After a busy Holy Week, Easter weekend and a nice public holiday to recover on Monday, I saw a small statement in one of our local newspapers. It read, “Easter is now behind us and we carry on with the daily grind of our lives.”
This statement got me thinking about how often the commemoration or celebration of a significant occasion becomes more about the event than the reason for the occasion. The emphasis on visual imagery, ceremony and ritual has become so great that simple messages, however profound can be reduced to shallow interpretations and displays.
In his seminal 1967 work, “The Church,” written in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, theologian Hans Küng writes about the difference between the essence and form of the Church. Küng writes that this essence is drawn from the permanently decisive origins of the Church. He goes on to add that it exists and expressed only in constantly changing historical forms because the Church is a reality, a fact, an historical event and that therefore the real essence of the real Church is expressed in historical form. Küng warns of mixing or confusing the two, saying that while the essence and form of the Church cannot be separated and must always be seen as a whole, they are however, not identical and that it is only when we distinguish the changing forms of the Church, its permanent and not immutable essence do we glimpse the real church. The essence of the Church is therefore always to be found in its historical form, and the historical form must always be understood in the light of and with reference to the essence.
Discussing the issue of how the Church is an object of admiration and criticism and Küng points that admiration, or criticism for that matter, of the Church essentially has no reference to the Christian faith and is in fact directed to a façade, the exterior, superficial image of the Church in reference to history. While Küng is writing from a Christian perspective , he makes an important point that goes beyond religion and culture.
Often we are drawn by the superficial aspects of an event, we focus on the physical elements – the sights and sounds and we mistake that image for the essence of the event. We a bombarded with advertising, promotional campaigns and even programmes designed to change our values. Space and time filled with Easter sales, long weekend specials for hotels and resorts. Of course these things are part and parcel of the festive nature of celebrations and in Fiji and the rest of Oceania, we certainly do know how to celebrate. However, there is also a tendency for these things associated with the event of the Easter weekend to overshadow the essence of Easter. The same can be said for Christmas. The same can sadly be said for any other religious, cultural and even state holiday.
My daughter was having a chat with her older brother last week and was talking about school holidays, weekend holidays and public holidays as she attempted in her rather active mind to understand the concept of holidays and holy days. She had heard from her father and grandmother how, in the past, almost everything would shut down on Good Friday. As her mother explained about capitalism, economic globalisation and secularism (a class 4 version of course), she remarked, “So it’s becoming less of a holy day and more of a holiday now.”
The essence of Easter is meant to reverberate throughout the coming weeks and months, as it did nearly two thousand years ago. The living Jesus takes hold of our tired lives and breathes into us His power. He takes hold of our sinful lives and offers a wonderful new beginning through forgiveness. He takes hold of lives that appear lost and gives them new purpose and meaning even in the most difficult circumstances as we face in Fiji today. He comes to challenge a selfish world with the possibility of a new beginning which involves love and concern for others. This is echoed at the Ascension and amplified in the commemoration of Pentecost.
Among the Hindu community, the celebration of Diwali is understood from a number of different perspectives, one of which is the symbol of light overcoming darkness, good overcoming evil. Beyond the event of the celebration of Diwali, light continues to be needed to overcome darkness, good continues to be required to overcome evil. The celebration over, the essences continues.
The death and resurrection of Jesus may be a once in history event, but that does not mean that resurrection cannot take place in our lives, in our families, in our communities, in our nation and in the world daily. Hope may wither, it may die, but it can always be resurrected. Hope, like love and truth is eternal.
As we recover from long weekend of activity – be it religious, spiritual, leisure or work, let us not continue to embrace the essence of Easter: that life, not death; compassion, not hate; justice, not oppression and peace, not violence - will have the final say in this world.
“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity”