Many paintings of Easter depict springtime: green grass, flowering shrubs, colourful birds and lush growth. That is understandable, because most painters were European, and Easter is celebrated in the European spring. But it is not just a matter of timing.
The stories of Jesus’ Resurrection in the Gospels also have the feeling of spring. On the sea the winds are still; the fire on the beach is kindled, not to warm frozen fishermen but to cook their breakfast; the tender meeting of Jesus with Mary Magdalene by the tomb is set in a garden; even the funereal upper room where the disciples are gathered springs to exuberant life when Jesus appears.
The stories echo simplicity, play, community, joy, hope and affection – all the qualities that characterise life in the Garden of Eden before the Fall. The joy and companionship that Easter brings echoes the vitality and friendliness that on sunny spring days bring people out together.
Of course, we live through each of the seasons of the year and all the seasons of our lives, each with their own challenges. The point of Easter is to assure us that our hopes lie beyond all those seasons and beyond the youth and ageing of the world we live in. The discordance between the images of Easter and the experience of autumn in Australia actually sharpens the meaning of Easter for us. Easter represents our hope that even after the winter to which the year is heading greenness will return. The memory of Easter is food for a testing journey. It is about both memory and hope.
When engaged in accompanying vulnerable young people whose experience of life has sometimes been loveless and violent, as we are at Jesuit Social Services, we often need to renew our hope and to remember springtime.
Their life can seem so hopeless that we can become locked into grief rather than filled with hope. But it is precisely the hints of Easter which we see in their lives that sustain us – their resilience, their refusal to surrender to despair, the memory of unexpected good time and the moments of connection that break through isolation and suspicion, the sudden hope that can be stirred by a friendship or by faithfulness.
The first Easter was about relationships and the change that comes when something new comes in as spring interrupts winter. It is like the first experience of being deeply loved for one’s own sake that a young person has. It is founded in the experience of the disciples at Easter when despair and isolation gave way to hope and love as they met the risen Jesus. It gives us the assurance that God loves us deeply and that nothing will be lost in our hopes and our lives in God’s future.
Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ writes for Jesuit Communications and Jesuit Social Services.