Faith Matters: Never-ending love is the message of Easter: As Jesus’ disciples of today, spreading this love is our mission

The Rev. Dr. Candi Ashendon of the Athol Congregational Church.

The Rev. Dr. Candi Ashendon of the Athol Congregational Church. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

By THE REV. DR. CANDI ASHENDEN

Senior Pastor, Athol Congregational Church

Published: 03-29-2024 12:23 PM

Tomorrow is Easter Sunday and many little children in our towns will wake up to discover that the Easter Bunny has arrived while they slept and hidden real and/or plastic-colored eggs around their living rooms or yards, perhaps along with some little treats or baskets or chocolate bunnies. These are the trappings of secular Easter tradition.

For those who are church goers, they will then head off to a church service where they may discover the sanctuary has spring flowers or Easter lilies that have appeared since the previous week. Taking a seat, their ears may hear special music, or more Alleluias and joy expressed out loud than on a typical Sunday.

Later in the day, many will flock to restaurants or relative’s homes to share a delicious meal with gathered family — maybe ham and scalloped potatoes, as is the tradition in my house.

Any of this sound familiar? I suspect at least a piece of it does. These are the various ways we celebrate Easter in 2024. But why do we do this? What is the actual reason behind the day?

Traditional Christianity believes that, on the day we now call Easter, Jesus rose from the dead, emerging from his tomb three days after he had been crucified and buried, and that he then appeared to his disciples. In 2024, I know it is hard for many to believe that someone actually came back to life after death. And, sadly, this one story is often the reason that people dismiss all of Christianity. If they can’t wrap their heads around a bodily resurrection, then they feel that all of the Christian story has no meaning.

But I’d like to invite you all to reconsider Christianity as the religion that began with the teachings of Jesus. While Jesus lived and walked this earth (historically, we have reason to believe he was a real person), Jesus had quite a following. Why?

Because Jesus offered to the people of Israel an example of what living life as a loving human could look like apart from the strict teachings of the temple in his day. And Jesus modeled for the disciples the beauty of a life lived in constant relationship with our God.

Jesus’ way of living lovingly was so radical that not only did it attract a large group of followers, but it also attracted the attention of the Jewish religious authorities and the Roman government officials, both of whom found their authority threatened by this “alternate” way of life. Ultimately, being viewed as such a threat led to Jesus’ crucifixion on the cross.

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I’m sure all of us can understand how devastated Jesus’ followers were when he was killed. Jesus’ death marked the end of a powerful ministry of hope and love, and people were scared both that they wouldn’t be able to continue spreading the love Jesus taught as well as that they, too, would be persecuted if they tried.

But after Jesus’ death, the disciples discovered that they still felt his presence. Jesus’ words and his love lingered and continued to surround them, keeping Jesus alive in their midst as they continued the community he created. Jesus lived, died, and then lived again in their hearts. They were absolutely convinced that Jesus’ mission and life’s work did not die with him; that his crucifixion was not the final word, but rather that love (God’s love) can always overcome evil and death. The disciples were certain that, even as they traveled, the spiritual presence that Jesus represented was still with them.

And this is a hard concept to explain. The mystery of God’s presence always being with us is abstract so, over time, images emerged of an empty tomb to symbolize the on-going nature of God’s love. Unfortunately, as time passed, some of these images began to be understood as a reality, rather than an illustration, and today those very same images that once helped people believe are now the ones that interfere with people’s beliefs. But the truth of God’s love and presence goes deeper than any story.

So, this year, if you whole-heartedly believe that Jesus, himself, rose from the dead and lives on, or if you believe that Jesus taught us of a love that lives on, you are an Easter person. The disciples who lived with Jesus felt re-born, re-invigorated, and reinvested in their faith in God because of Jesus’ life and teachings, and his death did not take that away. Rather, it reinforced that love does not die, but lives on … and this is resurrection. Never-ending love is the message of Easter and as disciples of today, spreading this love is our mission.

Athol Congregational Church, UCC, is a local community of faith that is “small enough to know you, large enough to serve.” We are currently celebrating in-person worship as well as offering Facebook livestream services under “Athol Congregational.” Our pastor and our members are available for conversation on our Athol Congregational Church Facebook page, and through private messages, and we would love to connect. We offer long-distance Reiki through our certified practitioners, are willing to pray with you whatever your need, and want to know you, whoever you are. We are located at 1225 Chestnut Street in Athol, and reachable at 978-249-6202.