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What is the meaning of Easter?

Easter – a hope that shines brightly

Despite hot cross buns and Easter eggs appearing on store shelves from early January, Easter is not an easily understood Christian holiday. For starters, the week is full of contrasts. There is honour and praise followed by a day of deep, dark sadness, followed by joy, hope and light.

It can be a little complicated understanding why Good Friday is “good” or how the meaning of Easter relates to our lives today.

What is Holy Week?

Holy Week begins less than one week before Jesus died. On “Palm Sunday”, Jesus was celebrated. The people in Jerusalem waved palm branches as they shouted Jesus’ praises: “Blessed is the king of Israel” (John 12:13). It was a day when many people realised Jesus was more than just a good man, miracle worker or teacher.

People realised Jesus had been sent down from Heaven as the Son of God, a saviour – but they were still confused about how he would save them.

The religious leaders did not like Jesus, though. They were jealous and did not believe he was the Son of God. Their apparent “disbelief” caused doubt and confusion amongst the people in Jerusalem. A few days later, the same crowd that shouted praise towards Jesus, began to shout criticism. “The whole crowd shouted, ‘Away with this man! … Crucify him!’” (Luke 23:18–25).

Jesus was whipped, mocked then sentenced to death on a cross. It was a sad and dark day, now known as “Good Friday”.

But the story isn’t over yet. On Sunday, Jesus rose back to life in the biggest victory of all time. He brought light into a dark situation. This event – his resurrection – is the reason for Easter Sunday celebrations as it gives Christians their hope and joy.

Jesus understands our dark days

The events leading up to Jesus’ death on Good Friday are filled with darkness. On Holy Thursday, Jesus was eating a special meal, called the Passover, with his friends. It was after this meal, now known as the “Last Supper”, when one of Jesus’ 12 close followers (also called disciples) betrayed him to the religious leaders to be arrested and killed. Others rejected him and denied ever knowing him.

Jesus experienced fear and anxiety about what lay before him. He prayed to God, his Heavenly Father, “‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done’ … And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:42, 44). Heartbreakingly, God did not stop the suffering. Instead, he watched his son die. This was part of God’s greater plan of redemption for the people of the world who he loved so much.

Once he was arrested, Jesus was ridiculed, then physically hurt. He felt immense pain. Meanwhile, Jesus’ loved ones who stood by felt despair, hopelessness and grief.

Many of the emotions that were there on Good Friday are similar to those we experience today. There is nothing you can experience today that God has not seen before. Friends who betray and reject us. Fear and anxiety over financial insecurity and sickness. Pain and heartache for loved ones. Grief, despair, hopelessness, loneliness. Jesus understands all of it.
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How can Good Friday be “good”?

If Friday’s events are filled with so much darkness, how can Christians call the day “good”?

The answer lies in first understanding why God sent Jesus into the world.

When God created the world, there was perfect harmony with people. But Adam and Eve brought darkness to the world through their sin and disobedience. God was heartbroken. A plan was set in motion to show people God still loves them and wants to be in relationship with them. That’s where Jesus – God’s Son – comes in.

God the Father sent Jesus his Son into the world as a small baby. He came quietly, humbly and without fanfare. He was sent into the world to show love and to reconcile humans with their Creator.

Throughout Jesus’ time on Earth, he experienced life as a human. He walked alongside people on Earth and understood how hard life can be. He accepted people from all walks of life and showed love, compassion, grace and mercy.

So that people could be reconciled with God, all our wrongdoings and sin had to be put to death. Jesus took the weight of these upon himself. He sacrificed himself for us. The name “Jesus” – chosen by God before his birth – even means “Saviour”. “He will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

When Jesus died on a cross (crucifixion) it was a bold declaration of immense love. All the world’s sin and darkness was then placed on Jesus’ shoulders so that we can have a new life, in relationship with God.

Jesus’ final words were, “It is finished” (John 19:30). There was nothing else that people needed to do to be accepted and loved by God.

On our behalf, Jesus experienced the most excruciating and humiliating death of his time. He was mocked, whipped, stripped bare and nailed to a cross. It was a painful, undignified and public way to die.

Jesus could have stopped the process at any time. Angels could have rescued him. But he persevered because his love for people was greater than the pain he felt.

That is why Good Friday can be “good”. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, we can have a true and meaningful relationship with God. We can experience unconditional love and everlasting hope.
Learn more about Jesus

Darkness was not the end – Easter Sunday: a day of hope

After he died, Jesus was taken down from the cross and his body was placed in a dark tomb. It was sealed up and guarded from the outside. All of Saturday, Jesus’ followers lived in a shadow of darkness, confusion and grief.

But Jesus is “The Light [that] shines in the darkness” (John 1:5, NLV). The darkness of Good Friday did not overcome the light of God. Because there was a resurrection.

Jesus brought hope and light into the darkness of his death by rising again on the third day – Easter Sunday.

The Bible says in the first light of day some women went to Jesus’ tomb. There, they found an angel gleaming brightly: “His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow” (Matthew 28:1–4). The light of this event is a deep contrast to the darkness of the previous days.

Jesus’ resurrection is a declaration of his light that can shine brightly into our dark places as well. Whether it is sickness, financial hardship, family crisis or loneliness – Jesus gives us hope.

Jesus says, “I am the Light of the World. Anyone who follows me will never walk in darkness. They will have that light. They will have life” (John 8:12, NIRV).

Jesus shines brighter than any heartache or crisis we face. He doesn’t promise to take away our darkness – after all, the pain Jesus experienced would always remain. But he does promise to be the guiding light in that darkness. The hope and light of Jesus shines brighter than any of our dark days.

Learn more about the true meaning of Easter in the Bible, starting at Luke chapter 22.

Find out how you can accept Jesus’ hope and light for your life

What does the Easter story mean for us?

Jesus’ death on the cross is an act of love. You are deeply loved.

His resurrection means you can have a meaningful relationship with God – the Creator of the Universe. Because of his victory over death by coming back to life, we too can experience a new, everlasting life. 

And Jesus’ life and his promise to be our light, mean you are not alone in your struggles. When life seems chaotic and confusing, Jesus can light your way and walk alongside you. We can celebrate Easter even when life is tough, because you can have peace, hope for the future and life-transforming joy.

Jesus’ hope shines brighter than any dark day you might face.

If you need help to get through the darkness you might be facing this Easter, please contact your nearest Salvos.

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