The story of Easter as described in the Bible covers a period of just over a week and although a great deal of activity on the part of Jesus is compressed into this time, there are four major events involved. Firstly there is Palm Sunday when Jesus entered Jerusalem for the last time. Then comes the Last Supper on Thursday, followed by Jesusâ€™ crucifixion on Good Friday. Finally Easter Sunday brings the joy of Jesusâ€™ resurrection.
So lets look at each of these events in turn in a little more detail.
Jesus came to Jerusalem with his disciples to celebrate the Jewish festival of Passover and because of this the city was crowded with people. Many of these people had heard of Jesus and the amazing miracles he had performed and the also the wonder of his teachings and they welcomed him with great adulation. But there were others, notably the Jewish leaders, who were afraid of what Jesus was doing and as a result were plotting to kill him. How similar this is to what happens today. Many people welcome Jesus into their lives with open hearts and minds but many others donâ€™t want to know him and they certainly do not want to accept his presence in their lives.
Jesus came to Jerusalem at the time of Passover when it was customary to share a special meal with family and friends. So on the Thursday evening Jesus came with his 12 disciples to an upper room in a house and celebrated Passover. Because this was the last time Jesus and the disciples shared a meal together it has become known as the Last Supper and the scene has featured in many famous paintings. But far more importantly, when Jesus offered the bread and wine to his disciples, he told them to remember him in the future by coming together and again sharing bread and wine. So for 2000 years Christians throughout the world have continued to remember Jesus in this way and have described the event in many ways using terms like, Eucharist, Holy Communion, and Holy Supper.
Having been arrested Jesus was tried first in front of the Jewish High Priest and his court and then before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, who finally handed him over to be crucified outside the city walls.
The gospels of Matthew and Mark tell us that after he was crucified, Jesus cried out in a loud voice My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Then he was offered some wine and with a further cry yielded up his spirit. What seemingly frightening words these are: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? They seem to echo a feeling of fear, isolation and failure.
Throughout his life Jesus experienced two quite opposing views of who he really was. At times he felt so close to the Divine within that he was able to say I and the Father are one [John 10:30]. And yet there were other times when he felt quite separate from the Divine as when he prayed in Gethsemane, My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will [Matthew 26:39].
At that last moment on the cross Jesus was well aware that his mission was nearly achieved but even so he experienced a final crisis of self-doubt and in that moment he keenly felt his separation from God â€“ My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Would this be one temptation too many?Â Â No it would not.
For in reaching out with the words, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? he was recalling the words of Psalm 22 and in them once again found the strength and conviction needed to allow his human life to come to a close and his great mission to be accomplished.
In reflecting on this aspect of the Good Friday story we can be powerfully reminded that we too can find in the Word of God the strength and confidence we need to face up to the difficult things we experience in our lives.
He is not here, for he has risen, as he said.Â Â Â Â Â [Matthew 28:6 ESV]
These are the momentous words which sum up the events of the first Easter Day. Firstly just a few of his friends and disciples come to the tomb where Jesus was buried and find that his body his gone. Then the message is conveyed quickly to many others and soon an atmosphere of sadness, doubt and confusion is changed into feelings of joy and elation as Jesusâ€™ friends realise that he has risen, just as he said.
The only way God could directly challenge the evil and selfishness of the world, and so restore spiritual freedom, was to take on human form with all its weakness and be born as a baby in Bethlehem. Thus, as he grew up, Jesus was human like us all but with a soul that was Divine. His humanity was continuously tempted as he confronted every evil experienced by mankind right up to his final temptation and victory on the cross. By this means he overcame the power of evil and made his Humanity, Divine.
But when Jesus rose from the dead on the first Easter Sunday he left nothing of his body in the tomb because that human body had now been made completely Divine. He brought the power of Divine Love and Wisdom into every experience of human life and because of his presence now we have the power to see evil in ourselves and reject it.
We need to make the effort to step forward and reject selfishness in all our attitudes and actions and so be open to receive the love and power of the risen Lord Jesus Christ in our lives transforming the way we live.
The joyful message of Easter is that the resurrection to new life for each one of us comes when we take this step.