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 brought Jesus into the city in a royal fashion. He spoke in the temple about humility, love, forgiveness and justice. Many of the Jewish people saw him as a true hero: the long-awaited and prophesied savior (the "Messiah"), who will deliver them from the Romans.
The Jewish leaders, however, saw him as a great threat. On Maundy Thursday, Jesus was arrested, after being betrayed by his friend Judas. Jesus was tortured, and eventually received the death penalty. On Good Friday, he died on a cross. His friends buried him and mourned on Silent Saturday. However, the next day....his tomb was empty. This discovery turned the world upside down. Jesus is 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. Today, 2.3 billion people worldwide believe that Jesus still lives.
The Easter Story
Let's go through the Easter story step by step. The story was 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.
Three women discover that the tomb of Jesus is empty. Early in the morning they go to the tomb to - according to Jewish custom - care for and anoint the body of Jesus. To their horror, the tomb is empty. The tomb stone has been rolled away. The clothes, in which his body was wrapped, lie neatly folded where his body once was. Jesus' body is nowhere to be seen.
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 asking her to tell the good news to his friends. She runs to the house where Jesus' followers stay together, but no one believes her.
Chatter! 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, afraid that they will be killed. The students stay 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 special 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. You can think of Asia, Persia, Ethiopia, India, and European countries like present-day Italy and Greece. Almost all of these friends were horribly murdered because they held fast to the story that Jesus had risen. Many other witnesses were also murdered. Those in power have done everything they can to silence this story.
But to say that they were not successful is quite an understatement. Today, 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 lies perhaps the greatest mystery, Jesus dies and rises again, but what happens next?
Jesus, of course, is not still walking 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 through what is 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.