With a quick look at our bustling city, you’d think that the only reason we have a Friday off in April is to much on delicious, delicious chocolate and enjoy the spare few rays of sunshine in a rainy month. For those of us that grew up in the country, it’s the weekend everyone got together to hunt for plastic eggs hidden around the yard. In my family’s house, it was even a pseudo-Christmas morning with lots of Easter presents, with a chocolate and jelly bean hunt around the house.
But as I’ve gotten older, and my desire to get on my hands and knees to search for treats (I can buy chocolate anytime I want now! And I have!) has lessened, I’ve grown to see Easter as the spiritual holiday it was always intended to be. Nearly 15 years I dedicated myself to be a follower of Christ, through all it’s ups and downs, and in the course of my spiritual journey, I’ve learned to see Easter is the truest of all Christian religious days, where the faith is born and celebrated.
It’s the fulfillment of Jesus Christ, God’s only child, fused with the Holy Spirit, and the journey that he had to take in order to reconcile every human being with their maker.
Easter weekend begins with today, Good Friday, when we commemorate “the passion,” or the day that Jesus was betrayed, denied, beaten and crucified, left to hang in the air until all life left his body. And Jesus knew all this (referring to himself in the third person as the “Son of Man” in the following):
Jesus, now well on the way up to Jerusalem, took the Twelve off to the side of the road and said, “Listen to me carefully. We are on our way up to Jerusalem. When we get there, the Son of Man will be betrayed to the religious leaders and scholars. They will sentence him to death. They will then hand him over to the Romans for mockery and torture and crucifixion. On the third day he will be raised up alive.” (Matthew 20: 17-19)
Once Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, he stirred up controversy, and drew ire from both the local religious and government authorities (If you want to read more about these, check out Matthew chapters 20-26 or so). During the “Last Supper,” Jesus revealed that he knew he was betrayed by one of his closest followers (disciples), Judas. This was all going down in the final days before the Jewish holiday, Passover.
Passover commemorates the story of the Exodus, when God freed his people from slavery in Egypt. This is the story of the ten plagues, the last of which was the killing of every first born son, except for those of the Hebrews, who were instructed to mark their doors with the blood of a spring lamb. When they did, God’s spirit “passed over” their homes, and their first born sons were spared. Following the plague, the slaves were set free.
(It wasn’t all easy going for them, they ended up wandering the desert for generations following their escape).
Passover is important to the celebration of Easter because this is the promise that Jesus came to fulfill. The blood of lambs and the following of laws etched in stone were never enough for us to reunite with our God — our sacrifices were always tainted, in-genuine, and we flat out failed in following the commands God gave us.
Jesus, as God’s holy and perfect son, is the passover lamb for all humanity. He is God’s own first born and only son, and with his death, he gives us our own freedom from the slavery of sin.
The soldiers assigned to the governor took Jesus into the governor’s palace and got the entire brigade together for some fun. They stripped him and dressed him in a red toga. They plaited a crown from branches of a thornbush and set it on his head. They put a stick in his right hand for a scepter. Then they knelt before him in mocking reverence: “Bravo, King of the Jews!” they said. “Bravo!” Then they spit on him and hit him on the head with the stick. When they had had their fun, they took off the toga and put his own clothes back on him. Then they proceeded out to the crucifixion.
Along the way they came on a man from Cyrene named Simon and made him carry Jesus’ cross. Arriving at Golgotha, the place they call “Skull Hill,” they offered him a mild painkiller (a mixture of wine and myrrh), but when he tasted it he wouldn’t drink it.
After they had finished nailing him to the cross and were waiting for him to die, they whiled away the time by throwing dice for his clothes. Above his head they had posted the criminal charge against him: this is jesus, the king of the jews. Along with him, they also crucified two criminals, one to his right, the other to his left. People passing along the road jeered, shaking their heads in mock lament: “You bragged that you could tear down the Temple and then rebuild it in three days—so show us your stuff! Save yourself! If you’re really God’s Son, come down from that cross!”
