Today and this last week Christians around the world celebrate the holiday called Easter. Because it is less commercialized and less about buying things, it takes a back seat to Christmas. That holiday just about everybody knows about even if they don’t know much about its Christian significance. But it is a shame, really, because Easter symbolizes so much more about what it means to be a Christian. So I decided today to attempt to explain to my non-Christian friends a bit about the meaning of Easter and what it is we are celebrating.
If you don’t know the story at all, I can give you just a brief primer. Christians believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and is God incarnated (in body form) on the earth. We believe that Jesus was born and grew up in humble circumstances. In his young years (younger than I am now), he began to teach others about the nature of God and our obligations to each other. He taught people to love, to care for others, and to not return hatred for hatred, violence for violence. He taught that we should forgive all people their sins against us. He caught the anger of the established powers of his day and was eventually put to death, by crucifixion. Christians believe that Jesus was dead for three days and then resurrected (was alive again, risen from the dead) on the holiday we now call Easter. There is so much more to the story, but that isn’t the thing I am trying to explain.
So what does Easter mean to us? First, Easter is about hope. Because of God’s own self-sacrifice, we have hope. Hope of life (Christians believe we will all be resurrected), hope of forgiveness (Christians believe that we can be forgiven of our sins through the sacrifice of Jesus), and the hope of healing (from our own transgressions as well as the suffering caused by the actions of others). So the story of Easter is a reminder that there is hope in the world. No matter how bad it gets, and remember that the story of Easter is also the story of the suffering and cruelty of man, there is always hope. There is hope because God loves the world so much that He chose to suffer for us. Both God as Jesus who suffered death for us and God as Father who suffered, or allowed, His son to die so that we might be saved. So Easter is about the hope that is available to all of us.*
Easter is also about the celebration of grace. The term grace for Christians describes how God gives us more than we deserve. Have you felt before that sense of inadequacy, not being “good enough”? Sometimes that runs very deep. Modern American culture tells us that the solution is to think of ourselves as amazing, but for most of us I think that falls flat because we still feel that sense of not being good enough. The idea of grace basically acknowledges that sense of not being adequate, but responds in a different way. The grace of God, or the grace of Christ, means that we get more than we deserve. It means that all of us get more than we deserve from God. It is true that we are not good enough, but the price to be paid for that inadequacy is already paid for by God through this sacrifice we celebrate at Easter. This does mean that as Christians we are given grace in order to offer grace to others. Jesus taught that we must love even our enemies, and forgive others without exception. The question of fairness is not longer our main concern. We receive forgiveness by showing forgiveness and grace in order to offer grace to others. In other words, Christians are obligated to sacrifice their own needs and even their own sense of fairness in order to give others more than they deserve. So Easter is the celebration of grace, the receiving of the gift as well as the opportunity to offer it.
Last of all, Easter represents what is sometimes referred to as the atonement. If you break the words down you get at-one-ment. This is the bringing back together what has been broken apart. So what has been divided that must be restored? First, our connection to God. Our shortcomings and outright sins make us imperfect and separate us from God. The atonement of Christ brings us back together, as one, with God. We are also separated in our relationships with each other. We know that estrangement that comes because we act stupidly or cruelly toward each other. We find ourselves separated from each other sometimes because of what we do and sometimes because of the actions of others toward us. This reconciliation of person-to-person is also accomplished because of the sacrifice of God we celebrate at Easter. We are restored to our relationships with each other through forgiveness and grace.*
So Easter, for Christians, is the most significant of the holidays (holy days). It represents the opportunity for hope, the gift of grace, and the bringing together what has been broken apart in our relationship with God and with each other. So even if you are not Christian, I hope you will celebrate with us the joy of hope, grace, and reconciliation. Happy Easter!
* P.S. I want to add a couple of things that I think are unique to my own particular sect in Christianity because they are a significant part of the meaning of Easter to me, though they may differ a bit from other Christians. I am a member of a church called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (though commonly referred to as Mormons).
One of the significant differences we believe is that the hope offered by the atonement of Christ is available to all people, regardless of where or when they were born. More typical of Christians is the idea that if you die without accepting Christ, you will go to hell. In the doctrine of my church, we believe that all people will get an opportunity, indeed more opportunities than any of us deserve, to accept God and be saved. We believe that some people will only get this opportunity after this life but that God’s grace extends to all people, not just those in our church or to Christians as a whole. In other words, God does not extend his hope just to those who accept Jesus or Christian church membership in this life.
Also, with regards to this reconciliation my particular church has something to add to the story. We believe that part of what is reconciled is our family relationships. While most people refer to marriage as being only an earthy institution (“till death us do part”), we believe that family relationships are eternal. In other words, marriage and family and children are part of the long-term, eternal scheme of things. This is why you find so much emphasis among us about families, marriages, and children. Because we believe that one of the effects of this holiday we celebrate as Easter is the reconciliation of our family relationships. After all, how could heaven be heaven without my amazing wife and sweet little daughters?