This coming Sunday, hundreds of millions of Christians around the world will celebrate Easter. It’s the holiest day in the Christian calendar because it is the day we believe Jesus resurrected from the grave. However, what does Easter mean to us — and to anyone who may wander into a church this weekend?
To understand the meaning of Easter, we must understand the context of Jesus’ day.
The world Jesus lived in was not unlike our own — full of injustice and oppression. The average person knew heartbreak and suffering, physically and spiritually, too well under the power structures that lorded over their lives.
For example, as far as we know, never in the history of the Jewish people had someone driven out the moneychangers who had turned the Jewish temple into a place of economic exploitation for people who were earnestly seeking God. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day had made God very difficult to access for the poor, the outcasts, the marginalized, the prostitutes and all those who knew because of the system they operated in that they were not good enough. In many ways, God was unreachable for those who needed him most.
Then there was the reality of the mighty Roman Empire and its heavy, omnipresent hand over the people it ruled across the known world. Commoners in occupied territories were taxed and enslaved for the benefit of the rulers. Caesar himself demanded to be worshipped as lord and savior of the world, and anyone who refused to kowtow to him did so at risk of being considered a rebel and therefore executed. Seeing this, some of the leaders in Israel allied themselves with the Romans, preferring to have a small level of autonomy and political power than to lose everything.
In comes Jesus to the picture, preaching a message of forgiveness of sinners, justice for the oppressed and unconditional love that challenges these power structures and turns them upside-down. The rulers of his day — and today — opposed him, but his resurrection was proof that his message was true. Here are three truths to reflect on the meaning of Easter for us:
The power brokers are gone
Jesus simplified how humans could universally access God through him. He did away with religious power structures and demanded a simple faith in him and his message. People can — and do all over the world — follow Jesus with or without any religious structures. This is what Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation was about, removing the yoke of oppression from the Roman Catholic Church over the poor masses. Easter reminds us that the power brokers are gone.
The restoration of human dignity
Second Jesus also unleashed a new, apolitical power structure whose power lay in the truth of his life and message. He called it the “Kingdom of God” or the “Kingdom of Heaven.” Individuals and communities were invited to experience this power in their personal and social lives. This kingdom had a new ethic built on the love of God and loving our neighbor as ourselves. In this kingdom, every human being — regardless of age, ethnicity, nationality, gender or any other identifying social quality — has value and dignity because they are God’s image-bearers.
Hope for the hopeless
In allowing himself to be crucified even though he was innocent, Jesus became the embodiment of all victims who suffer violence from others. He was the great scapegoat for humanity. In his death, the suffering of every person who has ever lived is represented and validated. And in his resurrection, there is the promise that every wrong will be put to right, every injustice will be judged and everything that has been broken will be restored.
Ultimately, Jesus’ resurrection ensures the triumph of good over evil. Caesars and world rulers have come and gone, but Jesus still lives on in the hearts of those who follow him and believe in his promises. His resurrection fuels in them an unshakeable hope and makes them a force for good all over the world.