Why Do We Celebrate Easter?
(I wrote this in response to a child’s question in 2005. It still holds true for me as what I understand and teach about the Easter event.) “Why do we celebrate Easter?”
This is a really good question…and a hard one. Why do we celebrate Easter? Almost two thousand years ago a Jewish child named Jesus was born. We know for a fact that a child named Jesus of Nazareth was born in Judea, and that he grew to be a man. We also know that he lived in a violent, angry time. His country was controlled by the Romans and their army.
Stories that have come down to us about Jesus tell us that he was a teacher and a prophet. They also say that Jesus spoke and acted with the authority of God, that Jesus made God real in a way no one else had ever done. Some of the stories even say that Jesus was God.
Where all of the stories agree is that Jesus said powerful and strange things that people weren't used to hearing. He said, "Love your enemies" and "Blessed are the poor" and “Give to everyone who asks of you.” He spoke about love, peace, helping people in need, and change.
A second fact that we know about Jesus is that he was killed. He was crucified on a wooden cross.
This is where the story gets hard to understand. Why was Jesus killed? This is the hardest part of the story for me. Why would anyone kill a person who talked about peace, love, helping others, and change?
As best I can understand, Jesus' ideas challenged the power of both the Roman forces who occupied Israel and the religious authorities in Jerusalem. Jesus was killed because his ideas scared people. He taught that love could change the world, and people weren't ready to be changed by love.
Jesus taught that a generous, open love for family, friends, and strangers—and especially people you don't like—is stronger and better than owning things, taking things, or pushing people around and hurting them.
Jesus taught that love, not power, can heal someone who is hurt, scared, or alone. He taught that love, not power, can change the world. I believe this is the most important message he taught, and the one that is hardest to understand or live by. It is difficult to love people, especially when we don't like them or agree with them.
I used to wonder if the story of Jesus were word for word true. Was he really God? Did he really rise from the dead? Eventually I decided that I can't ever know for sure and that it doesn't matter to my faith whether or not I do know. The message that love will triumph over power is so important that I don't need to know what happened to Jesus in order to learn from his message. I am comfortable simply calling it a mystery. The fact that people were—and still are—changed by his message is enough for me to believe that God acts in Jesus in a very special way.
So every day I ask myself, "Am I ready to be changed by love?" And every day I ask myself, "What can I do to change this world with my love?" And every day I pray for God to help me to be more like Jesus—and so more like God, who acts in me just like in Jesus.
This is the reason we celebrate Easter. We need to honor and remember the message of Jesus. We also need to thank God for acting in Jesus—and in us—in such a powerful way that the world is changed. Yes, the message of Jesus led to his death, but it also led through death to new life for all of us who follow him.
I am grateful for the Easter story and what it teaches. Every day I struggle to live the truth of love, not power. We all do. It is a human story, just as it is a divine story. For this reason we celebrate Easter as a day of love, a day of joy, a day of hope, a day we can begin to build a beautiful world….with God’s help.
In Love and Faith,