KAMPALA – Ugandans are enjoying a long weekend as Christians celebrate the feast of Easter. It is one of the most important dates on the Christian calendar: The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Easter, also called Pascha (Greek, Latin) or Resurrection Sunday, is a festival and holiday celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, described in the New Testament as having occurred on the third day of his burial after his crucifixion by the Romans at Calvary c. 30 AD.
This is celebrated as the resurrection of Christ on the third day after His crucifixion, it is the oldest Christian holiday and the most important day of the church year because of the significance of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the events upon which Christianity is based [1Corithians 15:14].
Christians have been preparing for this day by means of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, for a period of 40 days, in what is called “Lent”.
Even if the Christian fasting is different from the Muslim custom of the month of Ramadhan, Christians are invited to take up personal expressions of self-control and repentance.
Amongst the Catholics, some are fasting from chocolates, others from tea or coffee; religions feel one should fast from that thing you love most; Catholics abstain from meat on the Fridays of the season of Lent. Hope there are no people fasting from Whatssapp!
The final week of this period is intense. The Sunday prior to Easter is celebrated as the Palm Sunday, when the triumphant entry of Jesus into the city of Jerusalem is commemorated.
On Thursday, his last supper is celebrated. Friday marks the crucifixion and death of Jesus. Finally, starting from Saturday evening through Sunday, the resurrection of Jesus is solemnised.
These events are marked by elaborate liturgical procedures, particularly in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions of Christianity.
But why all this tumult around Easter? Is it just meant to mark the commemoration of the historical events surrounding the death and resurrection of Jesus? Or it is just about a set of rituals inherited by a religious tradition?
The Easter celebrations make me think deeply about an important aspect of my existence, namely, that human life is full of paradoxes: health and sickness, happiness and suffering, life and death. What Christians believe is that God, in the person of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, shared in human nature. This is the mystery of incarnation.
According to Pastor Martin Nangoli of Wake up Ministries, Easter is the oldest and most important holiday because it celebrates the events Christianity is based on: the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The Bible states that if Jesus had not risen, Christian preaching and faith would have been “in vain” or even “empty.” In other words, the belief that Christians have in Jesus’ divinity is rooted in the moment of his resurrection. Without that part of the Easter story, Jesus simply dies and that’s it.
Pastor Nangoli adds that not only did Jesus live as a human but he also went through the experiences of the paradoxes of human life in its suffering and joys, pain and relief, death and life.
“And to make the experience of the life contradiction even more dramatic, the death of the Son of God is untimely, unjust and most unkind, this is called the paschal mystery, this is what is being celebrated during Easter,” said Pastor Nangoli.
The human suffering God
Rev Father Godfrey Manana says human suffering ranges from physical pain to spiritual emptiness and that this spectrum of experiences includes human betrayal and abandonment.
He added that death is the ultimate form of human suffering and that during the course Easter week, Christians have scanned through these experiences even as they walked with Jesus in his own experiences.
It is clear to many Christians that Jesus experienced human betrayal, he was abandoned by his close friends when he was captured as a criminal by the Pharisees.
The bible clearly states that Judas Iscariot, one of the guys in his inner circle, agreed to help the authorities to get him arrested in exchange for 30 pieces of silver.
Another man in the inner circle who was the leader of the whole band, Peter, disowned him and that the people who had received favours from Jesus were voiceless amidst the crowd that wanted him crucified.
“Jesus was falsely accused by people of his own ethnicity and religion to be killed by colonisers,” says Mr Nangoli.
Religious scholars say that Jesus experienced acute pain, the Roman method of putting a criminal to death by crucifixion defied all contemporary discourse of human rights.
The Christian Biblical tradition has it that Jesus was scourged, tortured by a crown of thorns on his head and made to carry the cross on which he was finally nailed naked.
Pastor Nangoli says that Jesus experienced spiritual emptiness and that it seemed that the God Jesus often addressed as his own father had abandoned him.
