For millions of Christians worldwide, Easter is the most important celebration of the church year. Holy Week, beginning with Palm Sunday, is a reminder of the final week in the life of Jesus before his crucifixion and resurrection.
Christians of various faith traditions celebrate these events differently, often incorporating timeless rituals and sacramental practices. Yet, even after eliminating every ritual, the reality and truth of Easter focuses on the one event that makes the celebration so unique: the resurrection of Jesus.
Easter and the Resurrection of Jesus
Every Christian creed includes the resurrection of Jesus. It is this one solitary fact, believed as absolute truth, which defines Christianity. Without the physical resurrection of Jesus, the claims of Christianity, particularly in terms of a relationship with God, would be void.
What made Jesus different from other historical religious leaders was precisely his claim to be God’s son, the “Word that was with God” (John 1.1) from the very beginning. He was not a created being.
As the Catholic scholastic writers illustrated so well, and later Protestant theologians reaffirmed, the separation between God and man (i.e. the sin of Adam) was so great, that nothing that man possessed could pay back or redeem his salvation. God had to pay it back himself, doing so through the offering of his son, Jesus.
Christians believe that not only did the death of Jesus redeem mankind, but it realigned the cosmological equilibrium disturbed and threatened by what mankind calls the “forces of evil.”
Regardless of whatever concept of hell people may have, Jesus conquered that “middle ground” and provided, through his death and physical resurrection, a clear path to an eternal existence. While some may scoff at the notion of some form of eternal life (the proverbial “afterlife”), if Jesus truly was who he claimed to be, life after death must be taken at face value.
The physical resurrection of Jesus is the focus of every Easter Sunrise Service. The “empty tomb” is the best forensic evidence for a physical resurrection. The Gospels recount that Jesus revealed himself to his intrepid followers and that five hundred witnessed his ascension into “heaven.” There is very little doubt that enough evidence exists – even in the accounts of Roman Governor Pontius Pilate, that Jesus was a unique individual.
Why Easter is Important to Christians
Easter brings Christians together as a community of believers. The celebration of the Last Supper, although an ongoing part of Christian liturgy throughout the year, takes on specific meaning. Did his disciples fully understand what he meant when he compared the wine and the bread with his flesh and blood? Did they understand what he meant, taking on the role of a servant or slave, and washing their feet?
The Gospels give much detail of this final supper. There is even one of the twelve, Judas, who would betray Jesus. Often overlooked and de-emphasized due to his role in the betrayal (Dante consigns him to the lowest level of his Inferno), Judas is the prototype anti-Christian who had witnessed all of the miracles, sat at the feet of the “great teacher,” yet rejected all of it for petty personal gain. Holy Week and Easter reminds Christians that there is a part of Judas in everyone.
Easter matters, quite simply, because it documents the death and resurrection of Christ. His sacrificial death redeemed mankind and enables a sanctified life; his physical resurrection is a promise to all believers: “I am the resurrection and the life…whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”