Carolyn’s Online Magazine (#COMe)
WHAT MAKES EASTER SPECIAL?
Guest writer the Rev. Monte W. Holland
Psalm 118:22 The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. 23 This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. 24 This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Why do more people show up for worship on Easter morning than other Sundays? What is it that makes Easter special? There must be some reason that the average person of the world pauses at Easter (and Christmas).
There most certainly is!!
We say the words, Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!!
It’s best to go back one week to Palm Sunday. By doing this, starting on Palm Sunday, we catch the flavor of the whole season.
There are four groups of people I think about on Palm Sunday.
- Traditional Jews, the hard-liners. They kept the letter of the Law. They were the ones that complained about Jesus claiming to forgive people’s sins. The rightly said only God could do that, but they didn’t make the connection that Jesus was God with them. These same hard-liners also condemned Jesus for healing on the Sabbath—and you remember Jesus’ reply: The Sabbath was made for humans, not humans for the Sabbath. On that Palm Sunday they surely stood by, seething that this sinner, in their eyes, was getting a big parade. They sought a way to do him in—they’d find it before the week came to an end.
- The unbelievers—soldiers, thieves (like the two that would be beside Jesus on Calvary), and many others—who stood by watching the parade, not feeling too much one way or the other. They had no clue about what was happening.
- In the midst of this crowd was a sub-group that believed that Jesus was a white-horse Messiah, one that would overthrow the power of their time, Rome. They believed he would change the condition of the very world of their time. It surely bothered them that he would be arriving on such a humble animal, but they still waved palm branches in that hope.
- The twelve disciples and many of Jesus’ friends and followers. These folks were the ones leading the celebration. They’d heard the wonderful teachings and seen the miracles and healings. They believed Jesus was from God at least, and was God at most. They were so excited that Jesus might be accepted by the rank and file in Jerusalem. They anticipated everyone would come to know Jesus and love him.
These first three groups of people, all present at the beginning of Holy Week, each having or lacking visions, were all wrong.
The disciples knew Jesus as the Son of God. They believed in him. But as we read the gospels, we realize they too had it wrong. Jesus more than once told them in his words, that as the Son of God ‘The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and the third day be raised up.’ (Luke 9:22) Jesus foretold what must happen, but they resisted that idea. Peter was one of the chief deniers of what Jesus spoke clearly about.
So Holy Week begins.. Jesus stands in opposition to the religious establishment—he even upsets the tables of the moneychangers. Jesus was despicable to the hardliners and yet pleased the disciples.
As the week progresses Jesus continues to prepare the disciples. They travel to Jerusalem each day, and finally on Thursday evening they gather for Passover, according to their Jewish faith. Jesus behaves like an expected Messiah would do. He came to fulfill the law, not to destroy it.
But then Jesus added another touch at the end of the Passover meal—he instituted a way to remember him. The bread and wine symbols were a forever way to remember and experience his presence after he was gone.
Why would a Messiah that was going to bring God’s presence and God’s rule into the world be talking about remembering him after he was gone? The disciples were confused because they hadn’t taken Jesus’ message to heart—that he must die for them and all of us and go to be with God the Father.
One of them, Judas, got so far off track that he believed this Jesus needed to be sacrificed to the authorities before he could do any more harm to the Jewish community and leadership. Even as Jesus was in the midst of agonizing over his impending suffering and death, the disciples couldn’t grasp the message and importance of the last hour with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. They fell asleep.
Peter boldly resisted the idea that the disciples would abandon Jesus. He said he’d never deny Jesus. The cock crowed after his third denial, just as Jesus predicted.
Jesus is arrested, tried and sentenced to death. Even then all of the people have one last chance to spare him. However, they choose the thief Barabbas to live and Jesus to die. The die is cast, Jesus is led off to Calvary to hang and die. After a painful death on the Cross the legalists feel that justice is done. The masses who wanted a ‘white horse’ Messiah go away disillusioned, and probably soon to forget this event. A few have already got the message, the thief on the cross, the centurion standing nearby, and Joseph of Arimethea.
The disciples are very sad, but also disillusioned. Their companionate and stalwart spiritual leader is now gone for the first time in three years.
Just before resting for the Sabbath day the women mix spices to be used to prepare Jesus his body on the morn of the day after the Sabbath.
And that brings us to Easter morning.
The thief is in paradise. The centurion is still in awe of what happened. Joseph is satisfied that he did the right thing. The women are ready for a heartbreaking task. Mary Magdalene, going to the tomb as soon as light arrives, and finds it open. She runs to tell the disciples. Peter and John run to the tomb—Peter rushes in to find it empty. Peter and John now believe and quickly head back to the gathered disciples. Mary Magdalene hangs around, soaking up the experience. She encounters a man she believes to be the gardener—but she soon realizes it’s Jesus, the risen Christ.
This is the real confirmation of the resurrection.
Mary Magdalene shares with the disciples and relays the message from Jesus to meet him in Galilee.
After a long week in which many expectations were dashed, Easter arrives, and with Easter truth was revealed—a truth that Jesus had already shared with the disciples long before: that Jesus must die for our sins and on the third day be raised from the dead.
And for what purpose?
To open the door to eternity for all who believe.
What is Easter all about?
It’s about the most important fact of life: We have a present and we have a future.
Our present is empowered by the presence of a living Christ—a presence guided by the Holy Spirit into a life of love—the Great Commandment. Our future is according to Jesus’ words: I go to the Father to prepare a place for you.
Up until that first Easter, life was a treadmill—getting on a birth and getting off at death. The first Easter changed everything—life was now eternal.
Through Jesus Christ’s victory over death, we too share that victory. We are resurrection people. Death can no longer contain us.
As a speaker said at the Good Friday service I attended Jesus’ dying for our sins, transforms us—not into perfect people, but into people that live as those created in the image of God imperfectly in an imperfect world. What has changed is that perfection and eternal life awaits us.
We still will die, but now that Easter has come. Life follows death—the glorious eternal life in the presence of our loving God.
Praise God for the victory in Jesus Christ.