The way we oddly celebrate Easter as a society is ironically accurate. Jesus, who was a real person, typically takes a backseat to a make-believe Easter Bunny.
And we celebrate that same make-believe Rabbit handing out eggs from Chickens that we colored ourselves.
Let’s cut to the chase and get right to the elephant in the corner of the room, shall we? We as Christians believe death has been conquered by God Himself. A man looking like you and I, who ate, breathed, slept and even went to the bathroom like you and I, died and three days later rose from the grave without a piece of rotting flesh on his body. Jesus is his name, the son of God. The Messiah. The only perfect being to ever walk this earth. A big deal for Christians.
Living in the United States, I can only speak for my experience as an American. Similar to Christmas, with less decorations, we take a treasured day, and twist it in a way not offensive to us, yet it feels below the actual meaning.
Like most children, I grew up dyeing chicken eggs in food coloring with my parents and grandparents. We’d buy the little kit with the wire egg holder and wax crayons, oddly similar to the kit style we buy for Halloween pumpkins. Traditions I grew up loving and will probably do with my own son. A tradition birthed by retail stores, not the Church.
On Easter, my mom would hide baskets full of colored eggs, jellybeans, Reese eggs and the fake green grass impossible to clean up with a vacuum. What’s not to love? Getting up early for Sunday service was a decent trade off for Halloween candy in April.
Years later as an adult, I experienced my first Easter as a Christian. That year, I picked up my bible and began to read front to back. The Old Testament came first, then the new. The New Testament contains the stories, life, death and life again of Jesus Christ. Here’s a fun spoiler alert, the Old Testament has Jesus all over too, we just don’t know it when we read blindly.
When Easter came that year, I was still in the Old Testament. I hadn’t studied Jesus yet, read the Gospels with my own eyes and allowed the Holy Spirit to enlighten me with truth. I remember not feeling anything on Easter and it was discouraging.
I at least feel joy and excitement on Christmas because of the celebrations, prepping, green and red, Christmas trees, presents and so on. Needless to say, my wife and I didn’t sit at home coloring hard-boiled eggs and hiding woven baskets in our tiny studio apartment on Easter morning.
I remember driving home from a 16-hour workday and sitting in my parked car outside of our apartment. Feeling let down about what Easter meant to me, I spoke out loud to God. I said, “God! Why don’t I feel anything today? Isn’t this supposed to be the day of days to remember? I’m reading my bible. I’m praying. I’m sharing my faith. I’m going to church and trying to connect in fellowship. What’s going on?”
Right then and there in the quiet parking lot, my memory flashed through my mind like a deck of shuffling cards. Before I left for work, my wife was telling me about this study she was reading on the Book of John in one of her bible study apps.
Having my bible with me, I flipped to the Book of John and saw countless scripture in RED. Red marks all the places where Jesus was actually speaking. Think about it, the word of God right there at my fingertips. I flipped through the book of John the same way as the shuffling cards in my memory. Red, red, red. I then heard a little thought I believe came from God. The voice said, “How can you feel something you know nothing about?”
Don’t get me wrong, I knew the story of Jesus we all learn, Christian or not. Jesus had followers, died on the cross, his tomb was guarded by Roman shoulders, Jesus rose from the dead, and not much detail into each encounter, each person, each journey. I knew nothing of the meaning of the story of Jesus. Do you get it? I had not read the Gospels yet.
I hadn’t read the New Testament, which meant I didn’t see Jesus in the Old Testament like I see now. This was a game changer. I read a Gospel a day for the next four days and began to know Jesus beyond the stories my parents and Grandparents told me as a kid. Their stories took back seats to the chicken-egg-laying Easter Bunny.
Jesus didn’t hand out Reese cups and gift cards on Easter Morning. A giant Bunny was the giver of candies, so the story of Jesus rising from the dead was not the meaning of Easter I celebrated as a child, teenager or a young adult.
Things have changed. I’ve learned not what Jesus did, but why He did what the Gospels teach. The truth came crashing down on me, fulfilling my deepest desires.
Growing up biracial, I lacked identity. Experiencing life with raw emotions from all ends of the spectrum, I lacked understanding. Living with a desire to be passionlessly independent, I lacked acceptance.
When I learned all of the different types of people Jesus sacrificed himself for, I felt seen.
A warrior of the Bible, David, who struck down Goliath, later killed a man for adultery (2 Samuel 11:12). Jesus died for him. Noah, the lifeboat of all species, who drank too much alcohol (Genesis 9:21). Jesus died for him. Peter, the first of the Church, who denied Jesus in fear three times (Luke 22:54-62, Matthew 26:69-75). Jesus died for him. Barabbas, a consistent felon and prisoner (Luke 23:19, Matthew 26:17). Jesus died for him. Mary Magdalen, an adulterer for trade (John 8:1-11). Jesus died for her. Paul, a hunter of Christians (Acts 8-9:1). Jesus died for him. But it doesn’t stop there. Roman soldiers and Jewish Leaders who murdered Jesus, the son of God. Jesus died for them. We all have our outer battles and inner wars. Jesus died to fight and win those wars on our behalf. In fact, as they killed him, Jesus called out to God on their behalf. He said, “forgive them Father, for they know not what they do!” (Luke 23:34)
Jesus’s love reaches every person, every dark place, every lonely place, all through his death and resurrection. Easter brings more joy than a solider coming home from war. Easter has more to celebrate than a relative beating cancer. Easter is more unique than winning seven NBA titles or the first championship to a desperate city.
Easter is a prophecy fulfilled with every detail exactly met. Easter is Jesus rising from the dead after facing the death meant for us (Mark 16, Luke 24, Matthew 28, John 20, 1 Thessalonians 4:14, 1 Peter 1:3, 2 Corinthians 15, Romans 6:5-6, Philippians 3:10, Hebrews 13:20, Acts 26) . Easter means we are strengthened by the one who gives strength to all. The greatest Love. The love of God.
I want to encourage you. You don’t have to know Easter like I do, because I once knew nothing of the true meaning to celebrate Easter Sunday. Give reading the Gospels a chance and see what knowledge sparks joy in your life (Hebrews 4:12, Timothy 3:16-17, Romans 10:17).
As we go our separate ways and buy the candy on sale and make lasting memories coloring eggs with family, allow these actions to take a back seat to something powerful and meant for all. God gave the thing he loves most in all of Heaven and Earth and sacrificed it for you and for all to have joy, love, hope and everlasting identity in Him.
What a powerful thing to celebrate! I wish you each truth and a happiness bursting from inside that no one can deny. Have a wonderful Easter to all and enjoy your candy!
—Sean Reed, Elder at First Church of God in Tallmadge, OH.