I love history. There is something about discovering gems of what has gone before and how it impacts my life today that really excites me. So recently, as I gathered with my Bible study group, I was surprised when one lady suggested Christians should no longer hold Passover celebrations. While I know without a doubt Jesus fulfilled the need for Passover (Luke 22:14-23) and instituted The Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:17-24), I love marvelling over God’s careful design seen in the Passover tradition and how the Israelites were given this tradition to remember who God is and what he had done (Exodus 12). As Easter is almost here for another year, I have been thinking about how to institute family traditions to truly give Easter the celebratory focus and remembrance that it should have.
Easter is too Confrontational to Celebrate
Like the majority of the people across this globe, Christmas is one of my favourite times of year. There are carols, feasts, gifts and most importantly it is a celebration of God Incarnate in the arrival of Jesus. The tree glitters and gifts are gathered from far and wide to give to those we love on Christmas morning. Whoever you believe Jesus was, you can enjoy Christmas because really, who doesn’t like a good birth story? Jesus as a baby can be celebrated easily and many even decide they can tolerate a one-off church service, so long as the focus is kept on the baby Jesus.
Noel Piper in her helpful book “Treasuring God in Our Traditions” (Crossway, 2003), says, “We reveal to ourselves and others what is important to us by the way we celebrate.” (2003, p.92). As I look at the way I celebrate Christmas and Easter, I have been wondering which one appears more important to me. Sure, Christmas is more commercialised in the extravagant gift giving and a longer holiday period is enjoyed, so culturally, celebration is more widely encouraged and embraced. Christmas also has that extra glow of warmth and love. Christmas cards detail wishes for peace, joy and love (who doesn’t want to hear that!) and have images of a cute baby boy gurgling at the serene animals surrounding his hay-laden manger. Sometimes, I think I forget who this baby boy grew to be and just what he had to endure because of me.
But it is at the Cross, where we really are able to celebrate the fulfilment of God’s mission to save mankind. At the foot of the Cross, we are confronted with the reality of our sin and the sweet grace that drips from Jesus as he exerts his Godly strength and hangs on a tree he created. At Easter, we come smack-bang up against the reality that our sin was responsible for the excruciating death of Jesus. As Isaiah 53:6-7 says, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.”
This makes us uncomfortable and sombre. Jesus has grown up into a man, sacrificed his life, and goes on to rise from the dead and therefore demands a response. The Cross either brings us to our knees, humbly accepting our sinful failure and need for a Saviour, or it hardens our heart and we reject Jesus saving sacrifice and offer of life. As U2 frontman Bono says:
“The secular response to the Christ story always goes like this: he was a great prophet, obviously a very interesting guy, had a lot to say along the lines of other great prophets, be they Elijah, Muhammad, Buddha, or Confucius. But actually Christ doesn’t allow you that. He doesn’t let you off that hook. Christ says: No. I’m not saying I’m a teacher, don’t call me teacher. I’m not saying I’m a prophet. I’m saying: “I’m the Messiah.” I’m saying: “I am God incarnate.” And people say: No, no, please, just be a prophet. A prophet, we can take. You’re a bit eccentric. We’ve had John the Baptist eating locusts and wild honey, we can handle that. But don’t mention the “M” word! Because, you know, we’re gonna have to crucify you.” (Assayas, 2005, Riverhead Books, excerpt from Christianity Today)
The reality is that Jesus does claim to be the Messiah because he was and is and so to the Cross he went and at the Cross he conquered.
But in the midst of this confrontation, it is also at the Cross that we see the greatest example of God’s love for us. Love brought him to earth and love made him stay hanging on the tree. It was his A-Plan from the beginning. As 1 John 4:9-10 says, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” So we see that in this sacrifice we actually gain real life through him! On Good Friday, the world became cloaked in darkness and my heart too usually feels heavy. The Cross exposes my sin. It confronts and I have a choice to make.
And then Easter Sunday breaks forth and Jesus rises from the dead. He defeats death and shows God’s glorious plan. We are given the ultimate gift- that of new life and eternity in restored relationship. We hear the echo of the angels’ words as they reverberate around the empty tomb: “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” (Luke 24:5b). Our hearts are glad and we are moved to worship and praise God. The pain of Good Friday almost makes the joy and celebration even more sweeter.
Making the Decision to Celebrate
Firstly, we need to celebrate Easter with Christ’s Body the Church (Hebrews 10:25). I know growing up I often had sluggish feet when it came to going to two church services over the Easter weekend. I would mumble and moan and devise clever arguments about Easter being a family day that we should celebrate with our close family. But as I have grown in faith and maturity and become a mother myself, I have come to the conclusion that this thinking is skewed. Easter is not just about our small little family- it is about God’s family the Church and celebrating it together.
We can also re-read the Easter story, praying for a fresh appreciation of the gift of life given and found in Jesus. May we not gloss over the pain and heartache and the filth of our sin, but use the Lenten period and Good Friday particularly, to ask for convicted hearts and forgiveness where needed. This year, my daughter is just starting to comprehend who Jesus is, the reality of sin and what Jesus accomplished in dying on the Cross. I really think talking openly and honestly with our children about sin is an important step in helping them understand what we have to celebrate at Easter.
For the first time we are using ‘Resurrection Eggs,’ (Family Life) which have been a great learning tool for teaching the Easter story. In the 12 days leading up to Easter, we open an egg that contains a symbol to accompany the section of the Easter story. Our 3 year old is loving opening an egg each night before bed and hearing the next part of the story. Her wonder and fascination with the different aspects of the story give me a fresh perspective and invite me in to marvel alongside her.
We also are trying to make Easter a more festive occasion by decorating our home. It is our hope that people will come through our home over the Easter period and see that we are serious about this Messiah Jesus. Our decorations are not expensive. Some families I know have made simple Resurrection Centrepieces or banners. We have made a Jesus Tree from Ann Voskamp’s Trail to Tree (available from www.aholyexperience.com) to use as the focal point of our lounge room. Noel Piper’s “Treasuring God in Our Traditions” (Crossway, 2003) is also available for free download from Desiring God with some great ideas.
And then we will be ready to celebrate. I want to gather people in our home to share what Jesus has done and worship him. I want us to sing to our God, read his Word, pray together, swap eggs (Lindt even have little lamb chocolates this year) and marvel over the new life we have through Jesus. I don’t want to use being unprepared as an excuse this year. I want to be intentional and show that as a family we are serious about Jesus as Saviour and Lord. The bunny can hop right out, for the Lamb will be exalted this year!
Assayas, M. (2005). Bono in Conversation with Michka Assayas. New York City: Riverhead Books. Excerpt available from: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2005/augustweb-only/bono-0805.html?start=1
Piper, N. (2003). Treasuring God in Our Traditions. Illinois: Crossway Books. Digital Ebook available from http://cdn.desiringgod.org/pdf/books_btgt/btgt.pdf
Voskamp, A. (2010) Trail to Tree. [Adobe Digital Editions] Retrieved from https://s3.amazonaws.com/a.voskamp/TrailtotheTree1.pdf on 27th March, 2015