By Owen Phelps, Ph.D.
Director, Yeshua Institute
In modern cultures like our own, we move fast – especially when it comes to major observances.
We think of Christmas, for all its import and all the preparations we make to celebrate it, as only a day. Same with Easter.
Of course, that’s not the way our ancient church looks at it.
On the church calendar, Christmas lasts from Dec. 24 to Jan 12 – 20 days. The Easter Season is even longer – from Easter Sunday through Pentecost Sunday, a period of 50 days.
We’re in that season now, of course. And this year it continues until May 23.
Meanwhile, we’re anticipating a highlight of that season – the Ascension of Jesus into heaven, traditionally celebrated on Ascension Thursday, 40 days after Easter, but now usually celebrated on the Sunday after (May 16 this year).
First things first
The Easter Season – and especially this period leading up to the Ascension – is a great time to reflect on a core belief of our Christian faith: that Jesus actually rose from the dead.
Over the ages that’s been a hard thing for many people to believe.
Thomas Jefferson, for example, edited his own New Testament to cut from it all accounts of Jesus’ miracles, including his Resurrection and Ascension. In the Gospel according to Jefferson, we find a Jesus who is an admirable man, a model, and a great teacher of truths.
This version of Jesus was a great fit with Jefferson’s rational perspective, an endowment of the Enlightenment.
Jefferson didn’t promulgate his version of the Gospels. He kept it to himself, for his own personal inspiration. But after he died an enterprising college student stumbled upon it and his efforts led to Jefferson’s great-granddaughter donating it to the Smithsonian Institution.
Jefferson’s version of Jesus is one that over time many others have been happy to embrace. In fact, from 1904 into the 1950s, every newly elected U.S. Senator received a copy.
Of course, that practice would have had Jefferson, who believed religion was a private affair, spinning in his grave. But there is an even bigger issue than the status of Jefferson’s cadaver.
Jefferson’s version of Jesus is most definitely not the Jesus who presented himself to the world and was celebrated by his disciples in the Gospels.
Did you say 'worthless?'
Perhaps St. Paul, never one to mince his words, put it best in his first letter to Christians in Corinth: “if Christ wasn’t raised to life, our message is worthless, and so is your faith” (1 Cor. 15:14 CEV).
The fact of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is what we celebrate at Easter – the whole 50-day Easter Season. It happened. It really happened. That’s what Christianity has taught from the beginning, and that’s what we Christians are called to believe. To embrace.
Can you get your head around that?
Can you really believe it – not just in your head, as some doctrine to accept, but way down in your heart and gut, as something that really happened and what he promised would happen to us someday too?
Now, in the midst of this Easter Season, is a great time to reflect on that and on our belief in it.
It’s a huge thing. So it’s a good thing the church gives us 50 days to let it soak in. Yeah, it’s that big.
But without it, to quote St. Paul, our faith is worthless. Think about that too. Keep thinking.
Happy Easter … still!