Christmas is a wonderful holiday. It celebrates a defining moment in mankind’s history – the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As John the Beloved describes it, “[t]he Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us (John 1:14, NIV). In other words, God became man! Such an event deserves worldwide celebration.
Most people I know love and celebrate Christmas. Some people I know celebrate it with childlike fervor. And that’s good. We should celebrate Christ’s birth. We should have parties. We should give gifts. We should sing carols. We should spread good cheer. We should gather with loved ones and develop family traditions.
The significance of what Christmas celebrates cannot be overstated. I do believe, however, that the way we celebrate Christmas, relative to another historic event, is completely overstated. That event, and the holiday that commemorates it, is Easter. At most, this latter holiday is celebrated for about a week, but is usually celebrated for only one, two, or (maybe) three days. Personally, I find this somewhat disappointing, even shameful.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that Easter (as a holiday) is more important than Christmas. I am just saying that Easter should be celebrated, especially by Christians, with at least the same fervor as we do Christmas. It, too, celebrates a defining moment in mankind’s history; no, it celebrates THE defining moment in history – Jesus’ victory over death. Through His resurrection, He proved that He is indeed the Son of God; that He did indeed atone for mankind’s sin. This should provide immeasurable cause for celebration. Yet, for reasons I have never understood, we celebrate Christ’s resurrection less passionately than we do His birth.
Indeed, just a few months ago, in the days leading up to Christmas, I watched as an evangelical pastor of a local church proudly announced to the congregation of listeners his “Top 5 Holidays.” I agreed with some of the holidays that made his list – Thanksgiving, Fourth of July, Christmas – but was astounded that Easter was not only not #1 or #2 on his list, it didn’t even make his list. Instead, nestled right up next to Christmas (which was #1 on his list) was Valentine’s Day. That’s right, Valentine’s Day – the made-up Hallmark holiday – was more of a favorite than Easter. I could not (and cannot) believe it.
Honestly, it eludes me as to why we Christians are less exuberant, less celebratory, and less fervent about Easter than we are about Christmas. As the Apostle Paul so eloquently stated, “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (1 Cor. 15:14, NIV). In other words, without Christ’s resurrection, our faith is meaningless. All of Christianity hinges on this singular event. Yet, unlike the weeks-long celebration we accord Christmas, we relegate our celebration of Easter to a single day, a single weekend, or, at most, a single week. Some even relegate it to less importance than Valentine’s Day.
What I also find surprising (and confusing) are those who purposely subdue themselves during the days and weeks preceding Easter. Oh, they have their reasons (or traditions). The days and weeks before Easter were not easy for Jesus. He was betrayed by friends, scorned by enemies, falsely accused, lied about, abandoned by His disciples, mocked and beaten by His own countrymen, mocked, beaten, and tortured by the Romans, spit upon, and finally put to death by one of the cruelest forms of punishment ever devised. Yes, we should be grateful that He suffered these in our stead. Yes, it should impact us emotionally when we consider what He endured. But again, it is all meaningless if He did not rise.
I remember one Good Friday, watching the movie, “The Passion of the Christ,” with some fellow Christians. This film is quite powerful, graphically depicting what Christ unjustly suffered on our behalf. But the film’s ending is triumphal, as Jesus exits the tomb, having conquered death and the grave. This, for me, gave license for joyous celebration. Others, however, did not see it that way. I was even approached by a somber looking woman who took umbrage with my countenance. She rather indignantly let me know that it was not okay to be happy until Sunday.
Quite honestly, I was taken aback by that woman’s attitude. To me, Easter is not, and never has been, a somber remembrance of Christ’s death on the cross. Rather, it is a celebration of His resurrection. It is His resurrection that proves He was (and is) who He said He was – the Son of God. And thus, His death was not in vain. His death did indeed provide (and continues providing) the propitiation for our sins. Even when we observe Good Friday, and specifically recall Christ’s death on the cross, we should be joyful. Not because of what He suffered, but because of why He suffered. He suffered so that we may be free.
Forgiveness of sin. Freedom from death. Eternal life. Intimate relationship with God, both in this life and the next. These are just a few of the benefits made available to us because of Christ’s death and subsequent resurrection. Cause for celebration? If not, I don’t know what is.
This year, and in the years to come, let’s commit to celebrating Easter with the same exuberance, excitement, and fervency as we do Christmas. After all, our souls depend on the event that this day marks.