The high priests, along with the religion scholars and leaders, were right there mixing it up with the rest of them, having a great time poking fun at him: “He saved others—he can’t save himself! King of Israel, is he? Then let him get down from that cross. We’ll all become believers then! He was so sure of God—well, let him rescue his ‘Son’ now—if he wants him! He did claim to be God’s Son, didn’t he?” Even the two criminals crucified next to him joined in the mockery.
From noon to three, the whole earth was dark. Around mid-afternoon Jesus groaned out of the depths, crying loudly, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
Some bystanders who heard him said, “He’s calling for Elijah.” One of them ran and got a sponge soaked in sour wine and lifted it on a stick so he could drink. The others joked, “Don’t be in such a hurry. Let’s see if Elijah comes and saves him.”
But Jesus, again crying out loudly, breathed his last.
At that moment, the Temple curtain was ripped in two, top to bottom. There was an earthquake, and rocks were split in pieces. What’s more, tombs were opened up, and many bodies of believers asleep in their graves were raised. (After Jesus’ resurrection, they left the tombs, entered the holy city, and appeared to many.)
The captain of the guard and those with him, when they saw the earthquake and everything else that was happening, were scared to death. They said, “This has to be the Son of God!”
(The following is taken from Matthew, chapter 27, v 27-54, from translation of the Bible known as “The Message.”)
And with his death, it was noted the temple curtain ripped in two: symbolically and literally, this meant that he Holy Place where God was said to reside in their churches, was no longer hidden from us. This was the moment that Jesus became the sacrifice — one where God allowed his own son to be stolen away from him completely. At that moment, God cut off Jesus from his presence, which is why Jesus cries out “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” Jesus at that point began to experience the absolute hell that occurs in our soul when we are totally anguished,depressed and desolute — when we are furthest from the presence of God.
But the story doesn’t end there. Not by a long shot.
Once Jesus had finally died on the cross, his body was taken down, wrapped in blankets, and placed in a tomb. That tomb was then blocked from anyone entering with a giant stone, with a soldier standing guard in front. Mary Magdalene, along with another Mary, sat nearby, grieving for their leader.
After the Sabbath, as the first light of the new week dawned, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to keep vigil at the tomb. Suddenly the earth reeled and rocked under their feet as God’s angel came down from heaven, came right up to where they were standing. He rolled back the stone and then sat on it. Shafts of lightning blazed from him. His garments shimmered snow-white. The guards at the tomb were scared to death. They were so frightened, they couldn’t move.
The angel spoke to the women: “There is nothing to fear here. I know you’re looking for Jesus, the One they nailed to the cross. He is not here. He was raised, just as he said. Come and look at the place where he was placed.
“Now, get on your way quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He is risen from the dead. He is going on ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there.’ That’s the message.”
The women, deep in wonder and full of joy, lost no time in leaving the tomb. They ran to tell the disciples. Then Jesus met them, stopping them in their tracks. “Good morning!” he said. They fell to their knees, embraced his feet, and worshiped him. Jesus said, “You’re holding on to me for dear life! Don’t be frightened like that. Go tell my brothers that they are to go to Galilee, and that I’ll meet them there.”
Meanwhile, the guards had scattered, but a few of them went into the city and told the high priests everything that had happened. They called a meeting of the religious leaders and came up with a plan: They took a large sum of money and gave it to the soldiers, bribing them to say, “His disciples came in the night and stole the body while we were sleeping.” They assured them, “If the governor hears about your sleeping on duty, we will make sure you don’t get blamed.” The soldiers took the bribe and did as they were told. That story, cooked up in the Jewish High Council, is still going around.
Meanwhile, the eleven disciples were on their way to Galilee, headed for the mountain Jesus had set for their reunion. The moment they saw him they worshiped him. Some, though, held back, not sure about worship, about risking themselves totally.
Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: “God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.”
(The following is taken from Matthew, chapter 28 from translation of the Bible known as “The Message.”)