The Story of Easter: a Symbol of Hope and Love for Humankind

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Easter, a sacred holiday for Christians and other faiths who respect Jesus as an enlightened one, is an avalanche of anticipation and drama - from dark to light, from death to life and a new beginning
Jesus Christ Son of God (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Easter, a sacred holiday for Christians and other faiths who respect Jesus as an enlightened one, is an avalanche of anticipation and drama – from dark to light, from death to life and a new beginning. Easter for many marks the beginning of Spring. Due to differences in their calendars, The Orthodox Easter can fall on a much later date than the Catholic Easter. This year it falls on May 2.

For believers, Easter is a time for reflection and repentance and a reminder that God has not abandoned us; that a savior suffered, was crucified and resurrected for the salvation of man. Easter is a celebration that is both grand and important.

Since the Epic of Gilgamesh, the oldest known literary work, written in the form of tablets dating as far back as 2100 BC, up until today, it has been accepted that order comes through the power of strength through violence; to the victor go the spoils.

Rome held great power in Palestine in Jesus’ time. The mighty Romans maintained order through punishment, and the worst form of punishment and humiliation was crucifixion. In very public displays, criminals were nailed to wooden crosses, left to die a slow, excruciating death.

The Essence of Easter–Hope

The Easter “season” is often referred to as Lent, an Anglo-Saxon word which means “Springtide.”  It begins with Ash Wednesday and continues for 46 days excluding Sundays. This period symbolizes Jesus’ journey of meditation and overcoming the devil’s temptations for 40 days in the wilderness before beginning the destiny of his ministry on earth.

Lent is a time for self-examination and an opportunity to put aside worldly distractions and focus on God’s presence. Many observers abstain from favorite foods or activities — to sacrifice or fast as Jesus did in resisting the temptations of this world.

On Ash Wednesday, believers go to Churches to receive the sacraments. In Catholicism, the priest marks each person’s forehead with a cross of ashes made from palm tree branches, symbolizing purification by fire and God’s acceptance.

Holy Week, or Passion Week, is the week before Easter, beginning with Palm Sunday and ending on Holy Saturday. Each day of the week commemorates and honors the acts of Jesus in the days before his Resurrection.  Each day has importance in exemplifying his unconditional Passion for the world as he revealed his foreknowledge of the suffering he willingly undertook to keep his promise of delivering man to his eternal home in heaven.  

Passion Week starts with Palm Sunday, when Jesus and his disciples made the triumphant entry into Jerusalem. As the crowds swelled, they joyfully welcomed Jesus by spreading their cloaks on the road and waving palm branches, chanting exuberantly, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the lord!” “Hosana to the Son of David!” “Hosana, Hosana in the Highest.”

On Monday and Tuesday, Jesus visits the temple to cleanse it of those who were using for purposes other than praying to God. He not only turns the physical tables on the money changers, but also upends the temple priests, who were profiting from the money lenders, by refusing to answer their questions.

Unable to ensnare him, the Chief Priest and Jewish Elders felt threatened by Jesus, so they plotted to arrest him and made a deal with his disciple, Judas. For 30 pieces of silver, Judas Iscariot agreed to betray him on Wednesday, known as Spy Wednesday.

The Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci depicts Jesus with his disciples before he is betrayed by Judas and arrested
The Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci depicts Jesus with his disciples before he is betrayed by Judas and arrested. (Image: pixabay/CC0.1.0)

Maundy Thursday is the beginning of the Paschal Triduum, which includes Good Friday and Holy Saturday, ending on the evening of Easter Sunday.  This period commemorates the Passion, Death, and the Resurrection of Jesus.

Maundy Thursday is the night of the Last Supper before the Crucifixion and Resurrection. It is when Jesus sat at the Passover meal with his disciples and explained how the meal represented not only the past but also what was about to happen in the coming days. Jesus had to make the ultimate sacrifice at the time of Passover.

Part of the observance on Passover is the breaking and eating of unleavened bread in remembrance of how God delivered the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt. Each element is a symbol of that. Here, Jesus reaffirms the original meaning of deliverance from physical slavery while adding to it the meaning of freedom from spiritual slavery. His broken body is represented in the bread, and his blood in the cup.

