Holiday celebrations are one of my favorite parts of being a parent. With our sons getting older we get to set the tone for each holiday, choosing our traditions, and teaching our boys how to celebrate with feasting, giving, and all-out joy.
In December we spent a month in preparation for the celebration of Christmas. We did a combination of Advent activities, stories, singing, and special treats to give life to the event of Jesus’ birth. It made for an exciting time, not just for our three-year-old, but also for us as adults. The intentional effort toward teaching our sons also brought us a fresh look at the profound event of God becoming man.
We tell our sons that Christmas is for Easter. The reason Jesus’ birth is such a celebrated moment in history is because it begins the fulfillment of God’s promise to save us through Jesus. Jesus’ birth is just the beginning; it is his death and resurrection that give us our greatest hope, and thus our greatest reason to celebrate.
But as my son was asking a litany of questions in all his excitement for Easter, I realized that though we believe Christmas is for Easter, I haven’t really acted like it in the past. Easter often sneaks up on me, and I generally regard it as a day to dress up a little more on Sunday and maybe have a meal with family. I’ve hardly taken the time to intentionally think about what Easter really means, and why we celebrate it in the first place.
If we really know what Easter celebrates then it ought to be the biggest, most joyful celebration of the Christian calendar. We are so dedicated to celebrating so many human achievements: putting whole feasts on for football games, or religiously watching the Olympics, or dancing with excitement over the coming new year. Yet when it comes to the biggest moment of our history as Christians we respond sleepily, often reiterating the phrase “He is risen” with a mindless ritualism without actually comprehending what those words really mean.
On the one hand, if the events of Easter aren’t true, then we Christians ought to be considered the most pathetic lot of people. As Paul says:
And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
1 Corinthians 15:17:-19
But if the events of Easter are true, if Jesus did just as he said he would, and the claims of Christianity are as true as we believe, then:
Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?
The sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Dear Christians, He is risen! This truth ought to fill our hearts with a magnitude of thanks. We ought to be celebrating this more than any other event in our lives.
It takes intention to celebrate with the whole of our hearts though.
This year we are trying to truly celebrate with meaning and to teach our sons the beautiful truth of Easter—rather than empty ritual. We started a sort of Easter Advent two weeks before Easter to help explain the story and focus our time.
Like the Jesse Tree for Advent we found an Easter equivalent here. An ornament is hung on a cross every night and each symbol helps tell the story that leads up to Easter as we read both the prophesy of the Old Testament and the fulfillment in Jesus as told in the Gospels. This focused story-telling along with games, crafts, and fun foods, have made for two joy-filled weeks. And just as Advent gave me a renewed understanding of the incredible, mysterious event of Jesus entering humanity as a baby, our Easter Advent has left me awed at the meaning in all the details that lead up to Jesus’ crucifixion. I am sobered by the grisly details of his death, and ultimately floored by the magnificence of his resurrection.
It’s amazing how a story we’ve heard so many times can still strike awe and amazement into our hearts when we are paying attention. When we really listen to the events of Jesus’ final days, see his fulfillment of every single prophesy given centuries before he came as a baby, and let these realities penetrate our hearts, we get to experience again and again the magnificent grace God gives us through Jesus.
It’s extraordinary, but we will miss it if we aren’t paying attention.
If we aren’t intentional, we will go through motions of ritual with empty hearts and sleepy minds.
But if we pay attention, if we remember how God has rescued us out of the slavery of sin, then we will really celebrate. We will be so filled with awe that we can’t help but worship him with the whole of our hearts and minds.
So when we say, “He is risen”, together on Sunday, may we remember the King:
who rode a donkey into Israel;
who was betrayed with a kiss for thirty shekels of silver;
who was whipped, mocked, and pierced for our evil;
whose clothes were gambled for by the soldiers who pierced his side with a spear;
who, as he exhaled his last breath, tore the curtain dividing man from God;
who was buried in another man’s tomb;
and whose followers came to visit his grave only to find he was not there.
May we proclaim with the enthusiasm of those who truly believe “He is risen, indeed!”