What is the meaning of Easter?
Easter – a path through hardship to hope
Despite hot cross buns and Easter eggs appearing on store shelves from early January, Easter is not an easily understood Christian holiday. For starters, the week is full of contrasts. There is honour and praise followed by a day of deep, dark sadness, followed by joy, hope and light.
It can be a little complicated understanding why Good Friday is ‘good’, why Easter is celebrated or how the meaning of Easter relates to our lives today.
When is Easter 2022?
Every year, Easter has two significant celebrations – Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Unlike Christmas, these dates change from year to year – based on the lunar calendar. In 2022, Easter will be commemorated on Good Friday 15 April and Easter Sunday 17 April.
What is Holy Week?
Holy Week begins on ‘Palm Sunday’, less than one week before Jesus died. On this day, Jesus was celebrated. The people in Jerusalem waved palm branches as they shouted Jesus’ praises: “Blessed is the king of Israel” (John 12:13). It was a day when many people realised Jesus was more than just a good man, miracle worker or teacher.
People realised Jesus had been sent down from Heaven as the Son of God, a saviour – but they were still confused about how he would save them.
The religious leaders did not like Jesus, though. They were jealous and did not believe he was the Son of God. Their apparent ‘disbelief’ caused doubt and confusion among the people in Jerusalem. A few days later, the same crowd that shouted praise towards Jesus, began to shout criticism. “The whole crowd shouted, ‘Away with this man! … Crucify him!’” (Luke 23:18–25).
Jesus was whipped, mocked then sentenced to death on a cross. What is now known as ‘Good Friday’ was a sad and dark day, full of hardship and hopelessness.
But the Easter story isn’t over yet. On Sunday, a miracle happened when Jesus rose back to life in the biggest victory of all time. He brought light and hope to the world after hardship. This event – his resurrection – is the reason for Easter Sunday celebrations as it gives Christians their hope and joy.
Jesus understands our pain
The events leading up to Jesus’ death on Good Friday are filled with darkness. On Holy Thursday, Jesus was eating a special meal, called the Passover, with his friends. It was after this meal, now known as the ‘Last Supper’, when one of Jesus’ 12 close followers (also called disciples) betrayed him to the religious leaders to be arrested and killed. Others rejected him and denied ever knowing him.
Jesus experienced fear and anxiety about what lay before him. The Bible says he was “sorrowful and troubled” (Matthew 26:37). But in this moment of suffering and struggle, Jesus prayed. He prayed to God, his Heavenly Father, “‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done’ … And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:42, 44).
Heartbreakingly, God did not stop the suffering. Instead, he gave Jesus the strength to endure the path to the cross, and God watched his son die. This was part of God’s greater plan of redemption for the people of the world who he loved so much. Once he was arrested, Jesus was ridiculed then physically hurt. He felt immense pain. Meanwhile, Jesus’ loved ones who stood by felt despair, hopelessness and grief.
Many of the emotions that were there on Good Friday are similar to those we experience today. There is nothing you can experience today that God has not seen before. Friends who betray and reject us. Fear and anxiety over financial insecurity and sickness. Pain and heartache for loved ones. Confusion and hopelessness about the future. Grief, despair, loneliness. Jesus understands all of it.
How can Good Friday be ‘good’?
If Friday’s events are filled with so much sadness and hopelessness, how can Christians call the day ‘good’?
The answer lies in first understanding why God sent Jesus into the world.
When God created the world, there was perfect harmony with people. But Adam and Eve brought darkness to the world through their sin and disobedience. God was heartbroken. A plan was set in motion to show people God still loves them and wants to be in relationship with them. That’s where Jesus – God’s Son – comes in.
God the Father sent Jesus, his Son, into the world as a small baby. He came quietly, humbly and without fanfare. He was sent into the world to show love and to reconcile humans with their Creator.
