More than Chocolate Bunnies
Easter means much more than a basket of candy! It is symbolic of the Jewish Passover and of Jesus' history. And, Easter has great relevance for mankind today.
If a basket of candy and a special meal are what your family remembers about Easter, you can make a valuable change in those memories this year. Because the Easter season starts early in April, I suggest that you use March to build up to Easter day, a day that is so important to Christians - and others, too. After all, the Easter message of eternal life has a far greater significance than any other "celebration." Don't fall for the belief that you should discount the importance of Easter, as well as other Christian events, because they have a pagan basis. Yes, the word "Easter" is derived from the Anglo-Saxon goddess of Spring (Eostre). But, Easter is firmly rooted in the Jewish Passover and the historical life of Jesus. The actual date and changes to the calendar don't affect the message of this season. This month of March right through early April provides just the right amount of time to consider Easter and the profound way it influences our lives today. I've divided our study of Easter into seven sections for weekly discussions that culminate with Easter Sunday, April 12th this year, and the glorious happenings that follow that day. So, with a Bible handy, gather your family and enjoy the true sweetness and bounty of Easter!
Discussion One: The Passover. This event was the link to Jesus' planned arrival in Jerusalem. This religious festival commemorates God's deliverance of the Jews from bondage. In Exodus 12:13, it says, "...I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you...." Depending on the ages and Biblical education of your children, you may want to review the dramatic exodus of the Jews from Egypt. Then ask if we are enslaved by anything today, perhaps by fashion, drugs, money, peer pressure, meaningless traditions, etc. And, share the importance of Jesus following his heavenly Father's plan for his life even though it meant going into dangerous territory.
Discussion Two: The Plot. When Jesus plans to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem, he is unfazed by the horrendous plot to kill him -- a plot he knows about although no one has told him of it. Read Matthew 26 where Jesus tells the disciples that he'll be tried and crucified. Note that, at this time, Judas makes his deal with the chief priests to betray Jesus. And Jesus knows that Judas will betray him. Even so, Jesus sends the disciples to arrange the Passover meal. Discuss what gave Jesus such equanimity and what motivated Judas. How can we be calm in dangerous times?
Discussion Three: The Parade. This is the triumphal entry of Jesus through the gates and into the holy city (told in Matthew 21), which fulfills the prophecy of Zechariah. This Old Testament minor prophet predicted that the Saviour would come to Jerusalem riding upon "an ass and upon a colt the foal of an ass" (Zechariah 9: 9). The people excitedly spread palm leaves in his path, supposedly to control the dust. Spreading these fronds before his path indicated their great honor of Jesus because the date palm, known as Phoenix dactylifera, was a very valuable plant. Its flowers were crushed into juice, its fruit was a portable food that could be dried or made into cakes, and the fronds were used as roofing material or woven into floor coverings.
Discuss what we do today to show that we honor Jesus. Are we sincere in following his commands? And, what are his main teachings that guide our lives?
Discussion Four: The Last Supper. Also called the Lord's Supper, this meal illustrates Jesus' fellowship with his disciples both then and today. (Read Luke 22.) The bread and the wine can be likened to the manna and the water from a rock that sustained the Children of Israel. This sharing is what feeds and binds together disciples of every era. Not all the gospels tell of Jesus washing the feet of his followers; turn to John 13: 1-17 for this remarkable story. What does this washing mean?
Discussion Five: Betrayal, Trial, and Crucifixion. As Jesus moves forward on the path he already knows, he prays for himself, his disciples, and us. Read John 17:20 and note how you are included in this prayer. Imagine Jesus praying for us at that particularly difficult time! Judas' betrayal in the garden, the so-called trial, and then the crucifixion are covered in John 18 and 19 and bear reading. Discuss why Jesus prayed for himself. How did he conduct himself during the trial? What were his concerns at the crucifixion? When someone wrongs you, can you say as Jesus did: "Father , forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).
Discussion Six: Resurrection: Then and Now. The resurrection morning story has many messages of both shameful doubt and blessed faith. But one of the most telling is in John 20. Here Jesus addresses Mary Magdalene by her simple name and she, in turn, sees his true nature as the risen Master. Being the first to see him, she is the one to carry the glorious news to the disciples. Are we equally fervent about recognizing what the Christ has done for each of us in our lives? Talk about the Christ-example and how to share it every day.
Discussion Seven: A walk, a breakfast, the Ascension. And so the resurrection morn has passed, as will our Easter morning. But, there is more to the story. Two followers are sadly walking from Jerusalem to their home village of Emmaus. (Read Luke 14:13.) Naturally, they are discussing the events of the day, wondering about the meaning of the empty sepulcher Peter has found. A stranger joins their walk and, not expecting to see Jesus, they don't recognize him. But when asked why they are sad, they share their concerns. This stranger then gives them a complete account and joins them for an evening meal where he again breaks and blesses the bread. At last they recognize him and go to tell the others, saying, "Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?" And that is the question for each family member: Does the Christ story start a fire in us and in what we do each day? Or are we like the doubting disciple Thomas, who needed to touch the wounds in order to believe. (See John 20: 26)
Afterwards, there is the breakfast on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Peter, Thomas, Nathaniel, and two other unnamed disciples are fishing with no results. Jesus redirects their actions and their thinking to improve their catch, and soon they join him for the glorious breakfast already prepared for them on the shore. There is a breakfast prepared for your family, too. Remember the two unnamed disciples at the feast? They could represent you or any of us, taking part in the joy of the risen Lord. Later, the story concludes with Jesus' ascension. Could your family better commemorate this season with a simple breakfast of bread and fish? Consider ending your discussions with this final verse from John 21: "And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen." One way to bring this Easter season to a close might be to start your own book, listing all the good that has come to you from knowing Christ Jesus.