Easter in perspective

Crosses G8cae67ab8 1920
Crosses and sunset. (photo: courtesy of Gerd Altmann).

From as early as the second century, Christians have been celebrating the resurrection of Jesus in a festival known as Easter. Easter is a German word Ostern which came over into English as Easter and carries with it ideas of spring and the evidence of new life sprouting after the dark, difficult and cold days of winter, especially in the north Atlantic as well as some territories south of the Equator. More important, Easter represents defiance of life over death as Jesus, whom Christians acclaim as messiah or deliverer, is reported to have defied the odds and was raised from the dead three days after being killed by the Romans on a cross. The festival carries the tone and message of defiance and despite hundreds of years of challenges, setbacks, persecution and difficulties, Christians around the world continue to celebrate Easter.

Ironically, this year there will be celebrations of Easter on the Ukrainian side of the border in Europe as Christians, some of whom have their roots in the Russian Orthodox Church, will be affirming that Jesus is alive. The same will be true on the Russian side as Orthodox Christians, who were accustomed to crossing the border before the war, will also be celebrating. Similarly, in Palestine there will be celebrations of Easter in Gaza, despite ongoing bombardment and fighting and the same will be true in Israel, especially in Jerusalem as, despite the risks, Christians will defy the odds of war, including vulnerability to being killed, in order to celebrate the greatest Christian festival on earth, Easter.

Easter is one way in which Christians look back to the tragedies and challenges of first century Palestine, with conflicts so numerous the Roman Imperial authorities became nervous, sought to suppress all uprisings, even at the cost of snuffing out the lives of innocent individuals like Jesus. This tragic turn of events, in AD 33, of course was not new as, two years after the birth of Jesus, somewhere between BC 5 and AD 3, a number of male children were, reportedly, killed by the tyrant Herod who, out of fear for his leadership and maintaining stability in his part of the Empire, sought to carry out acts of genocide and infanticide in order to maintain political power (Matt 2:16-18). This approach to maintaining power at all cost is totally opposite to the way God works and the story of Easter is rooted in the act of letting go rather that grasping after power and such was the action of Jesus who surrendered to God in the face of evil and death and was triumphant in being raised to life on Easter Day. For this courageous act, and the consequent show of God’s power of victory and triumph over death, Christians celebrate Easter.

Yet, Easter is not just about celebrating the victory of Jesus over death, as an act of God in the past. It is also testimony to the way God is working in the present in the lives of those who are defying the powers of evil and death and striving towards life in all it’s fullness. Those who are hustling, seeking out a living in the present are signs that the power of the resurrection is still alive and at work in the world. Christians or not, these are persons who are not willing to roll over and give up in the face of life’s challenges and difficulties but, especially where children are involved, they are willing, prepared and dedicated to push the proverbial button in order to make a living in order to survive and prepare the next generation to live meaningful lives. This approach to life is infused with the Easter spirit of defiance in the face of all odds and is commended by the Christian approach to life which is infused with hope and endless possibilities.

At the same time the tradition of Easter egg hunt, chocolate, bun and cheese, highlight the lighter side of Easter. While some people view these as simply paganistic, and no doubt this is the case, nevertheless, these traditions also point to the triumph of life over death. In this way, the message is, there’s no one way to understand, appreciate and extract meaning from the Easter celebration and as long as there is the affirmation of life in its fullness (John 10:10), there is every reason to celebrate. Indeed, church services around the world will ring out with alleluias on Easter Day and the buildings will be exquisitely decorated with Easter lilies and other flowers to mark the celebration of the triumph of life over death.

This is not to deny there are homes, families, communities and nations where terror and mayhem are being exacted on individuals and many are dying in the process. How is the Easter message to be understood in this process? In a very simple way Christians argue the battle against evil and death is already won but fighting is still in progress by those who have not yet recognized they have lost. This means tyrants are still ruling the world, corruption is still common and there are those who manipulate the scales of economic production in order to extract more than they are putting in, purely to ensure greater enrichment at the expense of the poverty of the majority. This will undoubtedly continue for a while, however, so will defiance in the face of all the odds, until the playing field is levelled and justice and equity prevail. In the meanwhile, those who follow Jesus will say, affirm, sing, worship and believe the last word belongs to God, who defied all odds, and brought about the triumph of good over evil and life over death. This is the reason Christians celebrate Easter.

Rev. Garth Minott is the Suffragan Bishop of Kingston.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *