The Duncan Banner

April 8, 2012

Explaining the meaning of the season

Pastors share thoughts of Easter history

Toni Hopper
The Duncan Banner

DUNCAN — Celebrating the resurrection of Jesus is practiced among Christians in many ways and begins at various times, depending on the religion. But most agree the Easter holiday is its highlight.

But what if you were the one person in the world who didn’t know the story of Jesus being crucified and rising and then ascending to Heaven? What if you didn’t know what Easter symbolized? And what if you were the pastor assigned to share the story with that one individual?

“As Christians, we believe what the Bible teaches,” shares Stephens County Worship Center Pastor Russ Stewart. “But in order to believe, we see from John 3:16, He (God) gave His only begotten son. And then we read ‘for God sent not his son into the world to condemn the world but that the world might be saved.’”

Stewart notes it’s that second verse to which many people don’t pay attention.

“‘That the world might be saved’ — that’s important. A lot of times Christians will use the word ‘saved’; you need to be ‘saved.’ And there are those who will say, ‘Saved from what?’” Stewart says.

“People who are not raised in a church need to be told in a way they understand. They don’t comprehend that. They’ll say, ‘Saved from what? Nuclear war? What?’ We have to show that God loves us so much He gave His son, He gave us new life.”

In the week leading up to the holy day, several days are recognized, beginning with Palm Sunday one week prior to Easter. Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week.

Stewart likes to share the story of Palm Sunday relating it to society today.

“One week before Jesus was murdered, they were praising him, and it shows you how quickly people turn on you,” he says. “The next week, they are yelling to crucify him.”

Rev. Anita Slovak, who is pastor of All Saints Episcopal Church, and Dr. Curtis Lewis, interim pastor at Heritage Oaks Church of the Nazarene, agree about Good Friday’s history.

“We refer to today as Good Friday. This is a very odd title for the day we remember Jesus’ death on the cross,” Slovak says.

Lewis says “dark Friday” is a more appropriate description. “Jesus Christ was crucified on the cross, and the sky darkened. He suffered in agony,” he points out. “He refused drugs. Alcohol mixed with a drug, he refused to take that. The scoffers were there and said, ‘You’re the son of God. Why don’t you come down and save yourself?’”

Slovak says Jesus’ “perfect sacrifice for our sins,” happened so believers can have eternal life with God.

“Yet we call it ‘good’ because we know what is to come on Sunday, with Jesus’ resurrection from the dead,” she says. “Death cannot hold Jesus, and because of this, death no longer has a hold on us.”

Stewart also provides an easy answer for the history of Good Friday.

“In order for you and I to be redeemed, there needed to be a spotless sacrifice,” he notes. “Jesus was God’s perfect sacrifice. There was no other person who could take Jesus’ spot on the cross — he had to die for us to be redeemed.”

At All Saints, a service has been held each night during Holy Week.

It continued with Thursday’s reenactment of the washing of the disciples feet. In some churches, Thursday is also referred to as Maundy Thursday.

It’s also the celebration of the Last Supper.

Lewis explains Maundy Thursday as the night Jesus had his last meal with the disciples.

Stewart says in discussing the importance of Easter, he likes to relate the story of Nicodemus.

“He was a teacher, an instructor. He was smart, intelligent. The Bible tells us he had an encounter with Jesus in the dark, where he said to Nicodemus, you must be born again,” Stewart relates.

“Nicodemus would represent that person on the street — who had never heard of this whole thing (known as Easter) and that the second birth is a spiritual birth.

In order for that second birth to happen, there had to be death, burial and resurrection of Christ.”

Christians recognize the holiday as a time that brings joy, sunlight and song.

“It’s how we remember the cost Jesus pays for us ... and we thank God for His mercy and the gift of eternal life,” Slovak says. She refers to Good Friday as the “best Friday” because of its history.

Stewart says one of the greatest things about the story of Jesus crucifixion and resurrection is that it is so identifiable.

“Everything is relatable to our life today. It’s always fresh and new and never gets old,” he says. “One thing beautiful about Easter is when Jesus was on the cross, he bowed his head and said ‘It is finished.’”

Stewart says Christ’s final words on the cross were in reference to sickness, afflictions, finances. “It gave us an opportunity to go to him and ask for what we need, the healing, the finances. Because he was the son of God — health, wealth, prosperity — everything is ours.”

And for many churches, a Easter-oriented productions are played out in sanctuaries across the country. Stewart, who leads a small congregation these days, also has wonderful memories of being involved in such productions.

He recalls, while in California, standing behind the curtains on the stage and seeing a thousand people come forth to accept Jesus Christ, after watching the story of Easter unfold.

“I think the wonderful, big productions are necessary if people are committing to Christ, but if it’s just a big show, then it isn’t necessary,” Stewart says.

And what about that person standing on a street corner, who has never heard of the story of Easter? Is he worth saving?

“Absolutely,” Stewart says. “I celebrate one person, absolutely.”