“Easter Means All”
March 27, 2016
By John Partridge*
Scripture: John 20:1-18 Acts 10:34-43 1 Corinthians 15:19-26
For the last couple weeks I have occasionally heard some of my agnostic and atheist friends post online, stories about how Easter was originally a pagan holiday. And the answer is never quite so simple that it can be strictly a ‘yes’ or a ‘no.’ Without getting off the track and into a detailed rebuttal, it simply serves us all well to remember that Christianity wasn’t always a majority religion and has, in various times and in various places, been a persecuted minority. So, over the centuries, Christians made a few concessions to “fit in” to their culture and save themselves from trouble. But there have also been times when, as a majority religion, that pagans have converted to Christianity and have brought with them favorite elements of their old religious practices which were then “redeemed” by giving them new, Christian, meanings. That is how we got Easter eggs and Christmas trees, and a lot of other symbols that now have a thoroughly Christian meaning. Despite what you may occasionally hear on the Internet, just because you have an Easter egg hunt this afternoon, does not mean that you are in any way participating in pagan worship.
But, since we’re having that discussion, what is it that Easter really means?
In this case, I don’t mean how Easter is translated, or where the terminology came from, but instead I mean, what difference does it make? What difference does Easter make to me, to my family, my community, and to my heart?
To answer that question, naturally, we are going to go back to the original story of that first Easter morning so long ago. (John 20:1-18)
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.
11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.
In these few verses we see a group of people who have lost their friend, their leader, the focus of their lives, and all their plans for the future. They are so paralyzed with grief that now, days after his death, they haven’t yet figured out what they would do next and so they are still staying together, pretty much where they were three days earlier, trying to put their lives back together. On Sunday morning however, Mary Magdalene and some of the other women, return to the tomb where Jesus was buried so that they can complete the burial rituals that had to be skipped in order to complete the burial before the Sabbath began.
But even here there is a curious hint. As Jesus meets Mary he sends her to tell the good news, not to his friends, and not to his disciples, but to everyone that he calls his “brothers.” This is curious because as we read through the Gospels, sometimes Jesus uses the term “brothers” or “brothers and sisters” to mean his friends and his followers. But at other times, when Jesus referred to “brothers and sisters” such as in Matthew 25:39-40 where he said…
“When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
And in those cases, it was clear that Jesus was describing a group of people that included… everyone.
This becomes even more apparent as the disciples begin to reflect and to understand exactly what happened until, in Acts 10:34-43 we hear Peter explain the events of Easter this way:
34 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. 36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.
39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
So if we read Peter’s speech while we are thinking about the meaning of Easter and how Jesus asked Mary to tell all of his brothers and sisters that he was alive, what things rise to the surface? For me it was these things: God does not show favoritism, God accepts followers from every nation, and the prophets testify about Jesus to everyone who believes.
Once we begin to see that the message of Jesus was intended for people other than his friends, it becomes unavoidable to understand that the message of Easter was not just for his friends, not just for Israel, not just for the Jews, but for everyone, everywhere and every-when.
And Peter wasn’t the only one who believed this. In Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth he also writes about the resurrection of Jesus where he says (1 Corinthians 15:19-26):
19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
Paul reminds us that Easter is about more than just the here and now. Easter is about more than living one good life and then being buried. Paul says that if Easter is only about living one good life then we are to be pitied more than anyone else alive. Instead, Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus rose from the dead because Adam’s sin infects all of us and so Jesus endured the cross, died, and rose again so that all of us could be made alive again. Jesus rose from the dead so that at the end of time, all of the kings, all of the nations, all of the politicians, all authority, all power, and all the people will bow down to worship God. Jesus rose from the dead so that one day, all of his enemies would be defeated.
The real meaning of Easter doesn’t come from ancient pagan holidays; the real meaning of Easter comes from the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The real meaning of Easter isn’t about God playing favorites, but instead it’s about God inviting everyone into his kingdom. Easter isn’t about Jesus inventing a new kind of boy’s club, and it’s not about bringing “good news of great joy” to Israel or to the Jews, but is about God breaking out into the world that we live in and inviting everyone, everywhere, to become a member of his family, and to live in his house… forever.
Easter is about God announcing the good news of peace that come through Jesus to all the people of the world.
Easter means “all.”
On that first Easter morning Jesus told Mary Magdalene to go and tell everyone that Jesus was alive.
The news (and the meaning) of the resurrection of Jesus is still so good, that we should do the same.
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