Easter is the most important event in the Christian faith. Normally Easter Sunday sees church buildings filled, often with the largest attendance of the year, as believers gather together to celebrate the resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead.
The word “Easter” does not appear in the Bible, but what it commemorates is clearly Scriptural. Easter week is a time when Christians celebrate the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It begins with what we know as Palm Sunday, and event described in all four gospels.
THE TRIUMPHAL ENTRY
John 12:12-15 has one of the accounts of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
“The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!’ And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, ‘Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!’”
THE LAST SUPPER
The last supper that Jesus had with His disciples was His celebration with them of the Passover Feast. After partaking together of the Passover meal, Jesus initiated what we now know was the Lord’s Supper or Communion.
“Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.’” Matthew 26:26-29
Passover is the Jewish commemoration of God’s liberating the Israelites from Egyptian slavery, as described in Exodus 11 and 12. When Moses went to Pharaoh asking him to let the people go and Pharaoh did not agree to do so, God sent ten plagues against Egypt designed to make Pharaoh change his mind. The first nine did not change Pharaoh’s mind.
The final plague was the destruction of the firstborn of all the people and animals. The Israelites were commanded by God to take the blood of a one year old lamb without blemish and smear it on the doorposts of their houses. When God saw the blood, He would “pass over” that house.
The first Passover is described in Exodus 12:8. “They shall eat the flesh (of the Passover lamb) that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it.” This was the night before the exodus from Egypt, and from the first anniversary of their deliverance from the slavery of Egypt the Jewish people have celebrated Passover in remembrance of God’s faithfulness to them.
1 Corinthians 5:7 identifies Christ as our Passover Lamb. He is the spotless Lamb of God, whose blood covers the sin of those who believe in Him, causing God’s judgment to pass over them.
“Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.”
THE GARDEN OF GETHSEMANE
After celebrating Passover with His disciples, Jesus left to go to Mount of Olives, to an area known as the Garden of Gethsemane. As was His custom, Jesus went to pray and His disciples followed him. This event is found in all four gospels, but Matthew gives the most detailed account.
“Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here, while I go over there and pray.’ And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.’ And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.’ And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, ‘So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, ‘My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.’ And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again.” (Matthew 26:36-44)
In this passage, we see the humanness of Jesus showing through. In His flesh, He did not want to go to the cross. But He was willing to do the will of the Father. Before He and the disciples were able to leave the garden, the story takes a major shift. It is now time to face the suffering ahead of Him. Matthew’s account closes with these words.
“Then he came to the disciples and said to them, ‘Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” (Matthew 26:45-46)
Matthew closes his account with some of the saddest words of Scripture, “Then all the disciples left him and fled.” (Matthew 26:56b)
What we know as Good Friday commemorates the day of Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross. On that day, the wrath of God against sin was poured out on Jesus, the perfect sacrificial substitute, making a way for us to be forgiven and receive salvation. He became the final sacrifice for sins. The writer of the book of Hebrews summarizes it in these words, “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God,” (Hebrews 10:12).
Through Christ’s offering of Himself, the penalty of sin has been paid. There is nothing we can do to earn salvation. It is available as a gift of grace to all who believe and receive forgiveness. And that’s why we can call this day GOOD!
In this time of “Social distancing” and “stay at home orders” due to the coronavirus, our Easter celebrations will be different this year. Most of us will not able to gather in our church buildings, but Easter will still be celebrated. Churches around the globe will be unable to meet in their buildings, but the church is more than buildings. The true church is made up of people, and as Sunday morning comes instead of being gathered in a few buildings we will be gathering in our homes.
While we may grieve that we are unable to celebrate the resurrection together this year, what will not be stripped away is the truth that we have a risen Savior. While we may not be able to gather in our church buildings, this year we will be the church scattered on digital platforms around the world.
When Sunday morning comes, I hope to be sitting beside my husband in our living room, watching the live broadcast of our church’s Easter service on my iPad. Then we will tune into a Zoom broadcast so we can spend Easter with some of our dearest friends, our small group from our church, separate for safety but together in Spirit.
No, this Easter won’t be like those in past years. But it will still be a time of celebrating our resurrected Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And as we move forward into the next week of this season of social distancing and staying at home, I want to remember an important truth. If Christ conquered the grave, surely He has the power to conquer this tiny virus that has caused drastic changes in our lives for the last few weeks.
I also want to remember that neither locked doors nor overwhelming fear are an obstacle for our risen Lord. On the evening of the very first Easter, Jesus’ disciples were paralyzed by fear, hiding away in self-preservation so that the religious and government leaders who crucified Jesus wouldn’t be able to do the same thing to them. But Jesus came to them, through the locked doors and in spite of their fear.
John 20:19 says, “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’”
Our risen Savior Jesus Christ is our source of hope and peace in a world filled with fear and anxiety, one that is groping in the darkness for peace! Let’s put our trust in the One who conquered death and rose again. And then let’s look around us where people are desperate for the peace and hope we have in Christ. We have the answer so many are looking for, and there is no better time than Easter to share it.
Jesus’ resurrection is our living hope. See this pandemic as an opportunity to move beyond the closed doors of our churches and share the Good News with those who have no where to turn for hope or peace in this pandemic. Let’s be the hands and feet of Jesus and share the hope and peace we have in our resurrected Lord.