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The disruptiveness of an election year Easter

  • 15 April 2019


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.

Shops 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