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Easter in Australia
Because Easter falls during spring in the northern hemisphere, Easter images such as new life, rebirth, the coming of light, etc are reflected in the natural world.
For us ‘downunder’, there is not the same symmetry. Or is there? A few years ago Rev Dr Tom Elich, Director of The Liturgical Commission, wrote an article for Liturgy News 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-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. We emerge with a sense of relief from the thick blanket of summer and 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 word (refrigerium in Latin) 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.
In this sense, the term is regularly found in the Latin translation of the Bible. “The virtuous, though they die before their time, will find refreshment” (Wisdom 4:7). “Now you must repent and turn to God,” urges St Peter in the Acts of the Apostles, “so that your sins may be wiped out and so that the Lord may send the time of refreshment.” (3:20).
As well as this, the Latin term of the early Church, like today’s English word, can refer also 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.