, just as Christmas was celebrated in the European winter. But in the case of Easter the springtime setting was not just a matter of timing. The stories of Jesus' resurrection in the Gospels also have the feeling of spring. On the sea the winds are still; the fire on the beach is kindled, not to warm frozen fishermen but to cook their breakfast; the tender meeting of Jesus with Mary Magdalene by the tomb is set in a garden; even the funereal upper room where the disciples are gathered springs to exuberant life when Jesus appears.

The stories echo simplicity, play, community, joy, hope and affection — all the qualities that were associated with the beginnings of life in the Garden of Eden before the Fall. The joy and companionship associated with Easter echoes the vitality and friendliness that on spring days bring people out together into the sunshine.

This contrasts with the mood of an Australia autumn when the mornings grow colder, the leaves of deciduous trees fall, people begin to hunker down for winter, and elections mark the mulching of rotting vegetation, not the springing of new growth. It is a time for irony and endurance, not for enthusiasm.

And yet in whatever season it is celebrated, Easter is always disruptive, never joined to the cycle of the seasons. It is disruptive because hope is disruptive, and is best imagined in times of disjunction. In many cases, indeed, no other times are given. Hope can be lost in a moment and fleetingly rediscovered. A car accident, the arrival of a feral militia in an idyllic village, a betrayal or an epidemic can tear us from the ordinary life, relationships and hope which we had taken for granted.

 

"Easter is always disruptive, never joined to the cycle of the seasons. It is disruptive because hope is disruptive."

 

If we care deeply for vulnerable and unstable people, their lives can seem so hopeless that we are locked into hopelessness. But then their resilience, their refusal to surrender to despair, the memory of unexpected good times and of moments of connection that break through isolation and suspicion, and the stirring in them of hope through a friendship or through someone's faithfulness, might awaken our own hope.

The Christian story of Easter leads through all the seasons of the year and of human life: from hatred to love, from insult to forgiveness, from betrayal to reconciliation, from shame to glory, from torture to roundedness and from death to life. It points to a hope that lies beyond all our seasons and beyond the youth and ageing of our world we live in.

The discordance between the springtime images of Easter and our experience of an Australian autumn actually sharpens the meaning of Easter. It embodies a hope that after the winter from which there may seem to be no deliverance, greenness will spring again. From whatever source we might draw this hope it is surely needed in Australian public life today to leaven the heavy dough of mistrust, resentment and disillusion.

The first Easter began with close relationships definitively broken by betrayal, cowardice and death, and so leaving people to live forever with shame, guilt and loss. The political became personal. The story came to its climax, however, with those relationships restored, and Jesus' followers as exultant as a young person in her first experience of being deeply loved for her own sake. Hope restored is experienced as gift.

This year both the public and the Christian Easter are overshadowed by the forthcoming election. In the public world election means that assured people choose their rulers. In the Christian story election means that desperate people are chosen. Each kind of election has its place.

 

 

Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street.

Main image: Autumn leaves in Carlton Gardens, Melbourne

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, Easter, Election 2019

 

 

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Existing comments

What better constituency than desperate people, secular or religious? The disciples in the Easter story faced that most severe test: are you for real? I think the secular world is desperate for this story and the chocolate eggs are a distraction, perhaps a necessary one. I will be out of town at election time so I have to vote early. For Jesus' first disciples there was no escape and how very fortunate (for them) that circumstance proved to be.
Pam | 15 April 2019


The "disruptiveness" of Holy Week that Andrew alludes to here reminds me of Christopher Fry's lines in "A Sleep of Prisoners": ". . . The frozen misery/Of centuries breaks, cracks,begins to move/The thunder is the thunder of the floes,/The thaw, the flood, the upstart Spring./Thank God our time is now when wrong/Comes up to face us everywhere/Never to leave us till we take/The longest stride of soul we humans ever took./Affairs are now soul size/The enterprise/Is exploration into God . . ."
John RD | 18 April 2019


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