Saving Paradise: Reimagining Lent and Easter- Ann Drummond

Sophia’s Spring – Reflection: Reimagining Lent and Easter. Ann Drummond

I love tradition, whether it is following traditions created in my lifetime with family and/or friends or whether it is ancient traditions centuries or millennium old there is something deeply satisfying and enriching about continuing traditions that link the past and the present of our lives. But there are times in life when traditions loose meaning or change meaning when going through the motions do not enrich my living. Then it is time I believe to ask what new traditions can flourish if we begin to compost those parts of the tradition that no longer bring growth and joy to our living and create space to replant new and meaningful traditions that bring wholeness and meaning to our world and our time. I feel that way about Lent and Easter and as I observe it has become meaningless to many of contemporary Australians. When asked about what Ash Wednesday was about in a survey a few years ago, many responded it was a commemoration of the bushfires that occurred down the Great Ocean Road in the early 80’s- commonly known as the Ash Wednesday fires because they occurred on the liturgical Ash Wednesday. And for most Easter is just a holiday weekend when the Uniting Church asked children what was easter about they first mentioned the easter bunny and secondly easter eggs – no one mentioned Jesus.

We all bring to Ash Wednesday, Lent and Easter our past experiences of it from our traditions we grew up with. As a child Lent was something good Scottish Presbyterians did not do – it was a Papish ritual. Ash Wednesday was a day to mock those who came to school with dirt on their faces and Lent was a time when some people in the village gave up sugar in their tea, or cigarettes or if really serious alcohol. But it was not something that either interrupted or impacted my life. Good Friday was just a holiday and the only day the baker made hot cross buns – not sure if our church held services but if they did my family never attended. Easter was more fun not only for the colouring of hard-boiled eggs to roll down the hill on the local golf course – said to symbolise the rolling of the stone away from the tomb, but also for the possibility of a chocolate easter egg a very precious treat in ration restricted post war Britain. It was not until I was in my religious stage in my late teens and twenties that I began to learn and practice Lent. During that time in my search for meaning over those years I attended a Seder meal at a Jewish synagogue on Maundy Thursday meditated on the stations of the cross in a Roman Catholic cathedral on Good Friday, an Easter Saturday vigil at a high Anglican church, countless dawn services and even an Easter Sunday service extravaganza involving a massed choir/orchestra/organ service in a cathedral – but the search continued.

Those of you who have come from a more liturgical tradition will perhaps bring many more both positive and/or negative memories and rituals surrounding Ash Wednesday, Lent, Good Friday and Easter. As the liturgy group was discussing reimagining Lent and Easter Jan mention a book called Resurrection in a Bucket, but I prefer to shift the image from a bucket to a compost bin. One of the undisputable principle of creation is new life comes from the death of the old  as Jesus says in John’s Gospel “ unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies it remains only a single seed: but if it dies it produces may seeds.(John 12:24) So, as we seek to reimagine Lent, Good Friday and Easter Sunday might mean we need to reflect individually and collectively what understandings, what attitudes, what practices and what traditions from the current traditions and practices no longer flourish and bring meaning and joy to our lives, to the church and to the world? I have found inspiration from the book Georgie mentioned last week Saving Paradise by Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker. It is so full of interesting insights and observations that cannot all be canvassed today or even over the next few weeks but if you want to follow it up you can read the prologue and first chapter on the website listed in your Order of Service What I found inspiring in that book and would I suggest we might like to build on was the concept of paradise not being otherworldly but of being of this earth and that Jesus came to restore paradise in the here and now, to enable us to re-enter and walk daily once more with God in the garden from which we were once expelled. It took a thousand years for the first image of Jesus dying on the cross to be seen in the religious art of Europe but then the death and dying of Jesus came to dominate theological thinking art and ritual and death and self-denial came to be seen as ways to escape to a heaven not of this world. The Church it seems went down the path of emptiness or the via negativa chopping down the tree of Life and replacing it with a wooden cross and a dead saviour. Our challenge Nakashima-Brock and Parker conclude in Saving Paradise is for us to recognise that “Western Christianity has always stood at the open door of paradise. However, it became unable to perceive what unfolded before it and sought paradise elsewhere, leaving in its wake, legacies of broken hearts, traumatized bodies and fractured cultures…………What we need now is a religious perspective that does not locate salvation in a future end point, a transcendent realm, or a zone after death…………we already live on holy ground, in the presence of God, with bodies and souls sanctified by the Spirit’s anointing, surrounded by the communion of saints. Our spiritual challenge is to embrace to embrace this reality”. 1

