Thursday, April 21, 2011

Using Easter well

I wasn't brought up in a tradition where Easter was a big deal.  On the whole, we maintained our non-conformity by ignoring the liturgical calendar.  Christmas was a purely secular event; Easter was about chocolate.  The rationale was two-fold: firstly, that we should be remembering the great events behind Christmas and Easter all the time; secondly, that Scripture didn't mandate or command the observance of these or any other festivals.

In more recent years, I've observed Christmas and Easter more closely.  In essence, I moved away from the version of the regulative principle that said you couldn't do things that weren't directly commanded in Scripture, although I still think nobody can criticise people who choose not to observe the festivals, since there is no Biblical authority behind them.  Moreover, I came to think that it was just impossible for human beings to remember everything all the time.  Without a focus to our remembering, our remembering melts away.  It's why we have communion, why we come together to worship: to provide a focus to our remembering of Jesus.  Christmas, and especially Easter, helps me with that.

But I did make the mistake, as I moved to this position, of treating Easter as if it were mythical.  Consider Tammuz, if you will.  Tammuz is an annual dying and rising god.  He comes and goes.  In some ways he quite clearly stands for the coming and going of the seasons.  His dying and rising were observed annually, with funerals and celebrations.  These rituals did not commemorate anything; there was nothing to commemorate, since Tammuz was never thought of as a historical person per se.  He was rather a personification of a timeless reality.

To treat Easter as a myth is to see the passage from Good Friday to Easter Sunday as a sort of re-enactment.  In my case, it meant trying to find the right emotional response for each day: remorse passing into grief passing into joy.  I suppose acting as if my participation made it real.

Easter is history.  It happened once and for all.  So, this weekend I will be remembering and celebrating, not re-enacting.


  1. Thank you for this. Speaking from a strongly liturgical tradition, I would agree that some sort of dramatic re-enactment of the Passion narratives is unhelpful. We are not supposed to mimic Jesus, and Easter is not some sort of symbolic story about the rebirth of spring.

    I think you hit the nail on the head when you talk about remembering and celebrating, but not re-enacting. I still find Maundy Thursday evening emotionally trying, and Good Friday somewhat desolate, and I don't think that is a problem; but I also see them in the context of the wider story, which, I think, saves me from the error you wisely identify.

    I hope you and yours are having a blessed Triduum.

  2. Indeed. Perhaps a better, and certainly a simpler, way for me to put it would have been: we always remember the cross from this side of the resurrection. Of course that doesn't stop us engaging with different emotions as we remember different events, but it all happens within the bracket of 'Christ is risen', and therefore is not really mourning...