Point of Reference
by Fred Price
What kind of images do you associate with spring? Baby chicks and bunnies, decorated eggs, new clothes, green grass, budding trees and flowers emerging from the ground, an egg hunt, toys, candy – a too-early Sunrise Service, Jesus crucified yet risen? Hopefully the latter is prominent on your list, because while there’s nothing wrong in looking forward to the former items on our list, the latter – Jesus – is the reason we truly celebrate Easter.
Unbeknownst to some, the secular side of Easter – like Christmas – can trace some of its celebratory elements to paganism. Even the name, Eastre, is Anglo-Saxon; representing a Teutonic goddess of fertility whose festival was likewise held during the spring time of the year. The rabbit, long a symbol of fertility due to its prodigious appetite for and ability to reproduce was then, over time, coupled with colored eggs; originally brightly painted to represent the sunlight of spring and given as gifts rather than hunted. The significance of spring in ancient cultures was its association with new life, even resurrection; many believing their gods were brought back from the nether-world at this time of year allowing for the rejuvenation of spring. The birth of babies to their domesticated animals, the wild animals re-emergence from hibernation, the greening of grass and budding of trees all confirming their belief in a “resurrection” of life.
That having been said, I wonder if it might not be to our benefit to separate 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’s the significance of Easter. Now I ask you, what does Peter Rabbit, chocolate bunnies, jelly beans, Easter bonnets and dyed eggs have to do with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus? (And yes, I have celebrated the secular aspects of Easter with my kids and now do so with my grandkids; striving however, to separate the profound from the frivolous as much as possible.)
Jesus was crucified for our sins. But what does that mean? The cross, in reality the equivalent of a hangman’s noose – now prettied up as jewelry – represents freedom and salvation for many today. Originally, it represented a gruesome, agonizing death. Crucifixion, a fairly common form of capital punishment, was used not only by the Romans but by the Persians, Egyptians, and Carthaginians as well. Equally common was the scourging that preceded carrying the cross to the site where the nailing and hoisting into position took place. This barbaric form of execution was finally abolished by Constantine I, the first Christian ruler of the Roman Empire in 333 A.D., at least in part out of respect for Christ.
So what made it unique to Jesus? He went to his death knowingly, purposefully, even if the horrors of what was to come gave him pause. Scripture graphically describing how Jesus was betrayed and forsaken by his friends and followers, unjustly accused, falsely convicted and illegally sentenced. His back lacerated from the cat-of-nine-tails, bleeding from the thorns pressed into his scalp, face bruised from being slapped, dignity lost as he was spit upon and 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. His was the lone voice of reason in the midst of angry challenges as to his right to speak the truth; even God appearing to momentarily turn away from him when he took upon himself the sins of all mankind.
But what else was involved in Christ’s sacrifice? “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 Some think his first act of sacrifice came perhaps at his temptation in the desert. ( Matthew 4:1-11) But there was something even before that, as he gave up – at least for a while – direct fellowship and joint rule with God. During his years of ministry, he did indeed do without everything man considers good, beneficial and reassuring. He was God in the flesh, living along the road-side; no home, wife or children. He and his followers ate what they could afford or were given; no fire in the hearth, no bed, just needy people. Many believing only what they wanted to, when it was convenient and suited their purpose. And then, at the conclusion of his ministry, he took the final step of obedience to his father’s will – which culminated in his death – and thus was ushered back into the heavenly precincts. ( Philippians 2:8-11)
As God’s Son, it was predestined for him to do this; He knew what was coming and chose to do it anyway. But he still felt the pain, the shame, the shock of the inhumanity of man. Which in this case consisted of being laid out on the cross while spikes were driven through His wrists, His forearms probably tied to the cross beam to keep the nails from tearing completely through His flesh. His feet were laid one atop the other with a spike driven through them as well. (Although some remains have been found with the spikes still imbedded – having been driven through each ankle into the sides of the beam.) This created a lingering death often ending in suffocation, the arm, shoulder, chest and back muscles struggling to keep the sagging body erect, allowing air to flow unimpeded to the lungs. Over time, they became overworked and began to cramp; cutting off the flow of air. Due to loss of blood and body fluid, dehydration set in; yet the lungs filled with edema (a mixture of internal body fluid and blood). The heart, overworked, began to beat erratically, and the pericardium (the membrane the heart is encased in) often filled with that same fluid – strangling any poor unfortunate hanging there. At times, to hasten death their legs would be broken with a club to make it impossible for them to lift their bodies and breathe or a spear would be thrust into their side.
Most of the things we use in our secular observance of Easter aren’t bad in and of themselves, but anything we let trivialize the sacrifices and agonies of our Lord and Savior can serve as a distraction and possible stumbling-block to the authentic worship due him as a result of his resurrection and exaltation in heaven. In reality, the happy in Easter comes from the realization that we have the promise of eternal life through Jesus Christ, his sacrifice allowing us to approach God with confidence as we seek the grace and mercy we so desperately need. ( Hebrews 4:16)
"Word from Scotland" from
It Is Jesus Who Makes Us Useful and FruitfulRead Article »
Fred Price - married (50 years), father of two grown children, grandfather of six.
Fred retired earlier this year after 42 years as a factory worker. He has always had a heart for young people and the challenges they face today. Over the years Fred has taught Discipleship Groups for High School and college students.
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