From sin to forgiveness and despair to joy – ANDY HAMILTON SJ reflects on the triumph of Easter Sunday and how hope prevails.
In its beginnings, Easter was a time of extremes. Life and hope flared out from where death and darkness had reigned. Easter represented the triumph of life over death, victory over a crushing defeat, connection over isolation, freedom over captivity, hope over despair. It is an exuberant feast in which the overflow of joy is measured by the depths of the grief that preceded it.
In the Christian churches, Easter Sunday follows Good Friday, which focuses on Christ’s torture and execution. It represents the hope that speaks to the experience of the loss of everything, at the personal, national or universal level.
In Victoria, Easter Sunday is a pleasant day, usually in the mild weather of autumn; a feast of moderation.
If we smooth over the extremes of Easter, underplay the depth of darkness with which the light of Easter contrasts, we finish with a beige feast. Small pain, small gain. That is true also of the story of Easter.
Seen from God’s perspective, the story of Easter represents God’s salvation of humanity as seen in Jesus’ rejection, humiliation, tortured execution which was intended to wipe out all claim on humanity, and leading to his rising to life. The Scriptures variously describe this as being taken out of death into life, from slavery into freedom, from sin to forgiveness, and from despair into joy. In each of these images, early Christians measured the astounding and exuberant joy of Jesus’ rising by the horrific story of his death.
The extent of our salvation is matched to the equally dramatic extent of our need. If we pass lightly over the reality of human sinfulness and the extent of our need, we also minimise the extraordinary gift of salvation, and domesticate the scope of God’s promises. A small need and a sanitised crucifixion lead to a restrained happiness at the minor victory that was won at Easter.
The extremes of Easter speak to our times. This year has revealed the depth of our need as people. Our inadequate attempts to deal with climate change, revealed in flood and bushfire; our vulnerability to disease, revealed in the coronavirus; and our incapacity to manage the risks of scientific and technological discovery, revealed in the threat of nuclear war all speak to the need for a salvation greater than technology and business as usual can meet. It demands a united human response where communities and nations come together to act, caring for the people most in need.
To make this response we need hope. Easter Sunday invites us to recognise the depth of our need and the greatness of our hope. We believe that we live in the presence of the risen Christ, who has experienced the depths of our betrayals and misery, and has risen to offer us a vision of a world beyond human possibility and our imagining.