Easter’s here – it’s time for celebration

Western Christianity’s 40-day Lenten trek is almost over. Sunday is Easter, which means wonderful celebrations at many churches. Easter and Pentecost were the earliest celebrations of the Christian church, and the only two holy days they observed until the fourth century. Easter celebrates Christ’s resurrection, where sin, death and Satan were conquered. Pentecost celebrates the Holy Spirit’s descending on believers as recorded in the Book of Acts, shortly after Christ returned to His Father.

At the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D., Easter Sunday was finally declared so as to regularize the date of observance. Previously, Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection was commemorated around Passover, as many of the early Christians were of Jewish descent. Many scholars believing the Last Supper was actually a Passover meal.

Some pagan customs and nomenclature have seemingly crept into Easter celebrations over the years; but many scholars contest this, maintaining those claims and practices are overstated. Scholars debate the degree to which customs from outside Christianity have become incorporated into Easter celebrations, but clearly, and unfortunately, these customs have been given life by churches to such an increasing extent that, as with Christmas, the real and the fantasy become blurred. By this I’m referring to Easter eggs, chocolate bunnies, egg-laying bunnies, elaborate feasting, personal clothing and gifts, all of which make Easter the fourth-largest spending occasion of any U.S. holiday. Easter should not be about us; instead it should be about celebrating humanity’s release from the bondage of sin by a loving Savior in a miraculous shower of grace through his personal sacrifice.

If you are a parent, Easter provides teachable moments to share the true story of Jesus and his life with your children. Past those parenting years? It’s a great time to reconnect on a personal level with the truth and power of the Passion narrative described in the Gospels. Has it been awhile since you’ve attended a church service? Easter is a great time to go. Regular attendee? Why not invite a friend to accompany you. Welcome people you don’t recognize; they could be guests or regular members, but what a great conversation starter. It’s not complicated; just approach someone you don’t recognize and say, “Hi, my name is such and such, and I don’t recognize you. I just wanted to welcome you to our church. Happy Easter!” It’s a friendly thing to do, sure to start a conversation and leave a smile. Try leaving nearby parking spaces for guests and infrequent attendees, if at all possible. (Pastors, your church communications team should have already suggested  this to members). Easter and Christmas are the times of the year when churches receive the most visitors.

Having doubts about the resurrection? Don’t fret. Personally, I believe the arguments for Christianity based on manuscript evidence and textual scholarship to be most compelling. Many wonderful books are available to build your faith in the veracity of biblical scripture. I highly recommend “The Resurrection of the Son of God,” by N.T. Wright, an Anglican bishop, and Richard Bauckham’s “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony.” A list of these and other faith-building titles are on my website.

“If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all that he said; if he didn’t rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said?,” writes pastor and apologist Tim Keller in “The Reason for God.” “The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like his teaching but whether or not he rose from the dead.” In another book, “Surprised by Hope,” Wright declares, “Take Christmas away, and in biblical terms you lose two chapters at the front of Matthew and Luke, nothing else. Take Easter away, and you don’t have a New Testament; you don’t have a Christianity; as Paul says, you are still in your sins …”

Locally, I’ve experienced wonderful Easter celebrations but tend to steer away from services where the pastor adopts a self-aggrandizing approach, appearing larger than life. Easter is very important to me but gets lost when it’s treated as a subject for entertainment or self-building. The services I’ve loved have been warm and personable, with pastors loudly proclaiming “Christ is risen!” to which one replies, “He is risen indeed!” Participative hymns of celebration are wonderful. A 100-plus-decibel praise band usually drowns out audience participation with its blast of noise. Easter celebrations should be on the same level of personal intensity one would give a winning Super Bowl or World Series team. Sermons reminding us of the love God has for each of us through Christ’s gift of grace reconnects me to the meaning of it all. Easter should not be a time for private, personal agendas of any church or pastor.

For many of my ADN writing years I’ve loved repeating a fantastic Wright quote from “Surprised by Hope” as it inspires a true re-examination of the way we celebrate. “Easter week itself ought not to be the time when all the clergy sigh with relief and go on holiday,” Wright says, “It ought to be an eight-day festival, with champagne served after morning prayer or even before, with lots of alleluias and extra hymns and spectacular anthems. Is it any wonder people find it hard to believe in the resurrection of Jesus if we don’t throw our hats in the air? Is it any wonder we find it hard to live the resurrection if we don’t do it exuberantly in our liturgies? Is it any wonder the world doesn’t take much notice if Easter is celebrated as simply the one-day happy ending tacked on to forty days of fasting and gloom?”

I’m looking forward to celebrating yet another Easter here with you. My champagne will be iced. May God’s grace be with you.

Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith on his blog,churchvisits.com.

The views expressed here are the writer’s own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words toletters@alaskadispatch.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

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