The Meaning of Easter

April 2, 2015

“Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” These simple but powerful words are uttered by a Jewish man named Jesus while nailed and crucified on a Roman Cross in the city of Jerusalem over two thousand years ago. Above his head read a sign ‘The King of the Jews.’ This riveting historical moment is one important part of the larger story of Easter; the day Christians believe to be a celebration for the resurrection of Jesus after his death.
Jesus makes his plea of forgiveness for others as he watches the destructive behavior beneath him where Roman soldiers cast lots for his belongings. Jesus had already been subjected to betrayal from those he loved, torture, humiliation and now finally execution for preaching his word as The Son of God. In the Bible’s Matthew 5:44 it points out how Jesus lived his own preaching when he teaches his followers earlier on to ‘Love your enemies.’ The lesson of forgiveness for his perceived enemies displayed by Jesus while hanging on the cross makes him a man worth emulating regardless of any religious belief.
The story of Jesus needs a back drop of history to set the overall dynamics of that time. Rome was the overseer of Jerusalem, which was occupied by Jews and their leaders. The Romans used all sort of torture and humiliation tactics to ‘keep’ the Jews from uprising and reclaiming the city. The Roman influence was felt throughout and no disturbance would be tolerated. It was
during this time Jesus rides in with followers and his new views that everyone can have a personal relationship with God and we can feel peace, freedom and empowerment in this partnership. Neither the Roman nor Jewish leaders, who considered themselves as the only ones worthy to speak with God, could let this stand; united in their personal interests they decided something needed to be done with this preacher Jesus.
Jesus understood these forces clearly and that his time on Earth was nearly over. He had even told his followers previously that this time would come. On the Thursday following Jesus’s arrival in Jerusalem, he gathers his disciples for what is known to Christian’s as ‘The Last Supper.’ According to the gospels, Jesus explains to his disciples he would soon die but through the representation of the bread ‘his body’ and their wine ‘his blood’ shared that evening, he would always be with them and that his blood
sacrifice through his death allows all of us to enjoy a covenant with God. Even today, this ceremonial sharing of eating bread and drinking wine in remembrance of Jesus is a key part of the Christian service in the form of the Eucharist or Communion.
Jesus also informs his disciples that one among them would betray him. Surprised and confused, the disciples disagree, but Jesus is correct when later on that very evening his friend and disciple, Judas identifies Jesus with a kiss to soldiers working for religious authorities, who in turn hand Jesus over to the Romans who execute him. If we believe the story of Jesus up to this point, as scholars do, we must acknowledge what a brave and determined individual Jesus was. Intellectually, Jesus must have known he was in grave danger just by having followers, preaching and having people believe they can have their own special relationship with God. Any one of these alone would have been enough to garner the unfavorable attention of the Romans and the Jewish leaders. Spiritually, he already knew he would be betrayed and sacrificed.
The Roman soldiers who arrested Jesus took him to Pontius Pilate, who was in charge of the Jerusalem at the time. Concerned about his image, Pilate asks the crowd of people outside to decide whether Jesus should be put to death for making claims about being the Son of God. They said he should! On Friday, known as Good Friday to Christians, the execution of Jesus by crucifixion was finalized. Christians today often commemorate Good Friday by attending a Stations of the Cross service, where the last hours of Jesus’
life are retraced.
Jesus told his disciples, following his death he would raise again on the third day; the day we now celebrate as Easter Sunday. His friends went to his grave, and found that the heavy stone placed in front was rolled away to reveal an empty tomb; with only the funeral wrappings laying where Jesus once had. They saw an angel who told them, ‘Don’t be afraid! I know you are
looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He has been raised from the dead, just as He said it would happen.’ This experience was so powerful for the disciples, who once hid and deserted their leader, were now brave in their belief to risk their lives to preach the life and word of Jesus – founding the many different religions that have Jesus, his life and resurrection as their keystone.
Christians believe Jesus has victory over death representing an eternal life we all can achieve, proven by Jesus, his lessons and rebirth. To Christians it guarantees that those who believe in Jesus will not remain dead, but will be resurrected unto eternal life. The Resurrection also proved Jesus’s power to forgive sin. By rising from the dead, Jesus proved his authority and
power to break the bonds of sin and to assure forgiveness and eternal life. Jesus also demonstrated that with faith one can endure many kinds of hardship and display great courage like he did.
The concept of rebirth is an important theme in the Christian Easter celebration. We find this is common to other religions as well. The Jewish holiday of Passover, which Jesus was celebrating; is also seen as a time of rebirth and renewal. They are both celebrated in the Spring and food is at the centerpiece.
We can even trace these style connections to Pagan celebrations. The name Easter is believed to be derived from the pagan name ‘Eostre’, the name of the Great Mother Goddess of Spring. Pagans honored the Spring Equinox as a time of rebirth and fertility of the land. In those times, the hare played an important role in the pagan festival of Eostre. Legend claims the Great Mother of Spring found a wounded bird and turned it into a hare so it couldsurvive the winter. When this hare found it could lay eggs it made a gift of its eggs to the goddess who had protected him. And so the tradition of the Easter egg and hare, or bunny was born.
The egg has been an important fertility symbol associated with the rebirth of spring. Christians used eggs as a symbol for the resurrection of Jesus. During Passover it is customary to offer boiled eggs. The Pagans used eggs in their welcoming of Spring celebrations as well; painting them bright colors to mimic the liveliness of Spring after the bleakness of winter. The combining of these traditions continued and were adapted by different countries; some coloring their eggs to symbolize the blood of Jesus or The Last Supper. You may even be familiar with the world’s most famous Easter Eggs commissioned by Russian royals from the renowned French jeweler Faberge.
When Spring arrives a new cycle of life begins. The same is with life and what Jesus’s death and resurrection symbolize for the celebration of Easter; life in its many different physical and spiritual forms always continues. Easter represents the completion of one cycle and the beginning of another – how exciting!

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