Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”
–John 11:25-26 (NIV)

“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”
–Philippians 3:10-12 (NIV)

Christmas is my favorite holiday of the year. I’m sure I will write more about my Christmas memories when that wonderful time comes. But for me, the holiday which has undergone the most radical transformation is Easter.

When I was a child, I loved getting up early on Easter morning to see what the Easter Bunny had put in my basket. I would always find candy and small toys, and sometimes there would be an added surprise, like a cassette tape or a jelly bean-scented stuffed bunny. Sometimes I would go to church with my family, and I would quietly sit through the sermon, wondering how much longer it would be before I could finally play with my new Easter toys again. In the evening we would often have a formal ham dinner together, and then I could play some more before bedtime.

At that time, the early-morning revelation of my basket’s contents was the meaning of the Easter holiday. Church and the family dinner just didn’t measure up to the morning’s delights. Easter was all about bunnies, chocolate eggs and colored jelly beans.

Then, as I made my way through high school, my childhood view of Easter began to change. I still enjoyed the annual Easter basket, but its contents didn’t consume the whole day anymore. Thanks to my growing knowledge of the Easter story, my definition of the holiday was shifting away from its outer trappings. I learned that Easter is really about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the son of God. He was a wonderful man who loved us so much that he took our sins with him to the cross. Then, miraculously, he came back to life three days later, triumphing over both sin and death.

For a long time, this incredible story of Easter didn’t fully sink in. I thought Jesus’ death and resurrection were very exciting to read about, but I didn’t fully grasp the meaning of the story until one Easter weekend, when I was in college.

On Good Friday evening, I attended a church service with my mom and stepfather. The minister delivered a sermon about the cruelty of Jesus’ trial and death, and a few songs about Jesus’ long journey to the crucifixion site were performed. As emotional as these parts of the program were, the most moving moment came at the end of the service.A solemn, funerial closing song was played on the organ, while Jesus’ crucifixion was projected on the large screen at the front of the church. Once the song ended the minister said, “With Jesus dead, there is nothing more to say.” Then, in total silence, everyone got up and filed out of the darkened church. Usually the church lobby was full of the sounds of chatting adults and playing kids after service, but now all I could hear were quiet footsteps. It truly felt like a very important person had just died. I cried during the car ride home.

Saturday was rather quiet, and I remembered that this was meant to be a day of mourning. I used this quiet moment to reflect on church the night before. The crucifixion story had never affected me so much, and I wondered whether Easter really could break the spell of grief that the Good Friday service had placed upon me.

My questions about Easter’s effectiveness were quickly answered the next morning, when the opening hymn began. “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” was played on the organ, handbells and brass instruments, with the church choir joining with us in song. As the music swelled around me, I suddenly felt a great rush of triumphant joy. By experiencing both the sadness of Good Friday and the excitement of Easter Sunday, I had finally understood the true meaning of the Easter holiday.

In the years since that Easter morning, the bunnies and baskets have stopped coming, for the most part. But the true joy of Easter, and the pure triumph of its story, still remain in my heart. I have come to believe that every day can be just like Easter, if we realize that Jesus’ triumph over death and the grave gives us the power to triumph over everyday obstacles that we face. Painful situations will come in their own time, but we can find the courage to get through the hard times if we look to the Easter story. Through the love of His son and the miracle of the resurrection, God has overcome all of the trials this world can throw at us.

This is how I have come to view Easter. How has Easter and its story affected you? I hope that you can find ways to enjoy the promise of Easter every day. Have a blessed and happy Easter weekend!