I love chocolate as much as anyone, but why is it associated with Easter and the death and resurrection of Jesus? At a push, I can understand that chicks, lambs and flowers are linked because Easter is celebrated in spring but chocolate?
And, why do we celebrate Jesus’ birth for weeks on end with Christmas trees, decorations, carols and presents, yet Easter takes place over a bank holiday weekend?
At Christmas we hear the wonderful story of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. It deserves a place in our hearts, but Easter tells a far greater story; the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; so profound and, for Christians at least, the most momentous point in the history of mankind. Why? For those of other faiths or none or, new to Christianity, this is what happened.
The Easter Story
It is the 1st century AD; the Roman province of Judea. The imperial Roman Empire is powerful, oppressive and brutal and it has control over Jerusalem.
Jesus (born around 4 BC – AD 30/33) referred to as Jesus of Nazareth or Jesus Christ is a first-century preacher and religious leader. He teaches using stories and parables, he carries out miraculous healings and is the friend of sinners and outcasts.
Jesus is the central figure of Christianity. Most Christians believe that he is the incarnation of God the Son and the awaited Messiah (the Christ) prophesised in the Old Testament.
Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem
Fulfilling the Old Testament prophecy, Jesus descends from the Mount of Olives (a mountain ridge east of and adjacent to Jerusalem). He arrives in Jerusalem, riding on a donkey, where he is greeted by crowds waving palm branches. (Matthew 21: 1 – 11, Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19: 28-44 and John 12:12-19)
A few days later…
Jesus celebrates the Last Supper with his apostles in the Upper Room
The final night of Jesus’ earthly life begins with the celebration of the Last Supper with his intimate group of followers, known as the apostles or the disciples. While they are eating, Jesus announces that one of them will betray him and they are horrified.
When they finish, Jesus introduces a new ceremony, that continues to be observed in the Christian church today.
Holy Communion, Eucharist or Mass
And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to the disciples saying: “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after the supper, he took the cup, saying: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood which is poured out for you.Luke 22:17-20
Easter hymn music: An Upper Room did our Lord prepare Fred Pratt Green (1903-2000) O Waly Waly
Jesus goes to the Garden of Gethsemane
Later that evening, Jesus and eleven of his disciples make their way to the Garden of Gethsemane, at the foot of the Mount of Olives.
Judas, the disciple that Jesus knows will betray him, has already departed.
Jesus spends time praying for his disciples and for the events that he knows will soon unfold. He is terrified about what will happen to him, but he is resolved to fulfill God’s will. At one point, he falls with his face to the ground and prays:
My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.”
“My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”Matthew 26: 39-44
Jesus’ arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane
Judas arrives with a crowd of religious leaders and soldiers to arrest Jesus. He has sold-out Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Jesus offers no resistance and simply asks why they are treating him as some sort of criminal. He is arrested and taken away.
Jesus is put on trial over night and in the early hours of the morning. He appears before the Sanhedrin, a Jewish judicial body. He is found guilty of various offences including violating the Sabbath Law, threatening to destroy the Jewish temple, practising sorcery, exorcising demons, and claiming to be the Messiah. Jesus remains quiet and does not mount a defence.
He is then taken to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, to be tried for claiming to be King of the Jews. Although Pilate admits that he finds Jesus innocent of any crime, he still presents him to the crowds to suggest how he should be punished. The crowds, stirred up and incited, demand that Jesus is crucified.
Crucifixion is a brutal control measure introduced by the Romans and ruthlessly implemented. It is a form of capital punishment in which the victim is tied or nailed to a large wooden beam and left to hang for several days until eventual death from blood loss, exhaustion and asphyxiation.
Jesus’ Crucifixion at Golgotha (Calvary)
the place of the skull
Jesus is taken away and flogged. He is then forced to drag his cross to a location just outside Jeruslem’s walls known as Golgotha. He is helped by a man named Simon of Cyrene.
(Matthew 27:31–33, Mark 15:20–22, Luke 23:26–32 and John 19:16–18.)
The accusations against him were written down to let everyone know the crime for which he is being executed. “This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”
Easter hymn music: Reproaches by John Sanders – sang by Ely Cathedral Choir
Jesus is crucified by the Romans at the request of the Jewish religious leaders. He is stripped of his clothing. He is nailed to the cross. He is forced to wear a crown of thorns. He is hung between two convicted thieves.
After six hours, darkness fills the land and Jesus cries out:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?Matthew 27:45 -46
And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said Father into your hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.Luke 23: 46
According to the New Testament, Jesus remains on the cross for between six and nine hours before the soldiers come to break his legs to hasten his death. However, when they arrive to undertake this gruesome task, they discover that he is already dead. One soldier pierces Jesus’ side with a spear to check. Blood and water gush out, indicating that Jesus is definitely dead.
Jesus’ mother, Mary and Jesus’ much-loved disciples, Mary Magdelene and John, are present throughout this horrific event and remain at the foot of the cross until Jesus dies.
On the evening of Jesus’ death, a wealthy man, Joseph of Arimethea, arrives in Jerusalem and asks Pilate for the body of Jesus. He takes Jesus’ body, wraps it in a new linen sheet and places it in his own tomb, which he had recently dug out of solid rock. Then he rolls a large stone across the entrance and goes away.
The burial marks the end of Jesus’ earthly life and it appears as if the promise of Jesus has gone disasterously wrong. However, the crucifixion was not the end of Jesus’ life.
Jesus’ Resurrection (John 20: 1 – 18)
Early on the third day after Jesus’ death, Mary Magdelene visits the tomb. She may be accompanied by other women or by Jesus’ mother, Mary; the gospels provide different accounts. She sees that the stone has been removed from the entrance of the tomb and that Jesus’ body is gone.
She stands outside the tomb and as she weeps, she sees two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been placed, one at the head and the other at the foot. They ask her: “Woman, why are you crying?” She replies: “they have taken my Lord away, and I don’t know where they have put him.”
At this, she turns around and sees Jesus standing there, but she does not realise that it is him. He asks her: “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he is the gardener, she says: “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
Jesus says to her: “Mary.” She turns towards him and, realising it is Jesus, cries out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “teacher”).
Jesus says: “do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go, instead, to my brothers and tell them: ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
Mary Magdalene goes to the disciples with this extraordinary news and tells them: “I have seen the Lord!”
Easter Music: Now the Green Blade Riseth – Choir of Ely Cathedral
Jesus conquers death, even death on a cross
Jesus lives for another 40 days before he ascends to heaven.
Christian doctrine believes that Jesus died by crucifixion as a sacrafice to achieve atonement for everyones’ sins; past, present and future.
In the Christian tradition, the resurrection of Jesus leads to the establishment of Christianity. For Christians, Jesus’ resurrection is the guarantee that Christians will have eternal life. In Christian theology, the death and resurrection of Jesus are the most important events, the foundation of the Christian faith as celebrated at Easter.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.John 3:16
Easter carol: This Joyful Eastertide – King’s College Cambridge
Not The End