What does the Easter weekend remind you of? Chocolate eggs and rabbits wrapped up in coloured foil, hot cross buns, a dash to that favourite holiday or camping spot, a good rest and a bit of fun with the family, double demerit points and carnage on the roads?
If we look back in history to the events that Easter commemorates, we see a weekend that stands out as a beacon and it was no holiday!
Why the fuss?
The usual Christian emphasis at Easter is the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. Christians celebrate Easter because it reveals the heart of Christianity—the story of a God determined to rescue a planet that is out of control.
We hardly need to be reminded that we live in a troubled world. You only have to watch the nightly television news to get a dose of the world’s woes. And so Easter speaks to us of rescue, of renewal and of the way to peace.
Dag Hammarskjöld, the second Secretary-General of the United Nations, said, “We’ve tried so hard and have failed so miserably that unless the world has a spiritual rebirth in the next few years civilisation is doomed.” And that’s what Easter is all about—spiritual rebirth.
God’s rescue mission
The Easter story tells of a God who made the world, saw it crumble and so proceeds to put it back in shape.
Christians believe that the ultimate result of sin is death and because we all have an inherent sinful nature, we have a pretty bleak ending. However, God is passionate about His creation and hatched a rescue plan to end sin and not destroy sinners—at an enormous cost to Himself. Someone with the highest position and greatest authority in the universe could pay the ransom for everyone else. So God sent a member of His own family—His Son, Jesus—to pay that price.
For many years I have been attracted to the story of Oscar Schindler. It’s a moving portrayal of one man’s attempt to rescue a doomed race of people.
Schindler had made an enormous amount of money in his enamel-ware factory in Kraków, Poland, providing plates, mugs, pots and pans for the German war machine. He used the money to buy the lives of hundreds of defenceless Jews with no other hope. To be on Schindler’s list was life. To be off the list was death!
The words of the old Rabbi, written in the Jewish Talmud, were quoted to him and he couldn’t get them out of his mind: “He who saves one life saves a nation.”
At the end of the movie, after the liberation of Czechoslovakia and having saved over 1200 lives from extermination in the death camps, Schlinder is about to escape in a shiny, black Adler car and leave his Jewish workers. He knows that as a German and a member of the Nazi party, he will be arrested and treated as a war criminal.
His workers present him with a ring made from the gold fillings from the teeth of the Jewish people he had protected. The words of the Talmud are inscribed on it, given in grateful thanks by the survivors.
We see him almost overcome with anguish and frustration that he was able to do so little, that he could have saved more Jews than just the ones he had rescued.
He takes his golden Nazi badge off the lapel of his well-tailored coat and in anguish realises that it would have been worth at least two lives.
“I could have done more,” he laments. “If only I’d done more.”
In this experience, we see but a dim picture of the anguish of a God who wishes He could save more people. But that’s our choice, not His. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, all we need to do now is accept that He died for our sins to claim as our own the eternal life that God offers as a gift.
The first Easter
Some may think it strange that the hero of the Easter story is the One who dies. But it is a death with a purpose, a death to pay the penalty of sin, a death that leads to life and a death that covers and pays for all of our inadequacies and problems.
For the Christian world, Easter is a time to celebrate the love of God, as well as to acknowledge the debt that we owe to Jesus Christ. It calls us to revisit the scenes of Jesus’ crucifixion on that first “Good” Friday.
It calls us to recall the early morning stillness of the Sunday morning broken by the pounding of hobnail sandals on the cold, cobbled stones of the streets of Jerusalem, as the soldiers who guarded the dead body in the tomb rushed into the city with the unbelievable cry on their lips, “He’s alive! He’s alive!”
An angel of the Lord had come down in the darkness of that Sunday morning and tossed away the great stone in front of the tomb as if it were a pebble. Jesus walked out and nothing could stop Him.
So we have the vision of a risen Christ who is alive today, who is interested, who seeks His own and who wants to restore the broken relationship between God and humankind.
“But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive,” it says in the Bible (in the First Book of Corinthians, chapter 15, verses 20-22).
God had accomplished His rescue mission, but it was through brokenness and suffering. And this is what Easter is all about—God has settled the score.
Did you know?
Unlike when Jesus was born (Christmas), we know the exact date of Jesus’ death—the Jewish Passover (the fourteenth day of the month of Nisan in the Hebrew calendar). Dates for Easter are related to the lunar calendar and are not the actual days upon which Jesus was crucified and resurrected.
Easter was originally a memorial to the Roman god Ishtar (pronounced Easter), that was adapted by the early Christian church.