'T Was Easter-Sunday. The Full-Blossomed Trees Filled all the Air with Fragrance and with Joy.
Easter signifies, for the christian world, the power and the glory of the resurrection of Christ. Is that how we all see it or is it more a time of personal memories of Spring and joy?
I take a stroll through my memories of Easter and comment on how Easter does not live up to its promise. Through Spain, England and Ukraine I trace what Easter says to me and wonder what the future holds. I see easter as fun but not necessarily significant in the way it is generally held.
Longfellow's characterisation of Easter seems very English,
'T was Easter-Sunday. The full-blossomed trees
Filled all the air with fragrance and with joy.
Although, in fact, he was writing about Spain, previous to those lines he wrote,
It was at Córdova,
In the cathedral garden. Thou wast sitting
Under the orange-trees, beside a fountain.
Suddenly it is different, the fragrance of the orange blossom is very different in Spain. The fountain suggests a dry country, such as you get in Andalucía. The lines are from a play by Longfellow, 'The Spanish Student', taken from a tale of Cervantes about the love of a Spanish student for a Gipsy girl. I love that a seemingly English scene is soaked in the atmosphere of southern Spain.
I am writing this on Easter Sunday, known as Domingo de Pascua in Spain. Today marks the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. This year there is a rare conjunction of Easter, Passover and Ramadan. This should mark an auspicious time, but I fear it doesn't. Unfortunately the Orthodox Easter does not happen for another week, a disconnect that is significant at this time.
I have many fond memories of Easter as a time of togetherness and splendid isolation. When I was young my wider family used to get together at Easter and Christmas. Easter was a time of partying in the garden, going to a country pub for a pint of real ale and relaxing in the sunshine. In my memory the sun is always shining at Easter. Indeed today there is blue sky outside my window and I have come indoors out of the heat of the sun to sit and write. I'm sure these were happy times, I really don't remember. I am more influenced by the photos of smiling groups, mixing and chatting. I was never very good at that, so I probably hid away.
I have a strong memory of one year starting my season climbing in the Scottish mountains at Easter. Being a four day holiday from work, I left the family at home and ventured out into the sun and snow. I walked the ridge alongside Glencoe—the infamous 'Aonach Eagach' Ridge. Snow was still on the ground as I made my way along the ridge. My footsteps were the first, creating a sense of being the first person to step along here. For me the splendid isolation was something I loved and sought out whenever I could. Perhaps this explains my not being very good at mixing and chatting.
Easter In Spain
Here in Spain Easter is very different from the UK. The sense of fun and frolicking with beer and morris dancing gives way to pain and self-flagellation. The overwhelming catholicism of Spain weighs heavily, pressing Spanish people down with guilt and sin. Semana Santa—Holy Week—in Andalucía, especially, is a collective affair that people spend all year preparing for. A town is split up into brotherhoods, each responsible for a particular float in the week long series of parades. The heavy floats are carried by a multitude of mainly men swaying their way along the main streets. They carry this weight as a penance, a penance carried out publicly. They are followed by penitents, dressed like the Ku Klux Klan, and the women dressed as widows. Bands, composed of mainly young people are interposed between the floats, play slow mournful tunes familiar to the people watching along the whole route.
The whole display focuses on the pain of the crucifixion and, for me, seems to miss the hope and power of the resurrection, marked by Easter Sunday.
Several decades ago I started the period of my life spent creating the interior lighting of English Cathedrals. One of the major focal points for the lighting was always the Easter Sunday Evensong. In Durham Cathedral I used the lighting control system to create an inspiring highlight for the service. I spent some time with the clergyman responsible for the services and the Choir Master timing the Easter procession and planning the build up of lighting scenes.
The service started in darkness with the choir and congregation outside the west door. The choir held lit candles. The service/procession started with the opening of the west door and the choir leading. As they entered the cathedral the candles started to illuminate the nave. I set up the artificial lighting to follow them up the nave as they processed slowly towards the quire at the east end. The congregation followed them, also holding candles, as the nave began to fill with light. As the choir reached the quire stalls the light grew at the east end, on the high altar and on the rood screen. As the choir reached the final 'Gloria' the lighting became brighter until the whole interior was filled with light.
To me this emphasises the hope of the resurrection and the potential power of the Christian faith.
Unfortunately the hope and power of Easter has not become a reality two thousand years later. Not only is the western and eastern easter celebrated at different times, the ancient schism of christianity has continued into the war in Ukraine with opposing responses from each side.
Pope Francis held a video meeting with Patriarch Kirill, leader of the Russian Orthodox Church and a longtime ally of President Vladimir Putin. The head of the Catholic church warned the Russian patriarch against hiding behind religion to justify armed aggression and conquest. He said,
Once upon a time there was also talk in our churches of holy war or just war, today we cannot speak like this. Earlier the Patriarch had said,
We have entered into a struggle that has not a physical, but a metaphysical significance. He expressed the view that there is a spiritual difference between the West and the Orthodox world, the latter being the better.
This Easter there is a long way to go to realise the power of the resurrection.