Easter Day, which falls on Sunday for most Christians in the U.S., celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. After being executed on a cross on Good Friday, Jesus was buried in a tomb. That first Easter, some 2,000 years ago, God the Father raised Jesus from the dead. The account is found in all four Gospels of the New Testament in the Bible.
That’s the basic definition. I hope every Christian knows that much, and I suspect that many non-Christians know this much, too. Beyond those basics, much of our Easter celebration is layered in tradition.
Our churches are often decorated with white lilies and other spring flowers. Families gather for festive meals, often eating ham or lamb. For me personally, jelly beans are always a highlight of Easter customs. It’s traditional to buy new clothes to wear to church on Easter. And if you come to a church on Easter Day, it’s likely you’ll sing hymns and songs beloved by that church community.
But if we keep looking at Easter, it gets more complex and the meaning deepens. The day is larger than the commemoration of a historic event, and it’s larger than familiar traditions. For on Easter, everything changed.
We Christians believe that Jesus Christ was sent by God the father to live among us, to show us perfect love. Jesus loved outcasts and sinners. Jesus offered hope and healing. Jesus said that our joy is found in sacrificial generosity, not in accruing possessions.
Jesus always told the truth. Jesus offered forgiveness of sin, even to those who betrayed and murdered him. Jesus said, over and over, that we shouldn’t be afraid. Jesus showed us perfect love.
Of course, the Roman Empire didn’t much care for someone preaching a message like this. The empire relied on wealth and was built on might and fear. Jesus’ teachings undercut all that.
Authorities conspired to kill Jesus in an attempt to silence his message. So Jesus was betrayed, arrested, tortured and executed on a cross. His followers lovingly cared for his body and he was buried in a stone tomb.
When women went to the tomb early on Easter morning, they found it was empty. Then they met the risen Jesus, who told them not to be afraid. These women told the men, Jesus’ disciples, the good news that Jesus had been raised from the dead, that he was alive.
People 2,000 years ago understood that when people die, they are meant to stay dead. So it was shocking to them to see their friend and teacher alive again. They were so convinced that Jesus was really, truly alive that many of them would willingly be martyred for their faith in the decades that followed.
Jesus’ followers rejoiced at Easter and developed deep faith. It wasn’t just that Easter showed them a really amazing miracle. No, the joy of Easter is even deeper than that.
Easter shows us that perfect love always wins. In the end, whatever powerful people might try to do to silence love, God’s way is always stronger.
Easter shows us that our mortal bodies die, but life for us continues. Easter shows us that we need not fear death. Death no longer has dominion over us.
This holiday celebrates a complete reorientation of the universe. Love defeats hate. Hope defeats fear. Sacrifice defeats greed. Mercy defeats might. Life defeats death.
If you celebrate Easter, you are celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ. But you are also celebrating God’s great love for us, a love strong enough to defeat death itself. Happy Easter to you all.