I was brought up in a religious tradition that, by and large, did not practice what is now termed a “liturgical pattern”. While in the home Easter and Christmas were acknowledged – these were not celebrated to any great extent in the churches of my youth. Indeed the practice of following such events as “Holy Week” would have been anathema to many!
So for me the rise of Easter celebrations in popular culture is a bittersweet phenomenon. Of course if the true message of Easter is to be advanced then it is a good thing. But if it is to be hijacked by the commercialism of our age then it is not – because the glory of the resurrection will forever remain buried beneath the selfishness of men.
For me personally, perhaps because of a hangover from the tradition of my youth, I think it possible that the exclusive celebration of one day can detract from the ongoing, daily appreciation and celebration of the wonder of the resurrection.
However, there also is no doubt, that beyond the troubled waters of church teaching and traditions, nature and its seasons tells the story of faith, death, resurrection and glory.
As a child I recall my father having a discussion with a friend who made no claim to our brand of Christianity. Jimmy was a gardener who, at that time, worked in the extensive gardens of a Castle near Inverness. During the conversation Jimmy said that he felt far closer to God among the plants, trees and flowers of his workplace than he ever did in Church. Of course his comment was dismissed – but many times since I have wondered if Jimmy was not far off the mark.
Paul, the early leader of the church, said this –
“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead …”
Romans 1:20 (NKJV)
That is some statement!
And the early Christian scholar Origen said this –
“Without any possible doubt, everything that is seen is related to something hidden. That is to say that each visible reality is a symbol, and refers to an invisible reality to which it is related.”
Origen – Commentary on the Song of Songs
So in the natural world we have the original Bible! It is timeless, needs no language translation, can be seen by every person on earth, speaks to all ages and offers true revelation of the invisible God and the realm that is his unseen Kingdom!
But to come back to Easter. If nature teaches us anything of the invisible world it speaks again and again of death and resurrection! But the plain truth is there is no resurrection and no celebration of resurrection without death. But death is something very few of us will discuss.
I was interested recently to see an article by the highly regarded documentary film-maker David Malone. As far as I know Malone has no religious belief – but he wrote this –
“For a great many of us in the industrialised countries, especially the relatively affluent and comfortable middle class, death and our mortality are something we have pushed to the margins of our lives.”
He goes on to say later in the article –
“Maybe it is time for us to start to talk again about death. Maybe we would do ourselves some good to consider and talk about our own mortality and remind ourselves that we do not and cannot control everything all the time. That a certain humility is not a sign of weakness, surrender, or primitive fatalism but is a recognition that life cannot be hoarded and death not commanded.”
His comments were of course made in the light of the current crisis we all face. And perhaps because of that – and because of Easter we should all look afresh at the Bible of nature and ask what it teaches about seasons, faith, death and resurrection. Or to put it as another early church leader did –
“For the symbolic contemplation of spiritual things by means of the visible is nothing other than the understanding in the Spirit of visible things by means of the invisible.”
Maximus the Confessor – Mystagogia
But if all this talk of seeing the eternal in the natural world seems a bit mystical for some – let me leave you with the words of Jesus. For here he turns to nature to reveal an eternal reality – and it is the eternal reality of Easter –
“I tell you the truth: unless a grain of wheat is planted in the ground and dies, it remains a solitary seed. But when it is planted, it produces in death a great harvest.”
John 12:24 (Voice)