116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Home / Opinion / Staff Columnists
Jesus, resurrection and hope on Easter Sunday
Apr. 9, 2023 6:00 am
One story my family regularly tells is from Easter 1981, when my grandmother, the late Mary Lou Cole, made Easter baskets for all the little kids at the family celebration. They weren’t actually her grandkids — they were the nephews of my mother, her daughter-in-law — but inviting relatives to bring their relatives along is just how my family does holidays.
Those Easter baskets contained little plastic harmonicas. My cousin Patrick, four years old at the time, had approached my grandfather, Bob Cole, about the little gizmos in his ears. “Those are hearing aids,” Grandpa had explained to the child. “I have trouble hearing.” So Patrick picked up his little plastic harmonica, held it up to my grandfather’s ear, and blew as hard as he could. “DID YOU HEAR THAT?” he yelled. My aunt, heavily pregnant at the time with one of Patrick’s brothers, was horrified. My grandmother laughed so hard she couldn’t move.
Grandma could make Easter magical for a child. She hid colorful plastic eggs and put together Easter baskets containing all the best candy and toys. It’s likely part of the reason I always look forward to watching my cousins’ kids hunt for their own Easter eggs before I try to convince them that too much candy is bad for them and that they should let me eat it instead.
But like other holidays, the commercial, secular magic of Easter is different from its purpose and its story — the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Robin Williams did a routine that included a bit on that disconnect. “Here’s for me, the one big question — how do you get crucifixion, resurrection, and then, chocolate bunnies, colored eggs?” he joked. “Even kids are going, ‘Rabbits don’t lay eggs. What is this?’”
Easter may not be as exciting as it was when I was a kid (although I still appreciate a good candy haul,) but it’s far more profound to me as an adult. It’s not something I discuss with a whole lot of emotion. When a colleague asked me the other day what I was writing for my next Sunday column, my reply was, “Well, it’ll be Easter Sunday, so I’m just writing some [stuff] about how I like Jesus.”
I do like Jesus. By the word “like,” I really mean “love.” I’m just trying to not appear so sappy or preachy. In this setting, talking (or, rather, writing) about Jesus is something I prefer to do in a more casual tone, as if I were having a low-key conversation with someone choosing to ask me what I like about Jesus in lieu of Googling “Why do people like Jesus?” (Which, by the way, brings up some interesting results.)
What I like about Jesus is that he existed on earth as one of us — a human being, capable of fear, sadness and pain. As wholly human as He was God, he was apprehensive of the fate that he knew awaited him, going as far as to ask God three times that if it was His will, that the burden of suffering that he was about to experience be taken from him. There’s something inviting about a person who shares traits similar to your own.
He taught in parables, or stories. According to Jesus’ own statements words in the New Testament, this was on purpose, to sort those who weren’t willing to receive his message from those eager to receive it. Both would be able to hear it, but the unwilling would be unable to comprehend it, whereas the willing would. Storytelling made the message accessible to all who wanted it, regardless of one’s position in society.
It's understandable that crowds flocked to Jesus. By the time he entered Jerusalem on the day we commemorate as Palm Sunday, he had performed numerous miracles to demonstrate he was the Son of God. He had raised people from the dead, driven out demons, and healed all sorts of illness in people. Not everyone was impressed. The things that had so many in awe of Jesus had others — Jewish leadership in particular — wanting him dead.
Why they wanted him dead is also no mystery. Jesus was the cool guy who defied the wisdom and authority of Jewish leadership by doing things such as hanging out with unclean people like tax collectors and prostitutes. He also had the nerve to do some of that miracle healing on the Sabbath, which was considered by religious authorities to be “working on the Sabbath,” a big Sabbath law no-no. Worse, to those authorities, it was nothing short of blasphemous that this man was calling himself the Son of God.
So religious leaders — called the Sanhedrin — had Jesus arrested for blasphemy. Wanting him dead but prevented by their own laws from executing him themselves, they turned him over to the Roman government. A provincial governor named Pontius Pilate wasn’t exactly thrilled at the idea of putting Jesus to death — even his own wife had urgently told him that she’d had a dream in which she was told that Jesus was innocent.
Keeping with a Passover tradition for the people to choose a prisoner to be freed, Pilate offered Jesus to the crowd for release, and they responded with a hard no, opting instead to release a guy named Barabbas. Barabbas was described in Matthew 27 as a “notorious prisoner,” so whatever crime he committed (it doesn’t say) was … probably pretty bad. Pilate asks the crowd what crime this Jesus guy committed, but they just yell, “CRUCIFY HIM!” Pilate washes his hands — literally — in front of the crowd to demonstrate that he’s not at fault for this.
Get a load of that — an angry, incensed crowd making really bad decisions, and a political leader too nervous to do the right thing. Huh.
Anyway, Notorious Barabbas was released, and Jesus was subjected to the harrowing torture of death by crucifixion, a common method of capital punishment for political and religious enemies. While he hung on the cross, dying, people sneered and jeered at him. After several hours, the Son of God took his last breath. His body was requested by a member of the Jewish council who was secretly a follower of Jesus, who took the body from the cross, wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a brand-new tomb.
The best part of the whole story happened on the third day. Some women who were followers of Jesus had brought spices to embalm his body and instead found the stone in front of the tomb rolled away. Inside, two men in blindingly bright clothes appeared and told the gals that he wouldn’t be found there among the dead, because in fact, he had risen. Yahoo.
Christmas is a holiday where Christians celebrate a savior coming into the world. Easter is when they celebrate that savior doing what he’d been sent to do, with the understanding that the way to the eternal paradise of Heaven was through him. Five years ago, my other grandmother laid in the hospital, readying for her death. “I’m a good Christian and a good Republican,” (that’s really what she said,) ”I’m ready to meet Jesus, and I don’t want anything getting in the way of that,” she’d insisted to the doctor.
Anxious about seeing us again in the afterlife, though, Grandma had a solemn inquiry for my brother and me: “Have you accepted Jesus yet?”
Thanks to what we celebrate today, I’m confident I’ll see my grandma again. In the meantime, as the Greeks say, Christos Anesti!
Comments: 319-398-8266; firstname.lastname@example.org
Opinion content represents the viewpoint of the author or The Gazette editorial board. You can join the conversation by submitting a letter to the editor or guest column or by suggesting a topic for an editorial to email@example.com