What are we actually doing when we celebrate the Easter season?
Why do we every year meditate on the pains, sorrows, darkness, and death of Good Friday?
Why do we relive that sadness of death?
Must we do that simply so that we can heighten the celebration of the surprise and joy of resurrection life?
Isn’t this a little like play acting, a way of moving ourselves through a sequence emotions?
Are we merely going through a psychological pantomime of a series of events in order to capture certain moods and feelings?
Is our celebration of the resurrection merely hyping ourselves up on a spring morning to gain a feeling of holy “Ra! Ra!”?
What are we actually doing when we celebrate the Easter season?
In Philippians 3:7-10, Paul describes his conversion from his lost Jewish ways to his new life in Christ. After recounting his gifts and accomplishments as a Jew, Paul says:
7 But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. 8 Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death…
I want to think about Paul’s words and notice three truths about the believer’s new life in Christ. New life is what we celebrate on Easter, isn’t it?
A believer’s new life means a new relationship: All believers of Jesus “know” Him. Paul’s testimony about himself (in verse 8) was that in “[counting] all things to be loss”—1) the things of his former life as a devout Jew and even 2) the fame and fruit he experienced as a apostle and missionary—in counting those things to be “loss,” he gained a “knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.” This knowledge of Jesus was more than simply intellectual. Rather, Paul is speaking of a type of knowledge that Scripture speaks of over and over, which is deep and meaningful relationship. Paul testifies here that he has a new relationship with Jesus. He now calls Him his Lord. Because of this new type of relationship with Jesus, Paul’s new posture toward Him, the posture of all believers, is now on his knees (on our knees) bowed before the Lord Jesus, as a bondservant to a master.
A believer’s new life means a new identity: All believers of Jesus are “found in” Him. Again, Paul’s testimony about himself (in verse 9) indicates that he has a new identity. Whereas previously, Paul’s righteousness came from his own conformity to the law, now it comes through the faithfulness of Christ. Whereas before, he was confident of the credentials that his Jewish heritage gave him, now his confidence comes from the fact that he is found in Jesus, in Jesus’ glorious body, the Church. Having now been baptized, Paul, like all believers, is identified with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Our entire identity is found in Jesus.
A believer’s new life means a new experience: All believers of Jesus continually experience Him. In verse 10 Paul testifies both past and continuing realities about his conversion. At his conversion, Paul met the risen Jesus in a display of great power: Paul experienced “the power of [Jesus’] resurrection.” Also at that time, Jesus tells the believer Ananias, the first to meet the newly converted Paul, that he would show him “how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake” (Acts 9:16). Paul learned about “fellowship of [Jesus’] sufferings.” Thus, at his conversion, Paul gets to know the power of Jesus’ resurrection, meeting him in a terrifying and powerful way. And Paul also learns of the sufferings he would endure.
But Paul’s words here also point to continuing realities throughout his life. And here is where the answer to my questions about Easter comes. Paul’s knowledge of Jesus was a continual experience of Him throughout his life, day after day and year after year.
At our baptism, we gain and display our new identity. We are identified, according to Paul in Romans 6:4, with Jesus’ death and resurrection, so that, says Paul, “we too might walk in newness of life.” Just as Jesus rose from the dead and walked in new life, so we too experience Jesus’ new life.
When it comes to times of suffering, Paul learned on the road to Damascus that persecution of the Church is persecution of Jesus (Acts 9 :4). The sufferings that we experience as believers in Jesus are the sufferings of Jesus Himself.
Our experiencing of everyday life as believers is a continuous experience of Jesus’ life. This is why the church throughout history has included times of commemoration and celebration of events in the life (and death) of Jesus. When we enter into these events, these emotions and feelings, these yearnings of soul, we experience Jesus.
And so, back to Easter: when we enter into the darkness and sorrow of Jesus’ death on Good Friday; when we feel the weightiness, the gravity, of our sin that nailed Jesus to the cross; when we yearn for new life to spring forth from the ground; when we long for vindication of our hopes; and then when, for maybe the first time since Christmas morning, we actually look forward to getting up early maybe to go to a sunrise service; when, having forgotten the darkness of the last couple of days, we dress up in colorful, festive, and bright clothing; when we eat cinnamon rolls with creme cheese frosting, and the little ones wipe their sticky fingers on their clean clothes; and when we show up to church, proclaiming to our brethren and to the world that “Christ is indeed risen”: we are pantomiming—we are play-acting the life of Jesus—because we are His body; because as His body, we long to know, to experience, the power of His resurrection.
And then when we must come off the mountain top of our Easter celebration, we have a deep confidence that we can face whatever battles or obstacles or suffering that is ahead. Our experience of “the power of His resurrection” at Easter guarantees that Jesus will sustain us when we must experience the “fellowship of His sufferings.”
So, brethren, enter into the acts of the next few days with your whole heart: the pain and darkness of Good Friday, the joy and hope of Resurrection Day, and the confidence and resolve for whatever might lie ahead.
Delivered April 2, 2015 for Grandparents Day Easter Assembly at Providence Classical Christian School