New reflections on Easter
Written by Nicole Mugford, Discipling the Next Generations Panel Member
Even though I have grown up in the church, the first time I attended an Easter service at church was when I was 25. Every year throughout my teenage years and early 20s I would instead be on an Easter camp, first as a youth, then as a leader. South Australia in particular has a strong tradition of Easter Camps, with many congregations, denominations or organisations hosting camps for young people.
I grew up in the Easter camp culture of late nights, games and activities, tribal team activities, river and water sports, dance parties, talent shows, Easter Sunday dawn services, deep worship and a spiritual evening where many people made faith commitments. Much like any youth camp, these opportunities provide a mountain top faith experience, which encourages, nurtures and inspires you in your faith journey and lets you experience an intense and intimate Christian community.
I have many great memories of Easter camps, mostly memories of pranks pulled on leaders, competing in ridiculous challenges, eating too much chocolate late at night, and meaningful conversations as you cried and begged for a deeper faith and to be more like Jesus.
The first year of not attending an Easter Camp was confronting. What do I do all weekend? What were all these traditions and experiences of Holy Week? Was the tradition of Easter Sunday Dawn Service something that happened outside of the youth camp culture? I had never experienced a Maundy Thursday, a feast of Tenebrae, an Agape meal, I hadn’t experienced the grief of waiting in the darkness and empty church on a Good Friday, or the silence of an Easter Saturday, and I didn’t know how to celebrate the Easter Sunday morning. I was also not sure what to do on Monday.
I deeply missed the youth camp culture and community. I knew how to do that after 15 years of Easter Camps. Instead, I had to learn the rituals and traditions of a Holy Week and Easter celebration and not just the practices but also the meaning and theology. For the first time I found myself asking who Jesus was, and what did the story of the cross and resurrection mean for us?
Over the last three years of Easter services, I’ve reflected on the story, significance and traditions of Easter, and I’ve learned a lot of who Jesus is and how God is reflected in that. As I explored life and faith, it was important for me to deconstruct and unpack the idea of Jesus as a sacrifice from an angry God for the terrible things humans had done. It didn’t sit well with me.
As I looked for new theologies where sin, salvation and the end points of either heaven or hell wasn’t the only answer, I began to be free of fear, shame and guilt. I could live out my life as a beloved child and express love to all people. So, I wanted to see how the actions of the cross fitted in that story.
Easter Camps gave me a Christian community to grow up in and connect with. I was challenged in my leadership skills (have you ever been a leader for a group of 13 year old girls in the middle of a mouse plague…), and I began to sense a desire to serve in the margins and minorities through including others and embracing community at Easter Camps.
I’m thankful for all these experiences but I’m also thankful that now in this season of my life, I get to experience the theology, significance and traditions of Holy Week and Easter services. I am thankful that in reflecting on Easter, I’ve had the space to question who Jesus is and how that affects my life and those around me.