By the time you read this the Easter holidays will be over. For those of us who were able to take a break I am sure they were much appreciated. They remain an interesting vestige of our past as a Christian culture, only partially understood by the majority, but we’re thankful for the holiday nonetheless. Perhaps you’re interested in learning one or two things about what Easter actually is? If so, read on.
The origins of the Easter celebration are before the beginnings of Christianity. As the Christian communities grew and sought to establish themselves, they drew from their past to help them make sense of the present. The past they were referencing went back millennia into their origins as part of the Jewish people. The central celebration of Judaism is what’s referred to as ‘the Passover’ – the event in which they celebrate their liberation from slavery in Egypt and their reestablishment as the free people of Israel. It has deep spiritual, social and political overtones for this people.
Freedom from slavery, therefore, became a central metaphor for the first Christians. However, it was reinterpreted (or deepened) in light of their experience of Jesus Christ. While the Jewish Passover celebrates the journey from slavery to freedom, the Christian Passover builds on that and celebrates the journey from death to life.
For this is the ultimate manifestation of powerlessness (or slavery) that all living things experience; that there comes a point where all things die. How human beings have made sense of this journey through life to death over the centuries makes for an interesting study. In own society it is once more undergoing a reinterpretation through the euthanasia debate. As a post-Christian culture, we have become one in which death is feared and avoided at all costs on the one hand, and then, when the chips are down, we increasingly assert our right to jump to the end point as quickly as possible.
If you would like to discuss the ins and outs of the euthanasia debate further please feel free to get in touch. We haven’t the space to address that here. Instead, we return to our central question: ‘What is Easter?’ We’ve noted that it builds on the Jewish Passover, which was subsequently reinterpreted in light of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Through an intense journey that began with his own celebration of the Jewish Passover with his disciples (Holy Thursday), betrayal, suffering and death (Holy Thursday and Good Friday), and his restoration to new life (Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday), Jesus changes the lens through which suffering and death are to be viewed.
All creation experiences death. God does not. Therefore, in order to lead us through death to life, in the person of Jesus God chose to take on death (and everything that goes with it) to show us that in and through him death is not the end. God has not brought you into being simply to have you disappear forever when you die. Your journey continues into eternity as God leads you more and more deeply into the life that God has for you. And this is the journey we remember and celebrate every Easter.
Journeying into Eternity
One of the ways to connect with God on a moment by moment basis is to pray. Most people find praying difficult, but it is something you can learn and improve with practice. One error to avoid is to assume that authentic prayer is the same thing as spontaneous prayer. This can be paralysing if you don't know what to say. Prayer is not just expressing yourself to God, it's about being formed by God into the image of Christ. Prayer is something we must learn, as the disciples apprehended when they asked Jesus to teach them to pray.
One way to learn to pray is by submitting to the wisdom of those who've gone before us. There is tremendous wisdom in learning from tradition how to practice some kind of regular rhythm of prayer.
One prayer that's easy to start practicing is called the Jesus Prayer, and it comes from Jesus' parable in which a Pharisee loudly thanks God that's he's so blessed, and a despised tax collector prays, "Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner" (Luke 18:10-14). Jesus says God heard the tax collector's prayer. The prayer developed in Christian tradition and goes like this: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
Praying this kind of short prayer continually throughout the day re-orients your thought-life toward God.
Here are collections of prayers from the Catholic tradition. They include free and paid resources for different devices. They can completely transform your prayer life.
This article is part of Faith Journey, a newsletter from the National Centre for Evangelisation.