Happenings

How Easter shapes a people

May 2002    

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EASTER is the most significant event in the Christian calendar, for on that day we believe Jesus Christ, the Son of God, rose from the dead.

Also known as Pasch (from Pesach, Hebrew for Passover) or Resurrection Sunday, Easter is more than just Easter eggs and bunnies. The event of Easter is so central to the confessions of the early Church that even today, 2000 years later, most Christians continue to worship on Sunday, the weekly anniversary of Christ’s resurrection.

The miracle of Easter springs from a story of great expectation, intrigue and treachery. Jesus of Nazareth became known throughout Roman-occupied Palestine not only for His compassion, preaching and miracles, but also for His prophetic challenge to the leaders of the people.

By His life and testimony He was recognised as the Messiah, the Son of God. But He was tragically betrayed by one of His own disciples during the Jewish Passover feast, falsely accused and tried, then handed over to the civil authorities as a criminal. On a black Friday He was executed by the common and cruel method Romans used to crush insurrections — crucifixion. His death was verified by both personal and official observers, the Roman soldiers who carried out the execution.

However, three days later, by Jewish reckoning, Jesus rose from the dead. First, small groups of His disciples found His tomb empty, followed by scattered reports of His appearance to individual followers, then eventually to all the disciples and later to a group of more than 50 people.

The multiple eyewitness accounts clear away all claims that the resurrection was a hallucination, a mistaken identity or a fabrication. “He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today!”

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We are Easter people. Even today in every church and gathering you can hear people testify to their encounters with the Risen Lord. With the ancient church we repeat the faithful witness:

“Christ is risen.
He is risen indeed. Alleluia!”

The full account of the resurrection can be found in the four Gospels of the Bible (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).

What is Eastertide?
EASTER is more than just one day. The Great Fifty Days or Eastertide extends from sunset Easter Eve through Pentecost Sunday seven weeks later. It is a festive season marked by three specific events: the resurrection of Jesus, His ascension into heaven and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday.

Churches often encourage baptisms and congregational reaffirmation during this season. Hence the focus on the baptismal font, the use of white and gold with some red and the free-standing Christ candle.

Churches that follow the yearly lectionary will insert readings from the Acts of the Apostles in place of the usual Old Testament readings, because the early Church, empowered by the Holy Spirit, is the best witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Ascension Day, 40 days after Easter, recalls Jesus’ physical ascension into heaven before the eyes of His apostles (Acts 1.6-11). Ascension Day celebrates the return of Jesus from His earthly role as suffering servant to His heavenly role as Reigning Lord (Ephesians 1.20-21).

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Easter fulfilled in the Pentecost
PENTECOST Sunday (or Whitsunday in some traditions) recalls the events of Acts 2. Pentecost was one of the great Jewish festivals which required devout Jews to make pilgrimage to the holy city of Jerusalem. After Jesus ascended into heaven, the disciples were waiting in Jerusalem in order to “receive power from on high”.

On the day of Pentecost the disciples were gathered together. Suddenly a wind rushed through the
place and what looked like flames spread to each person, and miraculously they began to speak in the diverse languages of the pilgrims who had come to Jerusalem. They had been filled with the Holy Spirit.

NO HALLUCINATION
The multiple eyewitness accounts clear away all claims that the resurrection was a hallucination, a mistaken identity or a fabrication.

Peter, who had denied knowing Jesus at the time of His arrest, delivered the first Christian sermon to which more than 3,000 people responded. Easter was fulfilled. The power that raised Jesus from the dead became resident in God’s people, and the church was born.

Global significance
CHRISTIANS believe that Easter has global significance for all peoples of the world. This is so because Jesus Christ is the bridge between two severed realities, the sinfulness of humanity and the glory of God.

It is not hard to see the results of fallen humanity. Centuries of countless wars, horrific genocides, slavery and oppression, broken families, broken promises and unfaithfulness wherever we turn – all validate the biblical testimony that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3.23). Nor is it difficult to concur with the further statement that the “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6.23). This may not be literal death, but a kind of deadness of heart and faith, an inability to attain to the level of our dreams and deepest aspirations, an inability to reach paradise.

Most religions speak of a paradise which seems unattainable. We have lost touch with the glory of God and with our God-given potential. Without someone to open the way and bridge the gap humanity is utterly lost.

The good news (Gospel) is that Jesus Christ paid the cost for human sin by his death. Equally important, by rising from the dead Jesus liberated humankind from the penalty of sin, which is that death which keeps us from sharing in God’s glory (Colossians 1.27). Thus, Easter is the supreme encounter between the history of fallen, estranged humanity and the steadfast love of God. It is an encounter that compels Christians to share the Gospel globally through word and deed.

Easter is cause for joy and singing. Hundreds of hymns have been written on the miracle of Easter and to the faith spawned by that one event, such as Charles Wesley’s “Christ the Lord is Risen Today”.

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Traditions and spiritual practices
EASTERTIDE is both a season of joy and a season of preparation. When the disciples waited in Jerusalem for power from the Holy Spirit, they must have given intense time to prayer and study as well as to marvel at the miracle of the resurrection. Their desire was to make room in their hearts for the indwelling Holy Spirit. So it is for us also to make room in our hearts for the cleansing, renewing power of the Holy Spirit.

How the date is set
BECAUSE the first Easters occurred in a Jewish context during the season of Passover, the church has continued to date this holiest of holidays according to the Jewish lunar calendar. However, the method has not been exact and differences of opinion on the matter have resulted in divisions within the historical church.

EASTER COLOURS
THE colours for Easter and Eastertide are white and gold. White symbolises our hope of resurrection, as well as purity from victory over sin and death. Gold symbolises the light of the risen Christ that enlightens the world, as well as the exaltation of Jesus as Lord and King.

The colour of Pentecost is red, the colour of the church. It also symbolises the Holy Spirit fire. Festive colours and other visuals on Pentecost along with dynamic worship arts remind us of the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Rev George Martzen is Minister Attached to the Bishop’s Office at The Methodist Church in Singapore.

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