The way doth lead to perfect bliss, but a way of pain it is – refrain from SHZ 77.
We are living the time of Lent. Lent is a time of preparing for Good Friday and Easter, just as Advent is a time of preparation for Christmas.
Before Easter comes, we live the holy week, when we observe Christ’s suffering and the path He trod as He bore His cross to Golgotha. Easter begins on the morning of Easter Sunday, when we celebrate Christ’s victory over death. Our Christian faith is based on Jesus’ redemptive work and resurrection. Easter, the celebration of that resurrection, is Christianity’s oldest and most important holy day.
As regards the religious holidays we observe in modern-day life, it appears Christmas has outpaced Easter as a holiday in society and perhaps even in our midst. Why is this so?
Christmas is a festival of light and joy during the darkest time of the year. We gladly celebrate the innocent Infant, the fact that He was born so He could save us. We recall the dramatic birth in a barn, the celestial news-bringers, the shepherds, the star, the Magi. We sing, we light candles, we host a host of festivities, we exchange gifts, all to symbolize the arrival of light into this dark world, the greatest gift from God.
Meanwhile, Christ’s suffering, His bloody brow, the stripes beaten into His back, the nails pounded through His extremities and His lonely death in agony on the cross are moments that are hard to celebrate and emulate with festive symbols. Furthermore, we know we must acknowledge on a personal level that it was I who caused that pain and suffering. Jesus died because I cannot live without sin. Perhaps this is one thing that has diminished for many people the importance of the greatest Christian holy day: they do not wish to be reminded of sin and its consequences.
It may be easy to embrace angel-song, starlight and a newborn baby. But pain, blood and death are not so easy to embrace. We can comprehend a human birth, but a foretold death and especially rising from the dead are things that surpass our human comprehension.
Fortunately, we do not need to choose between these two periods of time in our church calendar. There could be no Easter without Christmas, and without Easter, Christmas would have no meaning: we would have no reason to celebrate the birth of Him who was born to save us if that salvation didn’t happen. Without birth and life, there is no death. And without Christ’s death, there would be no resurrection, no eternal life. Easter and Christmas are inseparably intertwined. Both are parts of God’s salvation plan.
Easter is the center of our church calendar, a holiday from which we count days and weeks forward and backward. It encompasses the deepest, most profound message of Christianity: Christ’s resurrection from the dead. God raised Christ from the dead to complete the redemption of all the world. In doing so, He made us righteous, heaven-acceptable. He opened the way to eternal life. Apostle Paul summarized the significance of Easter when he wrote that our preaching and our faith would be in vain had Christ not risen from the dead (1 Cor. 15:14).
It is therefore fitting and proper that in these days and weeks leading up to Easter, we pause and quietly reflect on what Christ has done for us: had He not died and risen from the dead, we would have no hope of heaven. May we remember this and observe this in our individual lives and when we gather with others. Bible texts, other Christian writings and beautiful songs and hymns of the season can all help bring us closer in our hearts and minds to the events leading to Easter.
In reflection and prayer, we can travel with Christ, step by step, as He lived the final excruciating days of His life. We can feel an inkling of the bitter feeling of being completely alone and rejected by God that Christ needed to suffer in order to atone our sin. And we can remember the glory of Christ’s victory over death! Easter, like Christmas, is a celebration of joy and light.
Christ went to heaven in glory and left us with His testament: the Holy Spirit and the living gospel, which sustains us as we await His second coming, and which gives us hope of eternal life thereafter. Each of us can believe that the heavenly gifts Christ earned for me are mine when I believe that they are true for me personally.
No matter the depth of our sorrow over our sins, we yet fall, again and again. Easter offers the weary, sin-fallen one a place of rest and comfort. We can lift our gaze from our own sinfulness unto the righteousness that God prepared. Like doubting Thomas, we too this Easter can rest in the company of our Savior, who comes to us in His Spirit and in His Word. We can feel refreshed and strengthened in faith and acknowledge: “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).
Your soul has received from His loving gaze the warmth and the splendor of heaven’s rays and the Sabbath’s eternal peace (SHZ 99:3).