Eating his last supper with his disciples, Jesus said, “one of you will betray me,” and they anxiously asked, “Lord is it I?”

Later that night in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus spent his last night of freedom with his disciples. Here to their disbelief, he predicted Peter’s denial that he was a disciple of Jesus. As his disciples slept, Jesus in his agony prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me, yet not my will but yours be done.” As Jesus prayed, Judas Iscariot arrived to deliver Jesus to a group of armed men, identifying him with a kiss. When they arrested Jesus, the other disciples fled for their lives, betraying him. 

The Jewish Elders, or Sanhedrin, charged Jesus with blasphemy, and lied that he had claimed to be God. Although they were the leading Council of Israel, they had no authority or legal reason to sentence him to death. So they brought him to Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor who held that power. While he, too, found no reason for punishment, in the end Pilate agreed to crucify Jesus in order to satisfy the crowd.

It was the will of Heaven: Jesus committed to die to atone for man’s sins, and set the stage for the next two thousand years.

On Good Friday, on the Hill of Golgotha, meaning skull in Aramaic, and called Calvary in Latin, Jesus hung nailed to the cross, crowned with thorns, with wounds all over his body from beatings. He turned to the repentant thief hanging beside him and comforted him, telling him he would be with him in Paradise, and assuring him that after death, there would be a rebirth for those who repent.

Now in many churches and monasteries, although bells toll for three hours starting at noon to commemorate the time Jesus was on the cross, silence prevails in mourning of this horrific act. It is a time to reflect on how to honor this sacrifice, and consider how one should live one’s life.

Holy Saturday is darkness – the darkness of the tomb carved out of the rock at the Holy Sepulcher. Under the chill of Death, believers mourn all day Saturday as if it were night. It is a time of thoughtfulness and waiting. A vigil.

The day of the resurrection is depicted on the ceiling of a Greek Orthodox church, with the Divine Liturgy of Pascha (Easter Mass)
The day of the resurrection is depicted on the ceiling of a Greek Orthodox church, with the Divine Liturgy of Pascha (Easter Mass) (Image: fusion-of-horizons via Flickr CC0.2.0)

On Sunday morning, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb to anoint his body with oils and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb entrance. Distraught, she sought help in discovering the lost body of Christ. Jesus, who had risen and defeated death through the power of God, appeared and said ‘Do not be afraid.’ He asked her to tell his disciples that he was alive.

Jesus then appeared to his disciples, who were both shocked and scared, thinking he came for revenge because they had abandoned and betrayed him. He asked them to touch his bruises. Through divine order, he dissolved hatred with compassion and undermined aggression through forgiveness. He showed that divine mercy establishes order and how the Resurrection is the condition for all possibilities. A new story began, and a more profound truth was exposed. This truth says that order does not come from violence but through forgiveness, compassion, and non-violence.

The Resurrection of Jesus gives Hope. According to Genesis, God created everything outside of himself, and everything he made is perfect. But the sins of mankind compromised his design. Out of compassion, God sent signals, messengers, and profits to warn humankind, but to no avail. Finally God sent his son, Yeshou (Jesus), in human form, who became a powerless sacrifice for mankind, who conquered death and transformed suffering to redeem the world. That is why Easter is the ground for Hope, the most profound meaning for Easter.

Out of divine love, God sent signs, messengers, and Prophets to warn humankind, but to no avail. Finally, God sent his Son, Yeshua (Jesus), in human form, as a sacrifice for all humankind, who conquered death and transformed suffering into redemption, offering Hope through Love.

Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Square, Rome. (Image; pixabay/CC0.1.0)

Jesus spent 40 more days on earth with his disciples, teaching them and anointing them with blessings to enable them to take his message of repentance and faith throughout the lands. Christians believe that his disciples then witnessed his rise to heaven, as part of the plan of man’s salvation was fulfilled. This remarkable story has shaped Western history and impacted the entire world.

The Death and Resurrection of Jesus represent Hope in this hopeless world, with the example of a God who became one of us and understood us, and he took our sins upon himself to offer salvation.