When was the last time you wanted to gaze on a bloody, mangled body?
Instinctively our stomachs churn, faces contort, emotions mourn at the sight. We turn away; the rawness too much.
But a newborn babe? Ahhhh … we smile, emit sounds of delight, and yearn to snuggle those sweet cheeks. Our hearts long to drink in the softness, the newness, the hope wrapped in newborn flesh.
Do you feel the difference?
It's more than the difference between the Easter and Christmas stories. It is the conundrum of our Christian faith—that Jesus, once a beautiful, cuddly, newborn babe, was eventually betrayed, brutally beaten, and bloodied beyond recognition as a man, though He did nothing wrong. His innocence on the cross was the same innocence He bore in the manger, yet He was convicted as a criminal.
Rejected and alone, Jesus limped and crawled to His death hill, carrying a splintered wooden cross on His raw, shredded flesh. His body submitted to man's evil intentions, His arms and legs hammered securely to the instrument of execution. There He hung—naked, tortured—and there He died. Willingly He endured all of this for us because of infinite love.
Even though we understand Easter's facts, we eagerly anticipate and prefer Christmas. The story of the teenage virgin who bravely birthed a tiny baby king is a much happier one. By contrast we falter at knowing how to celebrate Easter. Though our lives are daily altered by sin and the burden of our human depravity, the necessity of a blood sacrifice isn't welcome in daily conversation. The sweetness of the Christmas babe being lullabied by His angelic choir is easier to celebrate.
We, the redeemed, have wrongly reversed our affections.
Following the culture's leading
Christians, like most everyone else, spend a lot of time and money preparing for Christmas with parties, presents, and elaborate decorations around our homes and communities. Twinkling lights, glowing fires, warm mugs full of cheer are enjoyed by bright-eyed hopefuls from 1 to 92.
By contrast, most of us give Easter little thought, time, or preparation. We take a minimalist approach to celebrating the greatest event of history. Jesus never asked us to commemorate His birth; we ignore what He commanded us to do—remember His death (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).
Does that make a difference? Does it make you pause?
We are not following our Savior's instructions. Without thinking, we have followed the lead of retailers and adopted their softer, gentler symbols into our Easter experience: bunnies, chicks, chocolate candies in colorful plastic eggs, and new pastel clothing.
It's time to change how we celebrate Easter; and I hope you will agree. Here are four ways to begin to correct our upended thinking.
1. Lengthen the Easter holiday experience. Make Easter a season, like Christmas, by starting your Easter preparation with Ash Wednesday and continuing through the 40 days of Lent. By preparing earlier you will have more time to focus on, and teach your family about, Christ's sacrifice on the cross.
And don't stop at Easter. If you can leave Christmas lights up through the New Year, then you can carry on the joy, repeating, "Christ is risen!" daily for the 40 days until Ascension Day!
2. In your home, fully display the importance of this holiest of holidays. The colors of Easter are red and white, not springy hues of pink, yellow, and green. Remember His blood, the color of red wine, which He commanded us to drink in remembrance of Him.
This year consider wearing all white or shades of off-white and soft khaki. Set an all-white table with lots of white candles and three crosses for your Resurrection Day feast to remember the purity of His life and death. Or center your table with a white lamb to celebrate our future as His bride at our marriage to the Lamb when we will be dressed in "fine linen, bright and pure—for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints" (Revelation 19:8).
3. Worship with exuberance what Christ has done for us on Resurrection Sunday. Can you imagine what the women who went to the tomb felt when they saw Jesus alive? What about the disciples, and the multitudes? Like a groom who first sees his bride, I imagine beaming faces, tears of happiness, pure delight, and overflowing joy.
And I picture dancing. Psalm 149:3 invites us to "Praise His name with dancing, making melody to Him with tambourine and lyre!" This is the kind of worship the resurrection calls for. Does your Easter day look like this? It should. St. Augustine wrote, "Learn to dance, so when you get to heaven the angels know what to do with you." I want to be ready.
4. Celebrate the sacrifice and miracle of Easter with others. When we understand more of the immensity of His sacrifice and as much as is possible, the depth of His love, our gratitude will lead to a celebration—with laughter and music and feasting—far surpassing that of Christmas. Make your Easter party grand, and if weather permits, have your lunch or dinner feast outside with lights and music and revelry. Invite friends and neighbors just as we do at Christmas. The watching world will take notice. Easter, the celebration of the cross and resurrection, should be a time of contagious, overflowing evangelism. As N.T. Wright wrote,
Easter is about the wild delight of God's creative power … we ought to shout Alleluias instead of murmuring them. We should light every candle instead of only some. 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? This is our greatest festival. Take Christmas away and in biblical terms you lose two chapters at the front of Matthew and Luke. Take Easter away and you don't have a New Testament; you don't have Christianity.
The incarnation and resurrection are inseparably linked. Our celebrations of these miraculous events need to be proportionate and more balanced in our focus and attention. Don't shy away from Easter; instead elevate it to the status it deserves. Your faith and that of others will benefit.
The miraculous wonders of Easter
Because I am so awed by the cross, Easter truly is my favorite holiday.
While I enjoy the sparkle of Christmas, it'll never match the amazement I feel that one Man willed to die for me, a sin-stained woman, helpless to change on my own. Were it not for His initiation, "He first loved us" (I John 4:8), I would not know love at all. Christmas is fun, but Easter is wonder-filled and jubilant!
As the temple curtain was ripped in two from top to bottom at the precise moment Jesus breathed His last, the door to a relationship with God flung open. God the Father—my holy God, my Creator—was forever accessible.
I'm thankful for the first whimpers of that hay-born Savior, but I'm even more grateful that He gave His last breath for sinners—for me—as He hung nail-bound on a cross. Without His death, resurrection, and ascension, His miraculous incarnation for us on Christmas morning would mean nothing.
Shouldn't we grow up and focus on the miraculous wonders of Easter, His Resurrection Day?
This year I invite you to ponder the uncomfortable truths of Jesus' death and burial. Allow yourself to feel just a hint of His agony, His suffering, His pain. Walk away from the cross with the disciples who were shocked at His death, whose hopes were dashed, whose fears were crippling; their despair and depression deep and debilitating.
Then you will be ready for Sunday's dawn. Then your joy on Resurrection Day will begin to match theirs. Then the world will know that you have been with Jesus. That your life has been changed forever.
And plan a grand celebration because the heart of Christianity is not what we must do, but what He has done! For us!
Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed!
Copyright © 2017 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.