I grew up attending my local church’s Easter egg hunt on Saturday and Easter service on Sunday. So it often felt like the fun was on Saturday and the serious business was cared for on Sunday.
The more I reflect on Easter, the more I’ve realized how much it has become a consumeristic holiday. Even as Christians, we’re excited about chocolate Easter bunnies, pastel eggs tucked away waiting for children to find, smashing confetti eggs, and baskets filled with toys, and, of course, more candy. None of this is an improper way to celebrate Easter, but it has a way of overshadowing the whole reason for Easter.
I’m not going to tell you to throw away your Easter eggs and baskets, but there just has to be a better way for us to truly celebrate Easter.
I don’t think the answer is simply attending church on Sunday, calling it Resurrection Sunday instead of Easter, or even incorporating a Christ centered craft before allowing the children to hunt for eggs. We all know they just want to find the plastic eggs filled with candy.
The challenge Christians face with just about every holiday is this: how do we celebrate the work of our Savior in a way that actually draws us closer to him? How do we share in the excitement of the traditions of our families and friends, while not allowing that to overtake the true reason for celebrating?
It has to be more than pigeonholing a “here’s what we’re really celebrating” moment into our festivities and then moving along.
Without the resurrection of Jesus, we would have no good news. This is the single most important event in the history of the Church. Christianity is nothing without the resurrection. Setting aside time within the year to remember, celebrate, and meditate on this moment is important for our faith.
Oftentimes, the Catholic Church does a far better job at creating a space for their parishioners to remember and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus than most evangelical churches. Many of us could greatly benefit from taking the time to remember and meditate on the final days of Jesus. The words he spoke, the events that took place, and the people he encountered are all significant.
As with any form of a spiritual discipline, it can become an item to check off the list. But if you have a longing to do more than go through the festivities of Easter then I think journeying through the accounts of Jesus’ last week is a good place to start.
Most Unlikely Anointing
The parallels between Jesus’ final days and Passover are intentional. God instructed his people to celebrate the redemption he brought by leading them out of Egypt. Jesus would become the ultimate Passover sacrifice. The redemption brought through the death and resurrection of Jesus would be so much greater than the redemption they had known up until now.
Six days before his death, the sister of Lazarus—Mary of Bethany anoints Jesus with the most expensive perfume you could buy. Mary’s interaction with Jesus is very different from the religious leaders. She just saw Jesus raise her brother Lazarus from the dead and now she is showing utter devotion to him.
The account then goes on to contrast Judas and Mary. Judas questions the significance of Mary pouring out a year’s worth of wages (the cost of her perfume) on the feet of Jesus. Judas wraps his objection in language of social justice and the benefits of giving it to the poor.
Knowing the full story of Judas and his greedy heart is an even greater contrast to the heart of Mary. She is a wonderful depiction of what it looks like to unequivocally follow Jesus. In John 12:7, we see this further played out, as Mary was preparing Jesus for burial.
Mary of Bethany was not one of the twelve disciples of Jesus. In a world where women had little value, authority, and rights, she was all the more unlikely to be the one to anoint Jesus for burial. In this small slice of scripture we get a glimpse into Jesus’ heart for women and their value in his kingdom.
There are so many biblically significant elements packed into this one seemingly small moment in scripture. At this point, it was abundantly clear the religious leaders hated Jesus and the claims he was making. Jesus enters Jerusalem, the very location where the most powerful Jewish religious leaders lived.
Even Jesus’ disciples were nervous about him going to Jerusalem (Mark 10:32-34). It seemed to them like Jesus had a death wish. And they weren’t exactly wrong. Jesus knew walking into Jerusalem ushered in a sequence of events that would lead to his death.
Counter to the reaction of the religious leaders, the crowds celebrated Jesus. They understood Jesus’ entry as his way of saying he was coming to take his throne as king. Of course, the people who believed Jesus was the Messiah hoped he would overthrow the government. Jesus was fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9-11, just not in the way anyone anticipated.
Jesus is who he says he is. But it’s never in the ways we expect.
