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Celebrating Easter in Autumn (300th edition of 'Liturgy Lines'!)
CELEBRATING EASTER IN AUTUMN
Someone suggested to me the other day that the true meaning of Easter will never be fully understood by Australians until something is done about moving the date.
Because Easter falls during spring in the northern hemisphere, Easter images such as new life, rebirth and the coming of light are reflected in the natural world.
For us ‘downunder’, there is not the same symmetry. Or is there? Some years ago Rev Dr Tom Elich, Director of The Liturgical Commission, wrote an article in which he explored the concept of Easter in Australia being like ‘a refreshment without eggs’.
We share many strong eloquent Easter symbols with the Church around the world, but as with all our liturgical seasons, we need a new configuration of liturgy and climate for our catechesis and celebrations. In the southern hemisphere we cannot exploit the theme of Spring’s new life at Eastertime. Perhaps the theme of refreshing coolness would be an excellent substitute to enrich our appreciation of the Easter event.
April in Australia is a pleasant, refreshing month. Its arrival brings a sense of relief from the thick blanket of summer as we are rejuvenated by a touch of coolness. For us, this is Eastertime.
Plunging into the cool waters of baptism is no doubt a refreshing experience! By taking part in the baptism of new Christians through renewing our own baptismal promises, our faith, our share in the life of Jesus’ resurrection, our Christian commitment are refreshed and made new again.
In addition, the vocabulary of refreshment is deeply rooted in our tradition. The Latin word refrigerium played a big role in the language of the early Church. It was used in a broad spiritual sense to speak of the peace and happiness that Christians hoped for after death. The desire for this joyful refreshment was expressed constantly in the stories of the early martyrs, in prayers for those who had died, in epitaphs from the catacombs. It represents the eternal happiness that is the destiny and promise of all who have been baptised into the death and resurrection of Jesus.
As well as this, the Latin term of the early Church, like today’s English word, is also used to refer to food and drink. The walls of the catacombs are scratched with graffiti marking occasions when refreshments were taken at the tombs. The custom of eating and drinking at the tomb after the funeral or on the anniversary of the death was a rite of solidarity with the dead person and an expression of hope for the well-being of the deceased. In wall paintings, this “taking of refreshment” is often reminiscent of the Last Supper, the meal at Emmaus or the Christian eucharist.
The high point of our Christian initiation and of the Easter vigil celebration is the taking of eucharistic refreshment. It is a pledge of the heavenly banquet where the refreshment will last forever. To those who have been refreshed by water and the Holy Spirit, who have shared in the refreshment of the consecrated bread and wine, the resurrection of Jesus promises a place of eternal rest and refreshment.
The notion of refreshment, deeply rooted in the vocabulary of the early Church, is a way of helping us to link the liturgical and climatic seasons of April in Australia.