Throughout Jesus’ time on Earth, he experienced life as a human. He walked alongside people on Earth and understood how hard life can be. He accepted people from all walks of life and showed love, compassion, grace and mercy. So that people could be reconciled with God, all our wrongdoings and sin had to be put to death. Jesus took the weight of these upon himself. He sacrificed himself for us. The name ‘Jesus’ – chosen by God before his birth – even means ‘Saviour’. “He will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
When Jesus died on a cross (crucifixion) it was a bold declaration of immense love. All the world’s sin and darkness was placed on Jesus’ shoulders so that we can have a new life, in relationship with God.
Jesus’ final words were, “It is finished” (John 19:30). There was nothing else that people needed to do to be accepted and loved by God.
On our behalf, Jesus experienced the most excruciating and humiliating death of his time. He was mocked, whipped, stripped bare and nailed to a cross. It was a painful, undignified and public way to die. The path Jesus walked to the cross was the toughest journey anyone has faced. But he endured every part of it because of the hope that his death would give the whole world.
Jesus could have stopped the process at any time. Angels could have rescued him. But he persevered because his love for people was greater than the pain he felt.
That is why Good Friday can be ‘good’. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, we can have a true and meaningful relationship with God. We can experience unconditional love and everlasting hope. Jesus held on to this hope for us so that we can hold on to his hope in our own lives.
Easter Sunday: walking a path to hope
After he died, Jesus was taken down from the cross and his body was placed in a dark tomb. It was sealed up and guarded from the outside. All of Saturday, Jesus’ followers felt devasted, afraid, disappointed, uncertain and hopeless.
But Jesus is “The Light [that] shines in the darkness” (John 1:5, NLV). The darkness of Good Friday did not overcome the light of God. Because there was a resurrection.
Jesus brought hope and light into the darkness of his death by rising again on the third day – Easter Sunday.
The Bible says in the first light of day some women went to Jesus’ tomb, expecting to anoint his dead body, as per their custom. They walked the path that led to his tomb feeling pretty hopeless. But, as it turned out, their path was one of hope, because Jesus had risen.
Instead of finding Jesus’ body, they saw an angel, who said, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!” (Luke 24:5-6). In their moment of heartache, the women approached Jesus and, by coming back to life, he offered them hope. Today, Jesus assures us that we can do likewise. In our heartache, we can approach him in prayer and receive his hope.
What does the Easter story mean for us?
The message of Easter, and Jesus coming back to life, is about the purpose he gives us.
In the Bible, Jesus said of himself, “I am the path, the truth, and the energy of life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). His resurrection means you can have a meaningful relationship with God the Father – the Creator of the Universe. Because of his victory over death by coming back to life, we too can experience a new, everlasting life. But not only does Jesus offer us a promise for the future, he also offers everyone hope for today.
Another Bible verse says that God helps us to find “the path that leads to a beautiful life. As [we walk with him], the pleasures are never-ending and [we] know true joy and contentment” (Psalm 16:11). It doesn’t mean we will never experience sickness, financial hardship, family crisis, disappointment, loneliness or grief – but it does mean that we can have hope even through those hardships. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection mean you are deeply loved, and you are not alone in your struggles. When life seems chaotic and confusing, Jesus offers us meaning and purpose, and a hope we can hold on to.
“Our hope is certain. It is something for the soul to hold on to. It is strong and secure” (Hebrews 6:19). We can celebrate Easter even when life is tough, because Jesus gives us peace, hope for the future and life-transforming joy.
If you’d like to discover a path that leads to hope for your life, please contact your nearest Salvos.
Making sense of Easter customs and traditions
Understanding more about the Bible’s Easter story may have helped you understand some of the traditional Easter customs we enjoy today. Hot cross buns, traditionally eaten on Good Friday, carry the symbolism of the cross on which Jesus died. The spices inside the bun represent the spices used on his dead body when he was placed in his tomb.
Another popular Easter tradition is, of course, to enjoy chocolate eggs. The egg itself is shaped like the tomb stone that rolled away from where Jesus was buried. And the traditional hollow inside of the egg represents his tomb being empty – as he had risen back to life.
The Easter Bunny even carries a connection to the true meaning of Easter. Jesus’ resurrection after his death offers us new life. Bunnies came into the picture as a symbol of Easter due to their connection with the message of new life.
To help kids understand more about the significance of the fun Easter customs, check out our Easter with Kids page.