Saturday 24 February --- Over 120 parish liturgy team members gathered at the Catholic Leadership Centre for the Easter Season Planning Day entitled "Finding Jesus". Hosted by the Archbishop’s Office for Evangelisation, the seminar offered theological insight and practical suggestions for how parishes can prepare for the liturgical season of Easter; the 50-day season often receiving more attention in the build-up (Lent) than in the follow through.
The day was bookended with keynote presentations by Dr Mary Coloe pbvm (Head of Biblical Studies, Yarra Theological Union) and Cathy Jenkins (Director, Archbishop’s Office for Evangelisation).
Participants also attended workshops focused on key aspects and ministries of the season, namely: Exploring the Triduum scriptures (Rev. Brendan Byrne SJ), RCIA: The Scrutinies and Mystagogy (Rev. Elio Capra SDB), Sacraments of Initiation (Mary Ryan), Sacraments of Healing (Rev. Anthony McSweeney SSS), Music for the Seasons (Dr Paul Taylor & Larissa Cairns), Encouraging Stillness and Silence in the Liturgy (Mirella Pace), Lectio Divina (Rev. John Dupuche), Pastoral Care to the Community (Paul Zammit), Ministry of the Sacristan (Rev. Anthony Doran), Liturgy Planning (Moira Cosgriff) and Liturgical Environment (Jacqui Giuliano).
The theme for the seminar, “Finding Jesus”, was expertly unpacked in the opening keynote by Dr Mary Coloe pbvm who guided participants through the old and new testaments to understand the seemingly incomprehensible experience of Jesus' resurrection, and that event ultimately fulfilling of God's promise of eternal life.
Mary began by asking participants to discuss what is Easter is about, challenging them to not use the word ‘resurrection’.
"I hope somewhere in your discussions you mentioned that Jesus is alive! Jesus is alive. This is the amazing, unexpected, beyond comprehension experience of Easter."
“Consider the experience of the disciples… what they've just seen. What they know: Their entire context (thinking, speaking) is dead. That’s what they saw, very graphically... a crucifixion, a burial. That’s where they are, full stop. This might help us to understand why so many of the resurrection stories are about not recognising. The disciples journeying to Emmaus; Mary Magdalene in John:20 doesn’t recognise Jesus.
“Out of context sometimes we don’t recognise people. And the disciples’ context is: Jesus is dead. They've seen it. And people who are dead, stay dead.
“But then you have the story of the disciples on their way to Emmaus. Former disciples I should say. They'd given up, they’re walking away from Jerusalem. They're going over the horror of their experience: ‘all that had happened’, says Luke. They tell the story: Jesus, a mighty prophet, condemned to death, crucified and then dead. They had hoped in him – past tense – and now he's dead. And this is where they are stuck: deadness. And he walks with them and, out of context, they don’t recognise him.
“You see recognition demands more than eyesight. It's not a job for Specsavers! You need more than good eyesight to recognise. You also need a context in your mind, that puts what you see with a memory. But for them it’s incomprehensible. For them, Jesus is dead, so they don’t see him.
“And then – Jesus tries to open up the context. He goes through the scriptures, interpreting the words they've heard repeatedly; words they've heard about the Messiah, the Christ. And Jesus says, ‘don’t you know your scriptures? That Christ would first suffer before entering his glory?’
“The only place they could have read that really is through the book of Daniel. Daniel talks about the suffering, and gradually, Jesus’ teaching begins to make a difference. They (the disciples) begin to move from facts to something starting to stir – ‘Did our hearts not burn within us?’ – forcing their attention from the head, what we ‘know’, to something else stirring. And then something happens; not in words, but what happens next is: Jesus takes bread, he blesses it, and breaks it. And this, for them, is all they need. This action reopens the memory and opens the context for them. They've seen this same action. Taking bread, blessing, breaking. And now they understand something. Now they've seen ‘a body given for you: the death’. That's all they need to have recognition. It's not just eyesight. It's also that memory, that sign, to say "That’s Jesus!"
"And here (the writer) Luke does something rather wonderful: he says, they ‘arose’. That's the resurrection word in Luke, they ‘arose’. Who? The disciples. It's the disciples who rise, and then, resurrected, rush back to tell the others.
“So this experience of disciples discovering Jesus alive is what we celebrate at Easter. No-one sees Jesus getting out to the tomb. What they see is Jesus lives. And in the early church they have a number of words to try and say what just happened. Sometimes they say, he is exalted. John used the word glorified; others say he is risen. but it took time to put words on their experience.”
Mary then explored the psalms and books of the Old Testament to reflect on the Jewish ideas about ‘death’ and how even before Jesus’ birth, this began to develop and reaches a new meaning with Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.
“The starting point is once you’re dead, that’s it. … As it says in the psalms, ‘their graves are their homes forever. … That was death in the biblical world, until about 200 years before Jesus. And then it starts to open up a little bit, like in the book of the prophet Ezekiel in the valley of the dry bones that it’s not the resurrection of individuals, but it’s the resurrection of the people of Israel. It’s the hope that the people will be restored after the exile.
"And a question emerges: can God be just? How can those who have died – and particularly those who died through martyrdom – how can God vindicate them once life is over?
"The idea was that if you live a good life, God will reward you now through wealth, many children, good fields, healthy cattle etc. And of course the opposite meant that if you are blind, crippled, sick, don’t have any children, then obviously you ‘deserve’ it; you must be a sinner. That's one idea. The good are rewarded, the wicked depart from God. There's no sense of hell here. The punishment is to be deprived of God's presence.
"It's one idea and some of the gospels pick this up. But, there was another idea. Now, this other idea possibly comes by borrowing on Greek thinking. The Greeks considered the gods were immortal. ('Ambrosia' kept them from corruption) And because this was the food of heaven, humans didn’t have access to it, so humans were mortal.
"In the Book of Wisdom, some of this thinking is taken up. The Book of Wisdom is part of Old Testament thought, and especially important for the Gospel of John. And what it proposes is that God has ‘eternity life’; God is immortal. But God can give that gift of immortality, that gift of eternity life to those who choose the way of wisdom… to those who want wisdom. It’s a gift; it's not something by right, but they can be given the gift of eternity life: the life of God.
"It’s in the Gospel of John that this wisdom is taken up. He talks about 'eternity life' (eternal life). …We see this early in the gospel, with Nicodemus, and the Samaritan woman.
"This is what Jesus is offering: eternity life. He's not being literal; he's talking about a new quality of life, being born again.
"There’s more to just human life possible, there’s the gift for those who want it: to be born into the eternity life through the gift of the spirit.”