Easter time in Britain can feel a little like an anti climax for me sometimes. There are pictures of eggs, bunnies and little flowers everywhere. And lots and lots of chocolate. I have to say I’m always partial to a bit of chocolate, and will very gladly eat that on any occasion.
But in Greece, where I grew up, Easter is a bit of a different experience. The whole weekend is filled with moments of reenactment of the Easter story.
On good Friday, there are thousands of processions starting from churches and going around the streets. People follow while singing hymns of mourning and carrying candles. Millions go.
On Easter Saturday night there is a resurrection service. At midnight, the priest announces “Christos Anesti” (Christ is risen). He then lights a candle the flame of which gets passed along the congregation. The light quickly spreads. Fire crackers and fireworks are being released, while people sing “Christ is risen from the dead. He has triumphed over death!” Everyone goes to this service. Everyone and their dog.
I have been to this resurrection service countless times in my life. As a little girl, I totally loved the excitement ( even though my hair caught fire once from a candle held by the person behind me). As a young woman, I enjoyed showing off the Christian parts of my Greek culture to my non – Greek boyfriend/ husband-to-be, who was fascinated by the whole thing.
In any case, whether you believe it or not, whether you practice Christianity or not, you can have no doubt as to what Easter is really about, when you are in Greece at Easter time. You cannot escape the thought of that ancient story:
The story of this guy, Jesus, who died the most excruciating death in Israel all those years ago, while he’d committed no crime. This guy Jesus, who allowed himself to be betrayed by his mate, Judas; who silently endured all the questioning, the humiliation, the merciless flogging, the unbearable carrying of a heavy, rough wooden cross on his bare, bloody back. Jesus who then silently endured the nails being hammered into his hands and feet, so as to secure him onto that cross. He hung there, unable to breathe unless he pulled himself up by using his nailed hands, causing horrendous pain, while also finding time and energy to talk to the criminals on either side of him about God. (Can you tell, yet, that this guy is my hero?) Eventually he gave up his spirit after speaking the words “It is finished”.
He was buried, and was mourned by many.
One day passed. Then another.
On the third day a girl came to pay her respects at his grave.
Shocked, she thought someone had stolen his body. Devastated she asked a man she thought was the gardener, if he knew where they’d taken the body.
And then she hears his voice, saying her name. Immediately she knows. It’s him. It’s Jesus. He’s not dead at all. He’s alive!
Incredible. But true.
That’s what Easter’s about. Please don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything at all against the afore mentioned ‘easterabilia’. Far from it.
Why, Who, What
Paradoxically, whilst I grew up in Greece with all the imagery of the Easter story around me, it was not until I lived here in Scotland, away from my Orthodox upbringing, that I started to really understand it’s meaning; to understand WHY Jesus did all that. WHO he did it for. WHAT he was referring to when he said “It is finished”.
He did it in order to be able to reconcile humanity and our imperfect way of life with God and His perfect nature.
He did it for every single person that ever lived, or will live in this world. And that is very personal. That means me. That means you.
It was the punishment for all the wrong doing that humanity has ever done, that was finished.
This means that any one of us who decides to, can have a relationship with God. Not because we are good people. Not because we deserve to. But because Jesus gave everything he had, his very life, in order to take on our punishment, so that we could take on his perfection.
After reading the gospels, and getting to know this Jesus for myself, I took this on board in my own life. This changed everything.
Nowadays I practice my faith in quite a different setting. But the Greek Easter experience has stayed with me. And I guess for me, it points to a celebration of the greatest thing anyone’s ever done for me; of the person who changed my life in the biggest way; of the reason why I believe.