Jesus Cleanses the Temple
Not everyone was thrilled about Jesus’ arrival into Jerusalem, and this only grew when Jesus began flipping tables. The day after Jesus made his triumphant entry, he went to the Temple in Jerusalem. This is a familiar account for many, because it’s the one time we see Jesus get pretty angry. Unfortunately, this account is usually misused to label someone’s anger as righteous and justified.
You can read more about the accounts of this day in Matthew 21:12-22, Mark 11:12-19, and Luke 19:45-48.
What all four gospels point to is not the anger of Jesus, but his power and authority. Jesus ran the moneychangers and merchants out of the Temple for taking advantage of others in the name of God. He came to literally clean out the house of God from the ways people who claimed to be religious were using it to misuse and abuse others.
The Temple was always meant to be a sanctuary of worship, not a place for people to be taken advantage of. This is what deeply angered Jesus. In Jesus’ final days, he was intentional about placing judgment on the abuses happening within the House of God.
The Final Teaching of Jesus
The last time Jesus would teach in the Temple was three days before he died. Jesus boldly stood before every religious leader and unapologetically taught contrary to what they had been teaching. Jesus gave some of his most well known parables and teachings mere days before he died.
The burning question from every religious leader was, Who gave Jesus the right and authority to teach what he was teaching? To say they were angry is an understatement. The religious leaders were so threatened, challenged, and offended by Jesus that they began to plot his death.
Yet again, we see Jesus spending his last days condemning the hypocritical religious groups. He called them out for merely appearing righteous and not genuinely loving or caring for others.
The Final Meal
This is one of the days during Jesus’ final week before his death that fills up a lot of scripture. Maundy Thursday is a significant day in many ways. This is the day of Jesus’ final meal, the last time he would meet with his disciples all together, and his last day before being crucified.
Jesus washes his disciples’ feet before they eat the Passover meal together. It’s not customary for the Rabbi to wash his disciples feet, but the other way around. While he’s washing their feet he tells them again that his purpose is to make them clean. This is not in the physical sense of washing their feet. He will make them spiritually clean and blameless before God.
Jesus also takes this time to reveal that one of his own disciples will betray him. While the rest of the disciples are guessing who it could be, Judas continues to carry out his plan. On this day Jesus tells his disciples that the elements—the bread and the wine—are no longer going to be a reminder of their deliverance from Pharaoh. It will now be a reminder of the price Jesus paid to deliver them from guilt and sin.
There is so much foundational theology packed into the day before Jesus died and sometimes it can be overwhelming to meditate and think about every aspect. But on Jesus’ final day, he was still modeling what it looked like to love others through service and to be obedient to God in every way.
His Final Day
Jesus was arrested Thursday night in the garden of Gethsemane. His friend and disciple, Judas, betrayed him in exchange for money. Jesus then went through the most physically exhausting, mentally trying, and spiritually painful days of his life.
He was severely beaten and, after six hours, he took his last breath. There on a wooden cross the Savior of the world hung.
The Day of Silence
Not much is written about Saturday. This is a day of waiting. Jesus’ body has been wrapped in burial cloth, laid in a borrowed tomb, guarded by soldiers just in case his disciples tried anything funny.
It’s interesting how the religious leaders thought about this day far more than we often realize.
The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, After three days I will rise.’ Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard. (Matthew 27:62-66)
The religious leaders wanted to make sure no further threats to the status quo were brought by the claims of Jesus’ followers.
A Day of Celebration
The words of Jesus were true. He predicted over and over again that he would die and rise on the third day. On that third day, Mary Magdalene, Mary mother of Jesus, and Salmone went to the tomb of Jesus to anoint his body with spices.
During their walk to the tomb, they were trying to figure out how they would roll away the large stone closing the tomb. Once they arrived, the stone was already moved and Jesus was sitting inside. The risen Jesus was right before their eyes.
Jesus is the person he says he is and proved it with his death and resurrection. His purpose was not only to die but to rise again and take on the sins of the world. This is what he did for you and me.
Looking at Holy Week helps bring context to the significance of Easter. Certainly we can view Easter as Resurrection Day, but the weight of Jesus’ final days show us why Sunday needed to come.
It’s so easy to go through the motions of celebrating a holiday and enjoying the community with friends and family. These are good things. But it’s even more important that we allow our hearts and minds to not only be reminded but moved by the good news we live in everyday because of the resurrection of Jesus.