A few years ago, after our Easter celebration, several members of the consistory came to the meeting with an issue. Some of them expressed sadness that it didn’t feel like Easter this year. For some, it felt like it was an opportunity that was missed to experience the gospel. The service felt like it had just come and gone.
What is the big deal? What’s so important about it “feeling like Easter”? Why should we spend time preparing for Easter or any holiday? To be sure, our faith is more than just sentimentality over a holiday. It’s more than a feeling about, “the spirit of Easter” or excitement about tradition. But annual holidays and routines in the year do serve an important function. They are used to help form us as Christians.
In the Old Testament, the ancient Israelite were instructed to take a weekly Sabbath. Additionally, God instructed Moses to have the people celebrate various festivals and holidays throughout the year. There was the Day of Atonement where a sacrifice was held annually with a sacrifice of an animal. There was the Passover where the people were to remember how God saved the people from bondage in Egypt and how God made a covenant with the Israelite. There was the Festival of Booths where people lived outdoors for a time to remember their journey in the wilderness. These were all holidays God instituted for the Israelite before they entered the Promised Land.
Many of the Psalms are described as being a “psalm of ascent”. These were songs and worship tunes that pilgrims would sing on their way up the hill to Jerusalem. Imagine whole clans with parents, their children and their grandchildren singing songs on their way to Jerusalem. This was before the radio or iPhone. Families would actually talk and consider the things of God. The annual trips to Jerusalem formed their identity as the people of God.
Why would God do this? These holidays were essentially the means by which God used to pass on the experience of the people to the next generation. Many of these holidays required the head of the house to instruct and teach the children the ways of God. In other words, these weekly and annual practices were used to train and form the child in their faith.
In the United States, many traditions and holidays we celebrate also serve this function. Many of the holidays in the United States seek to honor a prominent leader, an event or those who served in the military. Historically, the Christian church has used seasonal holidays in the year to teach and to train believers. They are constant reminders year after year of what God has done. In reminding us of the past, we are able to face the future.
What does Easter remind us and what are we to remember? Easter reminds us of the central event in the history of God’s interaction with humanity. Jesus’ crucifixion was the greatest act of rebellion by God’s creation. It is at the cross where we who were made in God’s image murdered and crucified God. It is the ultimate symbol of our inward desires when we sin. At the cross, we declared independence from God and stated our desire to rule over ourselves.
But in this act of rebellion, God does something truly amazing. John the Apostle tells us that Jesus was far from being a victim. “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” (John 10:18 ESV) Jesus used the very instrument meant to destroy him to destroy the power of death and restore us to a right relationship with God. He suffered at the hands of human beings to take the punishment from God that we deserved. But Jesus did not just stay dead. He rose again from the dead. He now reigns at God the Father’s right hand and is interceding for his people now. His resurrection proved his claims about himself. It also demonstrated that God’s punishment was satisfied. His acts of righteousness were enough to restore us to God.
Why should we remember this? Because it is through this event that Christ declared the war between God and mankind finished. Jesus’ death satisfied the requirements that we owed God. We now have access to God. It is a reminder to turn away from sin. We are called to remember what Jesus has done for us and cultivate a heart of thanksgiving. It is a reminder not to take things for granted. It is a reminder also not to trust in our own righteousness before God. Lastly it is a time to turn our worship, our affection, and our love to our Savior