Wednesday, April 7, 2010

What's the Big Deal About Easter?

It is probably understandable that the editor of a blog on Christianity has not had time to post anything in the last week! It has been a busy time for Christ followers.

When I was a little kid, however, I did not grow up in a household where we went to church regularly, and for many years I did not even realize the religious significance of Easter. I just knew the bunnies and the eggs. Where I grew up on the East Coast, I was also not really aware of Good Friday because it always coincided with our spring break so everyone was already on vacation. When I went to college in Texas, I was stunned that Good Friday was celebrated by so many; people did not go to class and offices were closed or closed early. Even at that time in my early adulthood, I still did not understand why Easter was such a big deal to Christians. As a result, I recognize that some readers of this blog may have the same reaction--what is the big deal about Easter? I thought I would take some time to try to explain.

Christmas is a great holiday, don't get me wrong. But there is nothing like Easter. Indeed, as I understand, the early church did not even celebrate the birth of Christ for a few centuries. Easter was its main celebration.

And even today, some Christian scholars debate the factual accuracy of the virgin birth. Of course, it is an essential tenet of the faith for many Christ followers. But it is not even mentioned in all of the Gospels. The Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of John (considered by many to be the first and last gospels to be written) begin their narratives with the ministry of John the Baptist when Jesus was already an adult. Apparently those Gospel writers did not think Jesus's birth to be of great theological importance.

I'm no theologian or biblical scholar, I don't know who is factually correct. But to me, it is actually not that important. I can appreciate Mark and John's greater emphasis on Jesus's teachings, the passion story, and the resurrection. After all, it is the resurrection that is the key to our faith as Christians. If we did not believe that Jesus rose from the grave, then his beautiful teachings would not have the authority they do. Instead, we would simply consider them to be the insightful teachings of a wise human being--like Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln or Oprah. But because we Christ followers do believe in the resurrection, we believe they are much more than just the teachings of a wise person. We put our faith in Jesus's teachings, we study them and we try our best to live them in our imperfect lives.

Some may ask why we Christians believe in the resurrection. That is a fair question. It is also a personal one that is bound to be answered differently by different people. An obvious answer is that the New Testament tells us that Jesus rose from the dead after three days in the tomb. But I can appreciate that that may not be enough for some folks.

To me, there are a couple of other things that really inspire my faith. First, something pretty impressive must have happened after Jesus's death because the disciples turned from utter despair (after the arrest and cruxifiction of their leader and friend) to an amazing, unshakeable faith. With that faith, the disciples (other than Judas) went on to organize the early church and to spread the good news of Christ to those who had not yet heard it. They sacrified mightily and suffered horribly to do that. Something very impressive happened to inspire that type of dedication in the face of all kinds of obstacles and dangers. In my mind, if they had not experienced the risen Christ, they would have taken a simpler path. I think Peter would have just gone back to a quiet life as a fisherman.

Another thing that convinces me of the factual accuracy of the resurrection is the life of Paul. Clearly, he was initially no friend of the Way, as the early church was called. Paul was a devout Jew, and was not keen on the followers of Jesus. Though he never met the pre-Easter Jesus, he did have a pretty impressive encounter with the post-Easter Jesus. It was so impressive that Paul did a 180, and devoted the rest of his life to learning about Jesus's teachings, trying to follow them, and bringing new people to the faith. Indeed, Paul wrote the vast majority of the books of the New Testament. None of us were on that road to Damascus with Paul, but clearly something pretty darned impressive must have happened to change his mind so drastically and convince him to sacrifice so much.

For those who believe in the resurrection of Christ, Easter is an amazing celebration. Like the disciples during Jesus's earthly ministry, we can be impressed by the wisdom and beauty of Jesus's pre-Easter teachings. But the resurrection shows us they were more than pretty words, they had divine authority to back them up.

And the resurrection is the ultimate victory. Jesus was betrayed, humiliated, tortured and abandoned, then he suffered an agonizing death. But despite all that suffering, he prevailed. No power on Earth could keep him down permanently. Even death, which seemed horrible and final, was not "the end of the story" as my pastor expresses it. The real end of the story is that like Christ we have eternal life with our Heavenly Father. If we no longer have reason to fear death, we are really liberated during our time here on Earth. That is the big deal that Christians celebrate at Easter.

1 Corinthians 15:55

O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?

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