I wonder what comes to mind when you think of Easter? Every year it seems that no sooner has the Christmas merchandise been cleared from the shop shelves that they are immediately restocked with chocolate Easter Eggs and Bunnies. For most, Easter is a welcome break from school or work at the beginning of spring. Days are becoming noticeably longer, there is new growth in the fields and gardens, flowers are coming into bloom and buds are appearing on trees and shrubs.
The origins of the Easter festival are complex. The English word Easter has its origins in pagan festivals celebrating an Anglo Saxon goddess called Ēostre (or Ostara in the Germanic form). Customs relating to eggs and bunnies can be traced to these pagan roots. In many other languages the name for the Easter weekend derives from the Hebrew word Pesah which referred to the Jewish Passover festival. This was the season when Jews remembered God rescuing them from Egypt after 400 years of captivity and slavery. The final sign that changed Pharaoh’s heart was the sign of the death of the firstborn son in every household. Only God’s people who had roasted a lamb and painted blood on the doorposts and lintels were ‘passed over’ and saved from this final plague. Pharaoh relented and released the Israelites on their 40 year journey to the Promised Land.
It was the Passover season when Jesus was crucified and rose again. The parallel between the Passover lamb and Jesus was striking and the early church celebrated Christ’s death and resurrection. As the church spread, announcing the good news of new life that Jesus offers, pagan festivals were often Christianised in order to encourage converts to focus their attention on the risen Christ.
The apostle Paul teaches that Christ’s resurrection gives us hope of our own resurrected new life. As you enjoy the new life in nature this spring, and perhaps indulge in chocolate eggs and bunnies, reflect on Christ’s death and resurrection. There is a welcome for you at any of the local churches this Easter, where we would love to help you experience the new life that Christ offers us.
This blog post featured in the March 2016 edition of Hook Focus
I love Easter! It is the festival in the church calendar that for me towers above all the others. It is fun to celebrate Christmas. I love the power of Pentecost. Yet without Easter these other highpoints of the church year would cease to exist. Easter is the kingpin that holds the Christian faith together.
The Easter season covers between 7 to 10 days of Jesus’ 33 year long life yet the gospel accounts devote a disproportionately large amount of space to it, because of its fundamental significance. Easter morning is fantastic as we celebrate Christ’s resurrection from the dead!
When I was younger I used to want to rush through to Easter morning. Partly for the chocolate! But mainly because I find the Good Friday account of Christ’s death made me sad. Sad because the hero of the gospels, the saviour who I love, dies. Sad because of the injustice of the illegal, kangaroo court, that convicted Jesus on trumped up charges from false witnesses. Sad because of the gruesome brutality of the floggings that Jesus endured from the soldiers. Floggings that left a man’s back raw with flesh and were capable of ripping his internal organs out. Sad because of the suffering on the cross as Jesus hung naked and ashamed, surrounded by mocking onlookers as flies buzzed around his open wounds, and the heat of the sun bore down on his exposed body.
Despite the undoubted sadness of the crucifixion I have come to realise that it is the centre point of the gospel. When doubts enter my mind, it is the historical evidence for Christ’s resurrection that stabilises my faith and reassures me of the truth of the gospel. Of course without the crucifixion there could be no resurrection, but Christ’s crucifixion is not merely a precursor to the resurrection. If it were I am sure God could have found a less blood chilling manner for Jesus’ death.
Throughout the New Testament writings we see that Christ’s death provides the transaction that means that we can be forgiven for our sins. As we have seen in our study in 1 Corinthians, the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing (the society around us) but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. Time and again, in Paul’s writings especially, we see that Christ’s death is the very means by which we are saved. On the cross Jesus took the punishment we deserve, he died the death that we should die in order that God’s justice could be complete. The cross stands above it all!
As we approach Good Friday and Easter Sunday I encourage you to take time to linger at the cross and reflect on its power and significance. Rejoice that Christ has paid your debt and allow this truth to stir and strengthen you. As you do I am sure that this will only heighten the sense of joy as we celebrate his resurrection on Easter Day.
This blog post featured in the March 2016 edition of Lifelines