For billions of Christians around the globe, Easter represents a light through the darkness. It is a promise of hope and everlasting life.
That meaning is profound and inspirational today, arriving amid constant reminders of the gloom that can envelop earthly beings. We often are witness to human frailty, with a lingering pandemic that has been blamed for nearly 1 million deaths in the United States alone. And we often are witness to the capacity for human cruelty, with the barbarism of a war on the other side of the world in daily news reports.
For believers, Easter transcends that darkness, providing meaning that goes beyond the simple pleasures of colorful Easter eggs and sumptuous Easter dinners.
As Pope Francis has said: “It is always possible to begin anew, because there is a new life that God can awaken in us in spite of all our failures. From the rubble of our hearts, God can create a work of art.”
That spirit endured two years ago, when churches were shuttered for Easter because of the newly arrived COVID-19 pandemic.
Even then, there was hope to be found. As Esau McCaulley, a professor of New Testament at Wheaton College in Illinois, wrote in 2020 for The New York Times: “The church’s absence, its literal emptying, can function as a symbol of its trust in God’s ability to meet us regardless of the location. The church remains the church whether gathered or scattered. It might also indirectly remind us of the gift of gathering that we too often take for granted.”
For Christians, Easter is about providing hope — a message that endures through times of pestilence. The celebration is fueled by the belief that Jesus rose from the dead and provided the promise of everlasting life, and it is the oldest and most meaningful holiday on the calendar, dating in the Catholic Church to the year 326.
For Jewish people, that hope is represented by the eight-day Passover celebration, which ends Saturday. The celebration commemorates the liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery and is believed to have evolved from a festival that predates the Exodus.
Those kinds of traditions are compelling, as they span and link generations. As religion reporter Elizabeth Dias of The New York Times writes, “Religious ritual holds power not only because it connects people gathered in one space — it also connects people across time.”
That reflects much of the power that can be found in the traditions of all religions. There is comfort in celebrating as our ancestors did, in believing that some things remain unaltered through societal changes. The first dictionary definition of faith, after all, is “complete trust or confidence in someone or something.” The second is “strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.”
Such faith is declining; polls consistently show that a decreasing percentage of Americans self-identify as religious. But the peace that is promised by the Easter season can resonate across personal beliefs, touching those who embrace religious faith and those who do not. As 19th-century evangelist Dwight L. Moody reputedly said: “We are told to let our light shine, and if it does, we won’t need to tell anybody it does. Lighthouses don’t fire cannons to call attention to their shining — they just shine.”
Easter is a reminder of all that is possible, a call to show the best of ourselves with an understanding that the universe is much larger than our private concerns. Even during trying times, the message remains inspirational.