I’m not one of those Christians who minds people without faith celebrating Christmas and Easter. Sure, they may be missing the point somewhat, but if they want to use our festivals to do nice things and to spend a few days with the ones they love, then that can only be a good thing. If it brings a bit more joy and love into their lives, then it brings something of the Christian faith, even if they don’t realise it.
Nevertheless, I would always take the time – assuming I can find an appropriate way – to tell people why these festivals matter so much. Not so much because I want them to be in step with me, but because to understand them properly could really serve to take that joy and love even further.
Easter Sunday 2014 will bring the things that it brings most years: serious Christians will go to Church as they do each week; lapsed Christians will go to Church and pretend that they’re serious; people everywhere will exchange chocolate eggs and enjoy a bank holiday, and the secular media will run those mischievous pieces about whether or not Christ really rose from the dead.
It won’t surprise you to learn that I’m rather strongly of the view that Jesus did rise again, and that there is a wealth of evidence in favour of the fact. Since it’s beyond the scope of a short piece to tackle the arguments line by line, I’ll offer one central fact: Jesus’ apostles pretty much all died for the faith.
If the resurrection was a hoax, that group had to at least have had strong suspicions. In fact, it’s virtually certain that they would have been the ones behind it. And if so, you have to ask why they let themselves be put to death? A hoax is always arranged for some gain or other: to get rich, to seize power, to change the political landscape, to defeat an enemy?
But yet, all that first generation of apostles achieved was poverty, ridicule and gruesome deaths. They set up a system which benefited nobody at all if it’s central tenets weren’t true, and you simply don’t do that for something you don’t believe is true and real. And you have to be certain. You have to actually see the evidence for yourself.
The theories denouncing the resurrection are legion, but yet all are vulnerable to simple logic. Central to that defeat in all cases is the mindset and the actions of that first generation of apostles. If it wasn’t real, why did they do what they did?
And if you’re a fan of the swoon theory – the currently rather popular idea that Jesus didn’t really die on the cross, but only appeared to have died – ask yourself how somebody who had been tortured, hung on a cross for 6 hours and stabbed five times could have inspired people barely 48 hours later. Wouldn’t the disciples have questioned why he rose again in such a terrible state? And why then did the resurrection appearances stop at the ascension? Why not hang around a little longer to establish the resurrection hoax beyond doubt?
There is much, much more I could say about this. If you’re really interested, I’d suggest heading over to YouTube and taking a look at the work of William Lane Craig, a man who Richard Dawkins famously refused to turn up and debate when he visited the UK a few years back.
So, if the resurrection of Christ was real, what does it mean? Again, I’ll spare you the detail for the sake of brevity, but in essence, it means hope. Theologically speaking, it means that Jesus defeated death and that, through him, we can too. But yet, faith isn’t just a life-raft preserving us for the afterlife. It transforms us in this world too. To look at the world knowing that love and life have beaten death, fear and anger is something I value so much. It transforms how I deal with people and situations, and it gives me a sense of joy that give my life a real depth of meaning.
And so, I wish you all a Happy Easter! Whether you see Easter as a chance to eat chocolate and have a day off work, or as a sign that your God has conquered death and brought hope into the world, I hope it’s a time of joy and I hope you are surrounded by those you love.