“As He was hanging on the cross in anguish, He had a moment of doubt and cried out ‘Oh God my God, why have you forsaken me’ and above all he experienced untimely death,” said Pastor Nangoli.
The Importance of Easter
The Bible states that if Jesus had not risen Christian preaching and faith would have been in vain or even empty. In other words, the belief that Christians have in Jesus’ divinity is rooted in the moment of his resurrection. Without that part of the Easter story, Jesus simply dies and that’s it.
Pastor Gregory Bukenya of Eden ministries says that Jesus’ death was not the end of the story, he was never buried and that his death was not a full stop but a comma, he never became a past tense.
Pastor Bukenya adds as Christians they believe that God raised him from death and that his resurrection is an experience of the vindication of a just person who was unjustly condemned.
“And his resurrection is an expression of a hope that death will not be the end of human possibilities, this is Easter,” said Pastor Bukenya.
Pastor Andrew Mutengu of Word of Faith Ministries in Mbale says that Paul in his first letter to the Corinthian Church gives us the true meaning of Easter; 1 Corinthians 15:14-19 NLT.
“And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. And we apostles would all be lying about God – for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave. But that cannot be true if there is no resurrection of the dead.
And if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised and if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.
“Easter; the resurrection is the entire crux of the Christian faith. This is so because since Christ arose from the dead like it was prophesied, our faith is confirmed, sure and secure,” said Pastor Mutengu.
Rev. Father Casmir Masanga under Tororo diocese in Mbale says amidst the experience of human betrayal, there is a promise of vindication.
“The feast of Easter invites us to a broader perception of our belongings without fear of betrayal because we belong to one humanity,” said Rev Father Masanga.
Pastor Nangoli says that amidst the experience of physical pain, there is a promise of healing and meaning and that living in the contemporary ‘Panadol culture’ our tendency is to be paranoid about physical pain.
“And for sure physical pain is to be avoided but we don’t have to panic about pain contributing to more psychological distress, the celebration of Easter invites us to embrace sickness and pain as we do with health because his stripes give us healing,” said Pastor Nangoli.
The experience of spiritual questions reminds us that there is a promise of the power of God who acts in His own time and that in the contemporary situation of rising secularism and atheism among African Urban elite, the silence of God does not imply his absence.“God is powerful and can afford to lie hidden in silence.
Pastor Bukenya says that amidst our phobia for death, Easter reminds us that there is hope of life after death.
It is this embrace of the paradoxes of human life that Christians celebrate Easter because the human realities have been uplifted by the experiences that the Son of God himself went through.
Should we celebrate Easter? This is a question both parents and church leaders struggle with. Ultimately, it comes down to a matter of conscience [Romans 14: 15]. Let us focus on Christ, our children should be taught to understand this day. Children should know the true meaning of the day, and parents and the church have a responsibility to teach the true meaning.
Why we should celebrate Easter
- To know that the God we serve is alive.
I am the living one. I died, but look, I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave. Revelation 1:18 NLT
- To know that our God is true.
But the Lord is the only true God. He is the living God and the everlasting King! Jeremiah 10:10a NLT
- To understand that our salvation is Sure.
And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! Romans 15:17-18 NLT
- To know that we have eternal life.
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23 NLT
- To know that we have victory over sin.
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.
1 Peter 2:24 NLT
- And to know that we share in His Riches and Glory.
No matter what we face in this life. Inspite of the challenges or crises in the earth, we rest in the hope Christ’s resurrection has given us. In Him, we have hope of victory over every circumstance. He has assured us victory because we share in His glory. This hope gives us strength and courage to live. It gives us reason to never give up, no matter what.
For God wanted them to know that the riches and glory of Christ are for you Gentiles, too. And this is the secret: Christ lives in you. This gives you assurance of sharing his glory. Colossians 1:27 NLT
- To know that we have hope of Eternity with God.
As a result of Christ’s resurrection, we know that He will return. We can rest in the knowing that all who died in Christ will be raised then. Death will not hold them back.
So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. But there is an order to this resurrection: Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when he comes back. 1 Corinthians 15:21-23 NLT