Of course, every Sunday is special for Christians. We call it the Lord’s Day because the Lord Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday, the first day of the week. Every time we meet on a Sunday we’re celebrating Jesus’s return from the dead.
But Easter Sunday is extra special. As near as it can be calculated, it is the actual anniversary of the great event. Jesus was executed during the Jewish Festival of Passover and rose three days later. Jewish people kept the Passover festival on a full moon in March or April. Christians (at least in the UK) keep Easter Sunday on the first Sunday after the Passover full moon. And that’s next Sunday.
Does the date matter?
Does it really matter at what time of year Jesus died and rose again? Well, yes it does. It was no accident that Jesus died at Passover time. The Passover festival was held to commemorate a great event in Jewish history. At Passover Jewish people remembered that more than a thousand years earlier their ancestors had been slaves in a foreign country – and that God set them free. And they remembered that their escape from slavery was accomplished at the cost of a sacrifice. Every Jewish family that wanted to escape from slavery in Egypt had to slaughter a lamb and smear its blood round the doorway of their house. The death of the lamb was the price that had to be paid for their freedom.
God’s plan was that Jesus should die and rise again at Passover time. Why? Because his death was the way that countless millions of people from all nations would be set free from slavery. Not physical slavery. But a far worse slavery. Jesus himself said that human beings are slaves of sin. In other words we’re addicted to doing evil things. We lie – and we can’t restrain ourselves. We’re selfish – and we can’t change ourselves. We find ourselves hating people and hurting people, and we can’t stop doing it. We put ourselves first, other people next and God last of all. We sin in our thoughts and our words and our actions. And our sins make us guilty. They act as a barrier between ourselves and God, and it’s a barrier we can’t remove. We need to come back to him but we can’t. We’re trapped, unable to escape from the slavery of sin.
But God’s plan was that Jesus should die to set people free from that slavery. Jesus himself would be the sacrifice – the “Lamb” – whose death would pay for human sin. He would take the punishment human beings deserve so that they could be free from guilt and return to God. He would give up his own life willingly in order to set other people free from sin.
That’s why God planned that Jesus should die at Passover time. It was God’s way of showing that Jesus’s death was the sacrifice that would set people free. And when God raised Jesus from the dead, it was God’s way of showing that the sacrifice was complete, the price had been paid in full and now the great liberation could begin.
A day of joy
So that’s what makes Easter Sunday such a joyful day for real Christians. It’s not just that it’s spring-time and the daffodils are coming out! It’s not even simply that Jesus – our hero, our master, our friend, our King – has come back from the dead and is alive. It’s the fact that Jesus made the great sacrifice for us – and that it was accepted.
It’s the fact that now everyone who links himself or herself to Jesus is guaranteed freedom. Freedom from guilt, freedom from sin – and in the end, freedom from death. Once a person has been set free from the slavery of sin, he – or she – can come back to God and God can give that person eternal life. Jesus – who came back from the dead to live forever – has promised that everyone who believes in him will live forever. He said,
“Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die”.
Of course, believing in Jesus doesn’t just mean believing a set of facts or ideas about Jesus. When people say they believe in a great leader, they mean that they’re ready to trust him, to put themselves under his protection, to surrender to his authority, to follow him. That’s what Jesus means when he tells us to believe in him. He’s inviting us to put ourselves into his hands, to let him deal with the problem of our sin, to look to him to set us free. And he promises that if we do, we’ll live forever with him. Our bodies may die but he’ll raise them again from the dead, just as his body was raised from the dead, and our souls will never die.
All the hymns we sing on Easter Sunday are joyful hymns. And no wonder. Wouldn’t you expect a slave to rejoice when he’s set free?
The strife is o’er, the battle done;
The victory of life is won;
The song of triumph has begun:
The three sad days have quickly sped;
He rises glorious from the dead.
All glory to our risen Head:
He broke the bonds of death and hell;
The bars from heaven’s high portal fell;
Let hymns of praise his triumph tell!
Lord, by the stripes which wounded thee,
From death’s dread sting thy servants free,
That we may live and sing to thee:
May you sing with a heart full of joy on Easter Sunday!