The Five Easters
We are heading for Easter! This is the day we celebrate the rising of Jesus Christ from the dead! Easter is so central to Christian faith that it is the one item of belief that we cannot jettison without ceasing to be Christian altogether. When Paul writes to the Corinthians his conclusion is clear. “If He is not risen, then our faith is a fake. We have been going around telling lies. Christianity is a hoax.” But he is risen, indeed! So we celebrate Easter – but not just one. We get to celebrate five Easters.
The Easter of History
Almost 2,000 years ago, Jesus of Nazareth was executed as a criminal. Less than 48 hours later the tomb was empty. Angel announced he had risen from the dead, and over the next six weeks more than 500 people would see him and speak with him. This was no ghost, though the disciples were prone to think that when they first saw him. He ate food with them, showed them his wounded hands and side, and gave evidence that he was in fact risen, not simply in their hopes or imaginations, but in reality. It was the world’s first Easter.
The Easter We Celebrate Annually
There was no day like that first Easter, but every year, a day has been set apart that we call Easter Sunday. It is to be a day that eclipses all other days of the year. The Old Testament had its feast days that commemorated God’s great activity in their early history, and the church of Jesus Christ understood the wisdom of these great festivals. So the church established its own festivals to underscore what God has done in Christ. Christmas reminds us of the incarnation of God in Christ, Good Friday reminds us of His atoning for our sins, while Easter tells us of His triumph over sin and death and hell.
The Easter We Celebrate Weekly
There is, however, a third Easter. It is the Easter that recurs once each week, for every Sunday is Easter! Up until the Resurrection of Jesus, the seventh day of the week was the day for public worship. The people of Israel would meet for worship on Friday evenings at sunset, and celebrate with a day of rest until sunset on Saturday evening. Each Sabbath day, Israel celebrated God’s great act of creation. In six days he made the world and on the seventh day he rested. So after six days of work we too could rest on the seventh.
But when that first Easter took place, the early church knew that they had encountered a reality just as wonderful as the creation of the world. It was an event that brought about the re-creation of humanity. It had given the world a brand new start. It was the beginning of a new age of the world. So how were we to celebrate it?
The earliest Christians met in the Jewish Synagogue on the evening of Sabbath to worship, but as tensions increased they found themselves meeting together for their own services for worship. Sometime during that first century they began to worship together on the first day of the week in the early morning. Why the first day? Because that was the day of resurrection. Why early morning? Because He was raised in the early morning of the world’s first Easter!
The Epistle of Barnabas, written at the end of that first century, reads, “We keep the eight day with joyfulness, the day on which Jesus rose from the dead.” But even before that in Acts 20:7 the church is breaking bread together on the first day of the week, and Paul is calling for offerings to be set aside on the first day of the week, and John is in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, the first day of the week. The church made this great change in the calendar to give honor to Jesus who rose from the dead on a Sunday morning. Every Sunday then is a celebration of His resurrection.
The Easter We Shall Celebrate One Day
There is another Easter, however, that we shall celebrate one day. It is not the one that occurred in the distant past, or one that recurs annually or weekly. It is the Easter that awaits us all at the end of our life here.
Many within Ancient Judaism presumed either that death was the end of life or that what happened after death was absolutely unknowable. Death brought dread or doubt, but little hope and no certainty.
With the teachings of Jesus, however, the mists began to dwindle. He taught with certainty about life beyond. Then one day all the proof we needed was provided. On Friday he died. On Sunday he had been raised from the grave. The doubt disappeared. The question was resolved, once for all. There is life beyond death – and not just for him, but for all who are his followers. A personal Resurrection Morning is promised to all who are in Christ. There is an Easter in our future!
The Easter that is ever present
There is, on top of all of the previous good news, a fifth Easter. Easter is more than memory and more than hope. Easter is the continued presence of Jesus Christ in our lives, moment by moment, day in and day out. On Easter day the great church of God does not simply shout, “He was raised”. It declares, “He is risen”. He is living among us and continues to be involved in our lives. That is why the Easter story contains the words of Jesus, “Look around you, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Down the centuries the words repeat, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” And throughout the moments of all our days, the Resurrected Jesus is with us in the presence of the Holy Spirit. Every day we live in the glorious aftermath of the resurrection. So let us, as we wake up each morning, proclaim the good news, “He is risen indeed!”
Thing It Through…
In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul insists that the resurrection is indispensable for a true Christian understanding of Jesus and our salvation. He tells us almost nothing about the birth, life, teachings or miracles of Jesus in any of his letters, but he never leaves the theme of the death and resurrection of Jesus alone. Why do you think these two matters are central in Paul’s teaching?
Tape the words, “He is risen indeed!” to a prominent place in your home. Keep them there for the seven weeks between Easter Sunday and Pentecost Sunday. Take it as a prescription to help you do a reality check at the start of each day.
For The Small Group Leader…
Experiencing the resurrection of Jesus dramatically altered the lives of the early disciples. Discuss the implications of each of the five Easters on our response to life. Would our views of history, our management of time, our participation of Christian worship, our self understanding, or our facing of death be affected if we lived with an intense awareness of His resurrection?
Published in Light and Life, March-April, 2003.