What do thoughts of spring bring to mind? Bunnies, eggs, new clothes, baskets, green grass, flowers, an egg hunt, toys, candy - a too-early Sunrise Service, Jesus crucified yet risen? For if it weren't for Jesus there would be no reason to celebrate except as the pagans used to. As Easter, like Christmas, has some if it's roots of celebration in paganism. Even the name, Eastre, is Anglo-Saxon; a Teutonic goddess of fertility whose festival was held during the spring time of the year. The rabbit was a symbol of fertility due to it's prodigious appetite for and ability to reproduce. Colored eggs, originally brightly painted to represent the sunlight of spring, were given as gifts and used in an egg roll race rather than hunted.
Spring in ancient cultures symbolized new life, even resurrection; many believing that their gods were brought back from the nether-world at this time of year allowing for the warmth of spring. Mirrored in this rebirth was the birth of babies to their domesticated animals, the wild animals re-emergence from hibernation, the greening of grass, budding of trees etc. We would probably do well separating today's springtime celebration from our Resurrection Sunday observance. Why? How do you celebrate Easter? In fact, why should we celebrate the betrayal, arrest and death of Jesus? The resurrection! That is the power of the cross and significance of Easter! Do we celebrate that with chocolate bunnies, jelly beans, Easter bonnets, and dyed eggs?
Jesus was crucified for our sins. But what does that mean? The cross, in reality the equivalent of a hangman's noose, prettied up as jewelry, now stands for freedom and salvation. In truth, it was symbolic of a gruesome, agonizing death! Crucifixion did not occur every day but was a fairly common form of execution. It was usually reserved for criminals and slaves, who were nailed and tied to a cross and left hanging to die of exposure, starvation, and trauma from their wounds. It was used not only by Romans but by the Persians, Egyptians, and Carthaginians as a form of capital punishment. It was often preceded by scourging and cross carrying to the site where the nailing and hoisting into position took place. Crucifixion was abolished by Constantine I, the first Christian ruler of the Roman Empire, in 333 A.D. out of respect for Christ.
Being a fairly common form of execution, what made it unique to Jesus? He went to his death knowingly, purposefully, even when he could have been rescued. Matt. 26 - 28; Mark 14 - 16; Luke 22 - 24 and John 18 - 20 describe how Jesus was betrayed and forsaken by friends and followers, unjustly accused, falsely convicted, illegally sentenced; mocked, beaten, whipped, spat upon, made fun of, deprived of sleep, food, and water, crowned with thorns, forced to carry the heavy burden of the cross - and our sins; and then crucified!
But what else was involved in this sacrifice of Christ? "Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being in human likeness." (Philippians 2:5-7) It is recorded that Jesus withstood the Devil's temptations in the wilderness. The promises of plenty; abundance of food, fame, physical pleasure, glory and power - life abundantly lived - but at a price. He would be required to worship Satan rather than Jehovah. (Matthew 4:1-11) What did he give up in coming to us? Direct fellowship with God. What did he give up during the forty days of temptation and thereafter during his ministry? Everything man considers good, beneficial and reassuring. He was God in the flesh, living along the road-side; no home, wife or children. They ate what they could afford or were given; no fire in the hearth, no bed, just needy people. People who believed only what they wanted to, when it was convenient, when it suited their purpose. He was offered all the riches, power and pleasure the kingdoms of the world, then and now, had to offer. Yet he chose death, redemption, and thus a return to God.
He was hungry, thirsty, exhausted, hurt. His back lacerated from the cat-of-nine-tails, bleeding from the thorns pressed into his scalp, face bruised from being slapped, dignity deprived from being spit on, stripped of his clothing; he was made a laughing stock for the jeering crowds. He was emotionally drained from confrontations with Pilate, Herod, the Sanhedrin and Caiaphas; hurt by the turning away of many of his followers and his closest friends. Alone. Even God appeared to momentarily turn away from him when he took upon himself the sins of all mankind. After all this - he was crucified.
But He was Jesus, he was supposed to do this. He knew what was coming, he wanted to do it. Yes, but he still felt the pain, the shame, the shock.
What took place at a crucifixion? The person to be executed was laid out on the cross, spikes were driven through the wrists to create a firm hold into the wood of the cross beam, the forearms tied to keep them aloft. Their feet were laid one atop the other and a spike driven through them. (Although some remains have been found with the spikes still imbedded - having been driven through the heal into the sides of the beam.) This created a lingering death from the trauma dealt to the body and suffocation. For as the body sagged from exhaustion; the arm, shoulder, chest and back muscles struggled to keep the body erect. They became tired, cramped and spasmed; which made breathing difficult. Due to loss of blood and body fluid through sweat, they became dehydrated, yet the lungs filled with edema; internal body fluid and blood. The heart, overworked, would become erratic and the pericardium, the sack the heart is encased in could fill with blood and fluid - strangling the person. To hasten death, a spear would be thrust into their side and their legs were broken with a club to keep them from being able to push their body up to obtain a breath of air unimpeded.
Now I ask you. What does Peter Rabbit have to do with any of this? Or colored eggs, chocolate bunnies, jelly beans, new clothes, Easter lilies, etc. These things, in and of themselves aren't bad, but anything we let trivialize the sacrifices and agonies of our Lord and Savior is wrong. In reality, the happy in Easter comes from the realization that we have the promise of eternal life through Jesus Christ and his enormous sacrifices, crowned by the fact of the resurrection and the promise it holds for us. For His resurrection had the power to not only re-unite Him with His father, but us as well.
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