The crocus have bloomed in my backyard, and robins have been sighted once again. We have survived another Michigan winter, and we are eager for the sunshine and warmth of spring. Easter is only days away, with fragrant lilies, colorful eggs, baby chicks, empty tombs … and a rabbit who brings chocolate and jelly beans. What’s not to love?
For those of us in the northern hemisphere, the symbols of Easter are deeply connected to the signs of spring. The holy day often coincides with the coming of warmer weather, sprouting flowers, greener grass, hungry robins and brighter sunshine. It is easy for us to make the association between the gift of resurrection and the coming to life of nature all around us. Joy and life and hope abound! Alleluia!
But what about the folks who live in the southern hemisphere? When Easter arrives for them, they are in the midst of autumn, on the edge of winter. Although they embrace the same symbols we do, those images are in direct contradiction to what they see all around them. Below the equator, the promise of new life and fertility and sustenance and hope comes when the leaves are dying and falling, when the fields are harvested and barren, when the grass withers and fades away. What does Easter feel like then? Is it easier, or more difficult, to celebrate the risen Lord?
I wonder if it isn’t more comforting to claim the joy of Easter when the world around us appears to be dying and dormant. Isn’t that when we need it most? Isn’t it in the midst of darkness that we most appreciate glimmers of light? In the places of despair and sorrow, that we most need hope? In the face of death, that we most treasure the promise of resurrection life? The gospel of Jesus Christ seems most powerful to me when it stands in opposition to the reality of the world around me. In a world torn by war and violence, Jesus proclaims peace; in the face of greed and oppression, Jesus calls for justice; in spite of our racism and fear, Jesus commands us to love. Perhaps Easter is more meaningful when it is seen as a direct contradiction to our world, rather than in harmony with it.
Maybe, one year, we will take an Easter field trip to Australia. We will hold a Sunrise Service in a barren field and proclaim life and hope as daybreak pierces the darkness. We will decorate the altar with pots of Nerine Bowdenii, and maybe add a Baobab tree. The Nerine Bowdenii is a beautiful flower with soft, fragile blossoms; and the Baobab is a tree with deep roots and nearly horizontal branches, bearing an egg-shaped fruit full of healthy seeds and nutritious pulp. Both bloom in the late autumn, when most other crops and flowers have become dormant for the winter. They are the Easter lilies of the southern hemisphere.
Until then, we would do well to remember that the promise of Easter is not only true in the springtime seasons of our lives. Regardless of what is happening, or blossoming, or dormant around us, the risen Christ gives us peace, and hope, and life. May your heart and soul be filled with all of God’s blessings as we celebrate our first Easter together.