I am not sure why my memories of Easter are brighter than all other religious rituals, but I suspect it has a lot to do with Easter teaching me how to live in times of profound loss.
All accounts of Christ’s death, whether told through the Bible or art, terrify me. They still do.
Thankfully we have cultural and spiritual rituals to transform our terror into hope.
Visit Greece in spring, especially during Easter, and you will appreciate why Greeks call Easter lambri (brightness).
This is a time when the arrival of spring in the Northern hemisphere regenerates growth and imbues Easter festivities with light, colour, and new life.
It is a ritual that reminds us of life’s power over death.
Unlike my parents’ homeland, Easter in Australia takes place at a time when leaves begin to wither and turn the colour of blood – which is also the colour of Easter eggs.
In order to soften this stark symbol of death and suffering, my mother would encourage me and my sister to venture into our garden to collect marjoram, mint, or basil leaves to decorate the red eggs.
The following day, Megali Paraskevi, women congregate in church to soften the image of Christ’s epitaph with red and white carnations.
By Friday evening the faithful embark on a sombre suburban procession in a slow funereal rhythm throughout the neighbourhood in view of non-Greek spectators watching from their front verandas.
By the night of Holy Saturday, just before midnight, the church is plunged into darkness. Then a single lighted candle appears in the sanctuary, and begins to pass from one worshipper to another until the congregation fills with light reminding us that our lives ought to be lived in light.
By the stroke of midnight, mischievous boys set off fireworks to greet Christ’s symbolic resurrection. Family and friends crack eggs and the “blood-stained” shell is shed. They then make their way home to break their fast with offal soup.
By Easter Sunday, the family regroups under an autumnal sky to eat, drink and reflect on life.
Easter reminds us of our need to understand each other in times of loss. It also reminds us of the importance of social cohesion, which is especially significant in a country that is as richly diverse as ours.
Unlike Christ’s resurrection, spiritual cohesiveness does not require a miracle. Miracles are for conjurors.
Community, on the hand, is for the compassionate and open-minded.
As we know, all cultures celebrate Easter and spiritual occasions in culturally different ways.
For instance, our own Royal Children’s Hospital Good Friday appeal draws on the spirit of Easter as a way of recognizing the strength, courage and hope displayed by children, parents, family, friends, medical professionals and the community in times of crisis.
It is a time in Australian culture when kindness, charity, and empathy supersede suffering and sadness.
The American philosopher, Richard Zaner, who spends most of his time listening and talking to the dying and seriously ill in a place he calls “the edge of mortality” says, If grief, in the telling of it and listening to it, is relearning how to be in the world, it also the beginning of rebuilding the world that’s been shattered by loss.
It is in times of loss when one’s thirst for spiritual connectedness is at its extreme. Our need for compassion and community is as soothing to the soul as water is to parched lips. And this human need is captured in Christ’s final words on the Cross: “I am thirsty”.
Given that Easter is a time of grieving, perhaps we ought to view it as an opportunity to relearn and rebuild our lives as compassionate individuals in a cohesive society.
Easter is more than a celebration. It asks us to unite in memory of a great loss so we can heal the wounds that come from division.
Chris Fotinopoulos is a regular contributor to Neos Kosmos English Edition, ABC’s Unleashed and has written for The Age. He is also a philosopher and a teacher.