Easter comes earlier than usual this year. But in many ways, Easter can never come early enough. As a young boy growing up in church, I remember thinking Jesus lived a really short life. This was during my early Sunday school years, well before I learned that he was probably around 33 years old when he was killed. I was just old enough to realize that we celebrated Jesus’ birth at the end of December, but just young enough to find it confusing that only three or four months later we had another holiday to remember his death and celebrate his resurrection. Luckily, I got the whole story cleared up somewhere along the way, otherwise I’m sure my seminary classes would be much different today (can you imagine an infant Jesus walking on water?). But regardless of the misunderstandings I had about where death and resurrection fit into the overall time line of Jesus’ life, I always realized that Easter was a really special holiday, even bigger than Christmas (although — compared to presents — chocolate eggs don’t make a very convincing argument to children).
How did I realize Easter was a big deal? For starters, my mom made me and my sister dress up more on Easter Sunday than any other day of the year. That meant it was a big deal. We had to wake up super early for church, and when we got there it was quiet and there were flowers everywhere. Flowers are special, and so is anything that you have to wake up early for, so these things meant it was a big deal. The Easter service always started with someone playing a timpani, which is basically just a drum that you can hear at any middle school or high school band concert, but when it’s used to begin a worship service at church, it becomes really special. The timpani at church meant Easter was a big deal too. Finally, our family got together with relatives at my grandma’s house or had a really nice lunch at our house on Easter, and at some point (usually before we could lunch and before we were allowed to change out of our church clothes), we had to take a family picture. This wasn’t the only time of year we had to do this, but every time it happened it meant that whatever was going on was…a big deal.
The church season of Lent started in the beginning of February this year. For the past six weeks, people have been preparing themselves for this “Holy Week” by doing all sorts of things, like abstaining from certain things (that they like) as a way of remembering Jesus’ sacrifice for them. Most Catholics don’t eat meat during Lent, which is why all the fast food restaurants seem to have a new fish sandwich on the menu this time of year. Some people give up chocolate for Lent, with the knowledge that there will be chocolate everywhere on Easter and it will taste that much sweeter after not having tasted it for nearly two months. I know of other people who have given up myspace or facebook for Lent, which is probably a bigger sacrifice to many young people than giving up meat (but probably not as big as giving up chocolate!). I considered giving up my iPod for Lent this year, but then I realized how silly the idea was and decided against it (thanks to Martin Luther and the Reformation, I have never felt the pressure to give up anything for Lent, although I would imagine it’s a worthwhile spiritual discipline).
Holy Week has finally arrived. Churches everywhere are preparing for the largest gathering of people they’ll have in their building all year. Flowers known as “Easter Lillies” are being given in memory of loved ones. Youth groups are getting ready to serve brunch in their church gyms. Moms are trying to convince their sons to wear the new suit they bought them (because they will look so cute in the family picture). Stores are stocking the shelves with chocolate eggs, bunnies and those weird marshmallowy things called Peeps. Many students and teachers are loving this week because it’s their spring break. It’s also the first week of the NCAA basketball tournament, so many people are filling our their brackets and scheming ways to get out of work or class to watch basketball all day on Thursday and/or Friday. Some people, regardless of whether they follow college basketball or have school or work this week, are counting down the hours until they can take a big bite of meat, devour some chocolates or check their facebook again. There are certainly reasons to be excited that this week is finally here. For me, I am excited because not only does my spring break start tomorrow (which means I can watch the NCAA tournament), but I am most excited that in only two days I will pick up my parents at the airport and get to see my dad again (he has been in Tanzania for nearly three months and my mom has been there visiting him the last two weeks).
But in this season of Lent and this Holy Week of Easter, let’s be careful not to let little things outshine the big thing. Perhaps you didn’t grow up going to church like me, or don’t understand family and faith the way others reading this might, and even if you’ve never given up meat for Lent (and didn’t even realize some people did), none of that changes anything about the reality that Jesus gave himself for your sins to rescue you from the evil in this world, and he did this according to the will of God (Galatians 1:4).
In my understanding, this is what Easter is about: Jesus defeated sin and death on the cross and through his resurrection there is hope for all of us to share in his eternal life. Easter cannot come early enough because we cannot hear this Good News often enough. Jesus rescues us. Have you ever heard a survivor say anything like “Wow…that was close, but I wish they hadn’t rescued me so soon”? Of course not, because rescue can never come early enough.
I hope you enjoy this week for many reasons. Have fun watching hours of basketball, eating chocolate, hanging out with friends and family and enjoying some time off from work or school. But I hope you also take some time to remember why this week is called Holy Week. For as the congregation will exclaim at the beginning of the service I attend on Sunday, “He is risen. He is risen indeed.”
(If you’d like to read more about the history, theology, Scripture, or view some art or video about Holy Week and Easter, here are some links you might find interesting).
- Article on “Holy Week” from Wikipedia
- Video from The Passion of the Christ mixed with “The Reason” by Hoobastank
- Famous painting by Grünewald called “The Crucifixion”
- My video “Broken” that will be used in worship at a church in Stillwater this week
- Reflections on each day of Holy Week from my friend Bryan’s blog
- The Gospel narratives of Jesus’ death and resurrection in the Bible; from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.