Celebrating Easter Down Under: A Perspective from New Zealand

Northern hemisphere visitors to New Zealand at Christmas and Easter frequently comment on how topsy-turvy it all feels down here. We sing, in the words of Shirley Murray, one of this country’s best known hymn writers, of an “upside-down Christmas” in which the traditional white Christmas of northern climes gives way to long summer days at the beach. And at Easter, the fresh scents and colors of the northern hemisphere spring give way to the muted colors and cooler temperatures of a southern hemisphere autumn.

Thus when it comes to celebrating the resurrection of our Lord those neo-pagan symbols of new life, the Easter bunny and Easter egg, simply don’t fit. The season’s all wrong. Their dissonance with the reality of autumnal gloom means that churches down under are less inclined to attempt the kind of liturgical and kerygmatic synthesis between Easter and spring that our northern counterparts must find hard to resist.

Not that we’re totally immune to appealing to nature to describe the resurrection—the image of a butterfly emerging from a cocoon is a perennial favourite, especially when talking to children. But we’re less inclined to do so.

A New Creation

If the resurrection is really the beginning of a new creation, then drawing on examples from the old creation to illustrate it will not do. For as soon as we link our Lord’s resurrection to the symbolism of bunnies and eggs we effectively subsume the Easter narrative within the seasonal movement from winter to spring. The church is called to proclaim the resurrection, not illustrate it. Indeed, any attempt to do so immediately detracts from its uniqueness and reduces it to one natural process among many.

Liturgically, therefore, the emphasis of an Easter service should not be on new life as a natural, seasonal phenomenon, but rather on the resurrection as an eschatological reality—the breaking in of God’s future upon the present, the intrusive and liberating establishment of God’s promised reign within our space-time coordinates.

An Eschatological Perspective

When we view the resurrection from an eschatological perspective, several doctrinal affirmations emerge, and it is incumbent upon the church to give them full liturgical expression. These include the following:

  1. In the Resurrection the shackles of sin and death that dominate human life have been broken, once and for all. “Christ is risen!” is not so much a form of doctrinal assent as it is a cry of freedom by those who are witnessing and experiencing, in the resurrection of their Lord, the sting of death being dramatically and decisively removed and the powers of sin and guilt defeated. Such is the magnitude of this victory and its consequent proclamation that it cannot be subsumed within the regular order of things; it can only be talked about in terms of an entirely new creation of the same order and significance as the first creation in Genesis 1.
  2. The One who has been raised from the dead was not merely a solitary individual—he is the second Adam, the representative human being in whose vicarious humanity, risen and ascended, our humanity has been assumed, sanctified, and lifted before the throne of grace, where he who is the pioneer and perfector of our faith continues to offer himself in our place before the Father, and to pray for us.
  3. As much as the resurrection is about the person of Christ, so it is also about the community the apostle Paul refers to as the body of Christ. This body shares in the life of its risen and ascended Lord; it is a community of possibility in which the walls of division and hostility that define so much of human conduct are dismantled, and a new reconciled and reconciling humanity is born. As such, it becomes a sign of hope to the world.
  4. This new humanity’s life is inherently eucharistic, and the Eucharist, thus understood, is not merely a meal of remembrance—it is an eschatological banquet in which, through the power of the Spirit, the risen and ascended Lord is profoundly present, and the church is brought to share in Christ’s life and mission.

Finally, at the same time as the church gives liturgical expression to these doctrinal affirmations concerning the resurrection, it must acknowledge that it is but a community on the way, living in the overlap between the old and new creations, celebrating its new life in Christ even as it confesses its betrayal and denial of that life, as evidenced throughout its history. Celebration of the resurrection should never lead to triumphalism; it should always lead the church back to the foot of the cross.