Along with Christmas, Easter is one of the top two dates on the Christian calendar. The normal flow of life slows and our attention is turned, however fleetingly, to the resurrection of Jesus from his death on the cross.
The danger at Easter is the same as at Christmas: we get inundated with cultural trappings (eggs, baskets, bunnies, photos at the mall) while the deeper meaning we believe in our inmost being gets pushed aside. Sometimes we lose the deeper meaning altogether until we are at church listening to the preacher exclaim, “He is not here! He is risen!” Our response is often, “I won’t let this happen again next year.” But too often it does, and we fail to prepare ourselves for Easter.
For some believers, family traditions carried over from childhood are imprinted on our own kids more than the broader emphasis known as Holy Week that the Church has long observed. Some Christian traditions start 40-days prior to Easter with the season of Lent. But for many who don’t observe Lent, even Holy Week is abbreviated to only Easter Morning missing many opportunities for learning and reflection on the life of Christ. Holy Week becomes a Holy Day which becomes a holiday which becomes another Sunday in springtime. The question then is, “How can we keep from losing Christ at Easter as we so often do at Christmas?”
Preparing well for the Easter Season means remembering—at least—these five days: Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter. Here are some reasons and ideas to help make each day a way to remember and celebrate Jesus.
In your church or in your home, read Matthew 21:1–11 about Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. This was the public victory parade into Israel’s center of worship emphasizing Christ’s authentic kingship as the Messiah and the purpose of his coming. Contrast his actual mission (to seek and save the lost by dying for our sins) with what many of his followers thought (that he intended to overthrow Rome and restore an earthly kingdom) and you easily see the coming storm.
Observations to consider: Who do you think these people thought Jesus truly was given the Old Testament passage they quoted? What is the significance of Jesus riding in on a donkey as opposed to a horse and chariot? How would you have felt if you were one of the twelve?
Maundy is from the Latin word mandatum, meaning “command.” It comes from Christ’s words in John 13:34, “A new commandment I give unto you,” and focuses on Jesus’ teaching and actions at the Last Supper, the Passover meal shared with his disciples the night of his betrayal. Historically, one emphasis of Maundy Thursday is that we lay aside worldly entertainment.
Observations to consider: When Jesus taught his disciples about true leadership, what did he emphasize? What important task had they failed to do before the meal? What can we learn from the Last Supper that can help us with our understanding of Easter?
Jesus was crucified and laid in a tomb owned by one of his followers. Jesus’ full humanity is on display even to death. Think about the grief and hopelessness experienced by the disciples. Their rabbi is dead. Their leader of more than three years is gone; believed to be a criminal, he was executed between two of the same. The most powerful teacher in Israel nailed, speared, shamed, and cursed on a tree.
Observations to consider: What are some great disappointments you’ve experienced? What is your normal response to them? Should our grieving in this life be different than that of the disciples, since we know Jesus is alive and they did not yet know he would be raised? Why is Good Friday “good” when it’s a day of crucifixion?
The disciples are in hiding lest they are associated with an executed enemy of the state. They would not have been merely frustrated, sorrowful, or feeling they’d wasted three years of their lives. They would have been fearful of being arrested for sedition themselves (as they were in John 20:19). What had happened to Jesus might also happen to them!
Observations to consider: Why didn’t the disciples believe Jesus? Did most people of Jesus’ day understand the prophecy of his resurrection? How can we turn our minds to the hope of the resurrection on Holy Saturday?
This is the day upon which all of human history turns. Every day we live is measured from Jesus’ death and resurrection: anno domini, “In the Year of our Lord.” Our calendar testifies to the resurrection of Jesus. We cannot celebrate Easter too exuberantly. We cannot offer God too much praise. We must never get over being brought from death to life ourselves. It is no wonder Paul wrote, “Oh grave, where is your victory? Oh death, where is your sting?” Death, the grave, and the fear they spawn pale in the glorious light of the empty tomb and the angels’ question of the ages, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” “Up from the grave he arose,” and because he lives we, too, shall live!
Focusing on Holy Week leading up to Easter Sunday helps keep Jesus the focus of the season. It can also help your family or church not be overwhelmed by the cultural aspects of the day.