What is Easter all about?
Rediscovering year-round hope
By David B. Crabtree
Easter Sunday, yesteryear.
I sat slumped over, as preteen boys do, in the church
orchestra playing third-chair trumpet. From my vantage point a glorious morning
sun created dusty shafts of light illuminating brightly colored Easter hats and
smart new dresses in white and pastels. The church was filled, as churches
usually are for Easter Sunday morning. It seemed extra joy had found its way
into the old stone building.
At the appointed hour the great pipe organ sounded and the
people rose to sing full voice “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today!”
Extra “hallelujahs” punctuated the Easter sermon. Passions
ran high, and people lingered after the service. It seemed that everybody was
on their best behavior that high and holy day in the church of my childhood.
Dear old Sister Mildred was waiting in the lobby after the
service tightly clutching a bag.
“A little Easter gift for you and your sisters,” she said
with a wink.
I knew what was in the bag, and I had no intention of
sharing that solid chocolate rabbit with my sisters. I might part with a few of
the chocolate eggs Sister Mildred included as a bonus, but that rabbit was all
Rabbits and eggs didn’t make much sense to me then, and it
was much later that I discovered that rabbits, eggs and lilies were just
carry-over symbols from ancient pagan holidays our Christian Easter
celebrations displaced. But had I known, I would have eaten the rabbit anyway.
I can’t remember anyone making too much of a fuss over egg hunts and the like.
Easter Sunday night belonged to the choir. For this one
event, the platform became a stage and my Sunday School teacher showed up as
the stage director. The ushers became stagehands, and a mechanic with a beard
played Jesus. He didn’t have to say anything, just lift his head and hands on
cue and look gentle. The ladies waved palm branches and sang “Hosanna.” Those
not in the cast of the great cantata came dressed like they had tickets to the
The church was packed for our rare bit of stagecraft and
some mild special effects in the telling of the greatest story ever told. The
audience applauded each song. The narrator kept us on track. An invitation for
salvation was offered just after the finale.
In the afterglow of a great Easter Sunday, the cast and crew
enjoyed the warm camaraderie of a grand effort. The props were stored, rented
lights returned, the lilies were tossed and the curtain fell on Easter for
Over time, the Easter customs of wearing bonnets and bright
new clothing have faded a bit. Cantatas are not quite as prevalent as they once
were. I haven’t heard of an Easter parade in years. Chocolate rabbits and egg
hunts endure, despite their dubious historical associations. But Easter sunrise
services have dwindled. Many traditions, both meaningful and trivial, have
tired in a culture that hurries everything and everywhere.
But amidst the folded sets and fading customs in my mental
Easter archives, one image stands immovable, unchangeable, irreducible and
irreplaceable — the Cross.
The message of the Cross cannot be contained in a single
Sunday, nor can its glory be fully sung in any cantata. The Cross is more than
a remembered religious relic; more than a storied political travesty; more than
an inspiring symbol of faith. The Cross is where religion becomes magnificently
On Calvary, Jesus died for me … for all of us … for once and
for all. He bridged the chasm of our separation from God. He took the totality
of all things that made us unworthy and estranged before God, and He died for
them, and with them.
If the story ended there, it would hardly have been
recounted beyond a single generation. If the last image of Easter were a wooden
cross, and were that image to somehow survive until today, we would be faced
with uncomfortable questions. Why did the Man so many believed to be God’s
Messiah die as a criminal? What was the point of all His teaching about God?
Did that teaching die with Him?
But even with the full reality of the Cross, Easter’s story
is only half told. Jesus’ short journey from Golgotha to Joseph’s tomb spanned
an immeasurable spiritual distance that allows any repentant sinner to
experience Easter’s victory.
As night was falling over Golgotha, Jesus’ body was taken
down from the cross and laid in a borrowed tomb. As the sun was rising just
three days later, it revealed a tomb quite empty and a truth unrivaled in all
of eternity. God raised Jesus from the dead.
The apostle Paul called this Resurrection “the first fruits,”
drawing from the common imagery of the Jewish harvest. Paul leaves no doubt
that Christ’s resurrection from death to life foreshadows a bodily resurrection
to eternal life for you and me (1 Corinthians 15:23). Even now, the
Resurrection is a spiritual reality for those who have believed God’s Word and
placed their trust in the Savior (Colossians 2:9-12). Easter’s triumph is found
in two simple declarations: “Christ is risen,” and “We have eternal life.”
Should something so glorious be relegated to a single day,
celebrated only through a musical play, or marked by some fading tradition?
Shouldn’t Easter be celebrated with the dawn of each new day? And how should we
Somehow, we need to catch the wonder of the Resurrection
again. We need to be amazed by God’s grace, overwhelmed by His love, made
speechless by His joy and awestruck at His gift of eternal life. We need to
reacquaint ourselves with words like “wonderful,” “marvelous” and “glorious.”
We need to get past the familiarity of the Easter story to its essence and
thrill again that God should love sinners like us. We need to recognize that
the Easter message carries the one thing all men are looking for in these dark
days of crisis: hope!
Who can imagine the disillusionment Jesus’ disciples felt
during the three days between Golgotha and the empty tomb? Their hopes were
crushed. Tombs are terminal! Nobody goes to a graveyard for a pick-me-up. Yet,
against the backdrop of a stone-cold tomb, God turned death to life, darkness
to light, trouble to triumph, and defeat to victory.
Easter is the holiday of hope; the declaration of
resurrection; God’s assurance that, no matter our desperation or loneliness or
brokenness, we might know hope!
So let’s sing the anthems and the new songs with absolute
abandon. Let’s use the arts to tell the great story. Let’s consider the meaning
of our traditions and establish new ways to draw attention to our risen Lord.
Let’s infuse our Easter observances with joy and love, and find hope in the
knowledge that Christ is risen — and we are risen with Him.
DAVID B. CRABTREE is the lead pastor of Calvary Church, an
Assemblies of God congregation in Greensboro, N.C.
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