Easter is a very meaningful time for me. It’s also my favourite Christian holiday, if “favourite” is really the right word for it.
What is Easter?
The Easter period stretches over three days from Good Friday until Resurrection Sunday and is celebrated by billions of people around the world.
If you don’t know the Easter story (or only know the Sunday School version), I’d recommend checking out the four Gospels in the Christian Bible to get a sense of the stories that drive almost a third of the world’s population and most of Western art, philosophy and history. But here I’ll give a brief outline.
Good Friday marks the day that Jesus, a Jewish rabbi who lived in 1st Century Palestine and caused quite a stir in his few years of political and religious activity, was crucified as a political outlaw by soldiers of the Roman Empire.
During his brief three years or so of activity, Jesus preached about love, forgiveness, and a new way of understanding power and how the world works. Because of the threat of his message to the political (Gospel of Mark being perhaps the most obvious political statement against the Empire) and religious power systems of the day, the middle eastern rabbi was rejected by his own countrymen and sentenced to die under the might of Rome. And Jesus submitted without a struggle, despite having willing followers ready to fight - all the while claiming strangely that this was the path to victory.
Jesus’ crucifixion was supposed to put an end to this insignificant movement. And for a while, it did. Many that followed him went their own ways, dejected at the failure of this new movement that showed so much promise. Rome, and the religious authorities, as they’d always done before, had won. But then something shifted.
Strange rumours started to float around. There were those who’d claimed to have seen or experienced Jesus. Well, they were sure it was him, but also he seemed different. There were tales of men going on long journeys with a stranger, who later turned out to be Jesus. His closest disciples saw visions of Jesus appearing out of nowhere at one of their gatherings. Mary, one of his closest followers, saw Jesus in the gardener that took care of the tomb that Jesus was buried in.
Jesus had predicted his own death to those closest to him while he was alive. He said that this was all part of the plan. He also said that he would be “raised again”, whatever that meant. In his teachings, Jesus had introduced the idea of the third way - a way to subvert power not through traditional might, but through powerful submission. His stories of turning the other cheek and walking another mile were innovative and powerful ways of turning the tables on those who sought to use their power unjustly. Had Jesus taken the ultimate third way, through his acceptance of an unjust death? Had Jesus actually won through his knowing acceptance of innocent death? Was this the resurrection?
Excitement began to build. Perhaps this was not the end. Perhaps, this was the just the beginning. “You will do greater things than this,” Jesus had said in his life. Perhaps this was it. And now it was time for everyone else to take up the mantle. And from that moment, the Jesus movement went from strength to strength, until this tiny Jewish sect became the dominant religion around the world.
Resurrection Sunday is the day Christians chose to commemorate this event - the resurrection.
Why is it meaningful to me?
Well, I’ve personally gone through my own Good Friday. Five years ago, my younger brother passed away in the middle of the night after attending the Good Friday service at his church, changing my entire world forever. For a long while afterwards, I didn't think there was a way back. I felt sick, lost and dejected. There was no hope.
People around me told me that time is a healer and all those other cliches that mean nothing in that moment of pain. Some others said harmful things like, “It’s all part of God’s plan,” or, “He’s in a better place.” Then there was that tricky suggestion of “moving on”, as if I could just put my brother’s death neatly behind me and “move on” as though nothing happened.
In the first year or so the pain was completely overwhelming and I felt like I just couldn’t do life anymore. As I did have to do life, I forced myself to lock up the pain and hide it away, to try and live life "normally". But that didn’t work - it never works.
I realised, as everyone going through grief does eventually, that I could not selectively switch off negative emotions without switching off the rest. I realised that I had to live with it. Little by little, very slowly, with the help of others I realised that I could live with it. As I began to feel the pain and process the grief, I started to experience the joys of life again too, even if it was accompanied by pangs of guilt.
That life goes on is just half of the resurrection story. It wasn’t just the old life continuing. It was a brand new one born from the ashes of my Good Friday. Just like in the original Easter story, for better and for worse, I’d been transformed, and this transformed life continues to unfold today. It’s pretty obviously reflected in my outward life but also in ways not so obviously seen.
For better because I feel like I had to create for myself a life that I deemed worth living, in line with my values and the impact that I want to have in the world (which didn’t come without sacrifices and growing pains). For better because now I am now a much more empathetic person and have the ability to be there for those who have been through trauma and pain. For better because I’ve made unbreakable friendships through our shared grief, which I’ve written and spoken about previously. For better because my pain - the grief and the realisation that I was living without direction - has given me the purpose to pursue coaching so that others won’t have to walk this journey alone.
For worse, because I lost someone who I thought I’d walk my entire life with. I lost my little brother who was always there for me and it hurts me every single second that he’s not here.
I rejoice in my new transformed life of Resurrection Sunday, living in a way that I couldn’t have lived before. Yet it’s coloured by the pain that always stays with me - the memory of Good Friday - a pain that somehow adds beauty to life after Sunday.
My words to you
If you’re out there right now and you’re going through something difficult, here’s my message to you. I’m not going to try to minimise your pain. It hurts because it’s meaningful to you. I’m not going to tell you to be strong, for you already are even if you won’t always feel like you are. I’m not going to tell you not to cry or that time will heal things.
What I will tell you is that you are not alone. We are out there and we know how you feel. Sure, our experiences will have our own nuances, but we have borne pain and know just how hard it is. You will get through this and you will move forward with the pain (no, you will never “move on”). But right now, it’s okay for you to just sit down and cry and feel the searing pain. Or numb it. It’s okay.
And when you want to pick up the pieces and start to walk again, which you will at some point, we’ll be there waiting for you. To walk with you. Just as others walked with us at this point in our own lives. And the walk will be beautiful and glorious and sad. Just like Resurrection Sunday.
"…Indeed, even agony will turn to glory, but Easter doesn't suppress our pain. It doesn't minimize our loss. It bids our burdens stand as they are, in all their weight, with all their threats. And this risen Christ, with the brilliance of indestructible life in his eyes, says, "These too I will claim in the victory. These too will serve your joy. These too, even these, I can make an occasion for rejoicing. I have overcome, and you will more than conquer." "