This may be the most important article you will ever read! Ok, that may be a little too pompous. But know that this article will challenge you to make up your mind.
What happened during Easter? Why (and how) do we still celebrate? Where did the Easter Bunny come from, anyway? Of course the most important answer will be your own: do you believe the Easter story is true or is it a brilliant lie?
What is Easter?
To answer the question, "True story or brilliant lie?", you must first get to know the story behind Easter. At Easter, Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. You read that right - resurrection from the dead. Jesus was dead and came back to life.
The story of Easter is all about Jesus. More than 2,000 years ago, he traveled throughout Israel. He told extraordinary stories, performed miracles and went head to head against the religious leaders of the land. On Palm Sunday, a week before Easter, a crowd brings Jesus into the city in a royal fashion. He speaks in the temple about humility, love, forgiveness and justice. Many people see him as a true hero: the long-awaited and prophesied savior (the "Messiah") who will deliver them from the Romans.
The Jewish leaders, however, see him as a great threat. On Maundy Thursday, Jesus is arrested after being betrayed by his friend Judas. Jesus is tortured and eventually receives the death penalty. On Good Friday, he dies on a cross. His friends bury him and mourn on Silent Saturday. However the next day... his tomb is empty. This discovery turns the world upside down. Jesus appears to be alive again. Hundreds of witnesses had seen Jesus die. Many of them claim to have seen Jesus again with their own eyes in the weeks that followed. Their testimonies are written down in the Bible. And today, 2,3 billion people worldwide believe that Jesus is alive.
The Easter Story
Let's go through the Easter story step by step. The story is written down four times, in detail, in the first four books in the New Testament of the Bible. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all wrote down their version of how this day went.
Mary Magdalene is the first person to actually see Jesus. She is so upset that she does not recognize him at first. She knows Jesus well. He freed her from evil powers and she has been taking care of Jesus and his friends ever since. Now, however, she thinks this man is the gardener. Suddenly she recognizes his voice and Jesus asks her to tell the good news to his friends. She runs to the house where Jesus' followers stay together, but no one believes her.
Nonsense! They don't believe Mary Magdalene, but they are curious. Still, fear prevails above all. They are afraid. Afraid that the Jewish leaders of the city will not believe their story and afraid that they will be killed too. The group stays together, but they don't know what to do. The door of the home in which they are sitting remains firmly locked, but then suddenly Jesus is in their midst.
"Peace be with you." Suddenly Jesus is standing in the middle of the room. They all see him and hear him speak. He shows them that he is alive and shares with them the core of his whole mission: he has come to bring forgiveness. Forgiveness for all of the mistakes they have ever made or will make. He calls them to forgive one another as well. The most important mission he gives them: share this story with others. Tell them I am alive and to care for one another.
Many other people would have seen Jesus alive as well. The Bible records a number of encounters and even says that at least 500 people met Jesus. He is also said to have performed many miracles. The friends of Jesus took his mission very seriously and from that day on they told everyone: Jesus is alive!
The question remains...
True story or brilliant lie? The friends of Jesus themselves never doubted Jesus' resurrection. They went out into the world to tell people this good news. Asia, Persia, Ethiopia, India, and European countries like present-day Italy and Greece. Almost all of these friends were horribly excecuted because they continued to proclaim that Jesus had risen. Many other witnesses were also murdered. Those in power have done everything they can to nip this story in the bud.
But to say that they have not succeeded, is quite an understatement. Today over 2,3 billion people on earth believe that the Easter story is really true. They believe the stories of those hundreds of eyewitnesses. But perhaps more importantly, they experience for themselves that Jesus is alive. For there in lies perhaps the greatest mystery. Jesus dies and rises. But what happens next?
Jesus, of course, is not still present on this earth. Christians believe that he has gone back to God, in heaven. But they experience a very strong connection with him. They talk to him, also called prayer. Many people also share stories of how they dream or have visions of Jesus long before they are Christians themselves. Inspired by his radical words about love - they seek to make the world a better place.