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It’s a religious festival that can resonate with faithful and non-faithful alike
This Sunday is Easter, the central celebration of the Christian faith. While I’m mindful there are many folks reading this who do not self-identify as Christian, I suspect there are many families who still keep the day much like mine, regardless of religious affiliation or lack thereof. On Sunday morning children across this province, like my own grandchildren, will joyously hunt for chocolate eggs allegedly left behind by a nocturnal bunny. Later in the day, families will gather together for a grand feast rivalled only at Christmas or Thanksgiving. What will distinguish my family’s Easter from that of many others is that we will also gather with our church family to hear once again the story of the very first Easter Sunday, a story that often gets lost in egg hunts and family feasts.
For Christians, Easter is a celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. On Good Friday, Jesus had been unjustly put to death and his body laid to rest in a tomb. As there hadn’t been enough time to anoint his body for burial before the Sabbath, it was early on Sunday morning when some of his followers went to the tomb to properly anoint him. However, when they got there his body was gone. The tomb was empty, aside from angels proclaiming that Jesus had been raised from the dead.
Easter, though, is much more than a celebration of an empty tomb. Christians not only believe Jesus was victorious over death, but that we will share in his victory. As we proclaim in one of our prayers, through “his death he destroyed death, and by his rising again he has won for us eternal life.” Thus, Easter is the pulsing heart of the Christian hope that death to this earthly life is not the end of our story.
Although this hope has carried me through the dark valley of grief more than once, I still see more to Easter than an empty tomb or what happens after we die. Indeed, to play on something the apostle Paul wrote to the Christian community of Corinth, if for the next life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. This is why my favourite part of the Easter story isn’t the discovery of the empty tomb, but what happened later that same day.
Easter, though, is much more than a celebration of an empty tomb.
Two of Jesus’ followers were walking along the road to the village of Emmaus when the resurrected Jesus joined them on their journey. Even though they engaged in conversation with him, they didn’t recognize him for quite some time, and as soon as they did he vanished from their sight. Overcome with joy, they rushed back to Jerusalem to tell the others, only to be told that Jesus had appeared to Peter as well. Jesus continued to appear to his followers over the coming days and weeks, and promised to be with them always. Easter is, therefore, more than a story of a past event or a future hope. It is also a story about the here and now.
Easter reminds us the Divine Presence, who walked among us in Jesus of Nazareth, was not taken from us on Good Friday. Jesus is somehow still present and active among the human family today. As with those folks on the road to Emmaus, we won’t always recognize this Presence, and when we do it will be but a glimpse.
I admit those glimpses are hard to come by in the brokenness of this world, but I do get them, especially when I see acts of love, mercy, kindness and compassion between human beings. I’ve come to recognize Christ in the passion of those striving to bring about justice, peace, respect and dignity for the whole of the human family. This is a part of the Easter story that those not of the Christian faith might be willing to align themselves with, a source of hope for all who seek to bring about a better world in the here and now.
It is an aspect of Easter just as easily lost in celebrations of an empty tomb and a future hope, as it is in egg hunts and family feasts.
Mark Nichols is associate priest at St. Mark’s Anglican Church in St. John’s.