1 March 2021

Making sense of the Easter Story

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Brendan is a Majellan staff member and a Melbourne based writer

There were four active cases in Melbourne last year when a crowd of Catholic worshipers filled St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne on Ash Wednesday. An empty font and two small notices were the first signs that a faraway pestilence had begun to alter Australian life. Their foreheads marked with ash, each person prepared to journey with Christ through Easter in his suffering and passion.

In suffering like Christ, we are called to draw closer to the mystery of His resurrection, and the hope that His sacrifice has laid the roadmap to making our suffering more meaningful.

So revolutionary is the Easter story that it has transformed how humanity views heroism. In fact, to live in the mind of the heroes before Christ is a deeply alien experience. Julius Caesar killed around a million people and enslaved about the same figure to boost and maintain his political career. The ‘moral’ system that once dominated the ancient world was essentially this: order comes about through violence, and great chaos is restored to order by even greater violence.

The cross is now the most recognisable symbol today. But the cross more than 2000 years ago represented the Roman Empire’s immense power. Crucifixion was the archetypal punishment for the rebellious citizen or slave. Besides the unbearable physical torture, those who were crucified were in essense a public billboard for the Roman authorities. That is, do not question our authority or you too will suffer a similar fate.

Christ’s death and resurrection flipped this symbol upside down, so that from humiliation, triumph could flourish, and that someone who suffered the death of a slave was in fact the creator and saviour of humanity. On one level, this story endowed dignity to a group of people so that the lowest might in fact be the highest.

The new world order brought forth from Christ’s passion is now taken for granted, and even the most staunch secularists have an outlook that is inescapably Christian. T S Eliot wrote that “the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started, and know the place for the first time.” It’s true that in order to grasp the deeper mystery of the resurrection we must arrive where we started, in Genesis. In the fall of Adam, man had been cursed to die for eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, as St Paul said: “Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned … death reigned from Adam to Moses”.

The pattern of the ‘fall’ reveals itself throughout the bible. Original sin is symbolised in the story of St Peter trying to walk on water. In a moment of distraction, he looks down from Christ towards the water and sinks. In the Garden of Eden, we were oriented towards God and safe from death, but in looking away and turning inwards we fell from God’s grace.

When Christ arrives in Jerusalem, he curses the fig tree; Adam and Eve put fig leaves over their bodies to cover their shame. Adam was cursed that the ground would “produce thorns and thistles” but a crown of thorns was laid upon Jesus’ head at his crucifixion. The glory of the garden became death, and Christ transformed death back into glory.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, suffering has been experienced by many. There is the physical suffering of the disease that attacks without fear or favour, especially targeting the most vulnerable. Those in lockdown experienced the psychological pain of commencing each day without hope of human connection. Finally, we suffered spiritually, cut off from attending church and isolated from many of the things in life that give us meaning and pleasure.

The backdrop of this immense suffering is the foundational story of Easter, communicating the nature of reality that allows us to hope that our suffering can be made meaningful. In the light of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice and resurrection, we are called to transform suffering into a communion of love, so that we may participate in the life of God and share in his glory.

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