Growing up Catholic I remember sitting in the pews while my parents and older siblings went up to kneel at the altar to receive the Eucharist. I never made it past the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, but I did get to preside over my own brand of communion, dispensing NECCO wafers to my younger siblings in a mock service. But, I didn’t go on to priestly service. Nor ministerial. I am not even involved in any lay ministries at my church. I am just a sinner like you, whose life weighs him down then buoys him up, who relies on the grace of God to function on a daily basis. I am a Christian, with a very flawed makeup, who depends on truth to set me right and provide a moral compass that I would otherwise struggle with. But I have gifts and abilities and expression and intelligence. So with all that in mind, I have something to say about Easter, and the truth’s that are setting me free.
I had an abused childhood, where the male role model in our family was evil, close to being satanic, which set me up for the rebellion that colored my mindset from early on. I developed negative, self defeating habits, some of which I fight to this day, and would have been on a course of certain destruction had it not have been for the voice of God. My life would be inconsequential, were it not for the truths that give me meaning, and the main truth is the one that encompasses the actual life, death and resurrection of Christ. It is in this I find a great lesson. That if it is my intent to put aside myself and all my ego manifestations and take up and use all my blessings to bless others, and accept the love of God as mine, and live by his edicts, then I have unfettered access to the gift of Christ, a new life, blessed by God.
Knowing all this, I recently sought out two local Christian leaders to help increase my understanding.
I asked Father Neal Longe who pastors St. Ann’s Episcopal Church, Amsterdam, NY and a simple question: “What is the essence of Easter and what does it mean?”
Fr. Longe told me, “Easter is the principal feast of the church, where we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection, and by that work that he did on the cross on Good Friday, for the forgiveness of our sins, through his resurrection Easter Sunday, the hold that sin and death had over us was defeated that first Easter morning, as Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is our invitation to enter into that life with him.”
I said, “That is what I’m getting at…the essence of Easter to me, is the opportunity to be one with God.”
Fr. Longe said, “Absolutely. That’s what the whole thing is about. You know, Jesus coming to earth to begin with, and suffering on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins, so that we can be in a relationship with God, and he stands in our place of condemnation so that we don’t have to. And by the blood he shed on Good Friday he has paid the penalty for our sins, and by rising from the dead, he has defeated what is the last enemy, death.”
I also spoke with Pastor Charles Roberts of Balston Center Presbyterian Church. I asked him, “What is the essence of Easter in symbolism and in actual fact?”
Pastor Roberts told me, “Those are the two main areas…I think if you have one without the other you are missing the full essence. Let’s start with the latter: the claim by the apostles of Jesus that he literally rose from the grave after being dead three days. This is their universal testimony, for which they themselves would give their lives, and the testimony of many others who believed their report. According to the Gospels, they weren’t the only ones to have seen Jesus physically alive after he had died. The actual fact is the claim that has echoed down through history, that this man, who was once dead, has been brought back to life.”
“The symbolism is equally as important, perhaps, in some ways more so, that there is a transformation that has taken place and continues to take place in the world because of what God was doing in Jesus, in terms of…bringing about the fullness of the original created order.”
I asked, “What can you say about the importance of Christ in every person’s life?”
Pastor Roberts explained, “Again, I think that has much to do with the symbolism, and I think that in traditional christian orthodox or Catholic circles, there seem to be an over stress of the historical facts, in terms of debates with those who would deny it, but in terms of individual lives it is often styled that because he rose from the dead we too have hope of a future resurrection from the dead, and that is a big part of it, but, it’s clear from what Jesus taught in the Gospels that his mission and his teaching has as much to do with life here and now than with life beyond the grave.”
“So, in terms of how people live today, it has tremendous significance, because it supports all his previous teachings, it verifies and puts a stamp of approval on all he taught about living an abundant life here, and he was right, and we should pay attention to and believe what this man taught us according to what he said. It means living with a great hope, it means living in a spirit of victory and triumph, it means living in a state of love and fellowship with other human beings.”
This death and resurrection of Christ was presaged by a passage in John 12:20-24 where Jesus noticed followers asking to see him, and he commented “Now the hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified. In all truth I tell you, unless a wheat grain falls into the earth and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies it yields a rich harvest,” and again he says in John 12:32 “And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people unto me.” (Jerusalem Bible)
The burial and resurrection theme is echoed in the sacrament and ritual (depending on which denomination you belong to) of baptism. In it, believers die to their sins and “awaken” to a new life, with victory over sin, upon emerging from the water.
This death – burial – reawakening cycle is one of the promises of the Easter tradition that I most appreciate. I need to believe in a better day someday for me. To wish for a chance at redemption in all aspects of my God given life is central to my makeup. I am far from gaining mastery over my sins, being trapped between this world and the next, but I am victorious in that my will is secure, and having “a heart to serve God” and holding to my belief in the plan of salvation means my intent is sure.
I know myself, and I know my faults, my tendencies, my fears. And I know I have both relative and intrinsic worth in what I do and who I am. I know also that I am not attracted to the Gospel message out of a mercenary desire to hedge my bets when it comes to the afterlife. I am attracted to the offer of joining in spirit with what must be the world’s premier intelligence, who uses his gifts to benefit me and others, who designed a world that I can discover and operate in at a high level, and I am also attracted to the plan to help me when I fall short of expectations. The Easter message impacts billions, and I am only one, but this life regenerating message is a tremendous asset for me and one I hope to continue in for long after this Easter season has come and gone.
(Photo by Tim Becker)