Restoring the garden or paradise in the here and now I thought was a lovely eco-theology concept, I thought we might use to help us as we try to reimagine Lent and Easter. While we are at this time just attempting to restore a small corner of the garden but we do it with the hope that it might encourage us as individuals, as a community and as part of the wider church to confront theology and traditions which not only have lost relevance but are actually proving destructive choking new life-giving growth to us individually and to the planet itself. It is time replant the Tree of Life in the centre of the garden and to transform the cross from a symbol of death to as framework for life.

So, as we think about reimagining and restoring this Lent/Easter corner of the garden What do we want to preserve, what seeds can be harvested and saved, what cuttings can be taken and replanted in enriched soil and what can be composted, what needs to be binned and finally what new plants can we add to the garden and what do we need to add to the compost to enrich the soil so that new strong meaningful traditions and practices may grow and flourish in our time?

When the traditions of Lent and Easter were first planted it was in a predominantly white, western, male soil. Certainly, they drew from Biblical writings, from Jewish traditions and from pagan European customs and traditions. Not all of that needs to be binned but some needs to be moved to make room for new and more and appropriate plantings for our time and place. We now have:

  • greater learnings of ancient traditions of Judaism and Christianity – the original soil in which it was plated
  • we have insights and learnings from indigenous people of this land we now call Australia. How does their culture, their understandings of the universe and its creation, how they named seasons of this country and how they cared for country?
  • We have the insights and learning of women past present and emerging and the richness of the many cultures of this world that were not even considered of the original development of the traditional garden of Christian theology and liturgical practice we have inherited.
  • And the fact we have come to acknowledge that Christianity does not have a monopoly on truth and wisdom and we can learn and share from the gardens of other religions.

So, can we move from what is negative about the current practices can we plant out the paths of emptiness and negativity we learned about last week story and widen and walk the paths of transformation and creativity as we plant and nurture positive and meaningful theology and practices for our time for us as individuals and for us collectively? This is not something we are going to do in the next six weeks it is the journey of a lifetime with new insights and new understandings being developed along the way. It would in fact be a celebration if we never reach the end as the new will always be bursting through but I believe we must begin the journey and indeed many of us have already taken the first steps.

We begin with reminding ourselves of the origin of Lent which is somewhat obscured history. Originally called in Latin Quadragesima meaning 40th – thought to have come from the tradition of Jesus fasting in the desert for 40 days. The English word Lent is a shorten form of the Old English word Lencten meaning spring season or lengthening of days. Historically there were many cultural customs of fasting before Spring festivals throughout Europe and also one in Egypt which was a centre of early Christian thought. But it would seem that Lent was institutionalised by the Council of Nicaea in 325 and I suspect has gone through many transformations since that time. So, we are actually being true to that tradition of adapting its relevance and meaning to the culture of our time.

We are going to go into breakout groups and if someone could take brief notes of your reactions, insights, and suggestions both negative and positive about Lent and Easter, what in restoring this garden would you keep, what would you discard, what would you add from the old forgotten traditions and what new insights and learnings would you add, how would you enrich the soil so that the garden and planet flourishes and grows how would you help to restore paradise in our midst?

I outlined previously some of the things I think we need to consider – see dot points – but this is something we must work on together so I would be interested to hear you share what you think might make this transformation meaningful for us as a community, for the wider church and for the future of the planet.

As we reflect on this together our challenge is to go beyond our white, middle-class somewhat aging perspective on tradition and theology and remember the challenge of Marcella Althaus-Reid and the lemon sellers of Buenos Aires and consider in our restoration of the garden also from the perspectives of the poor and marginalise in our society and our world, because without justice the garden will not flourish

Together we can and will restore the garden and the planet and at the same time create new and meaningful symbols and traditions to sustain us.


Footnote1                  Rita Nakashima- Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker Saving Paradise – How Christianity Traded Love of This World for Crucifixion and Empire. Beacon Press Boston 1992, page 416ff,

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