Christmas looms large on the Christian calendar, but I’ve long thought that Easter should loom larger. I may have thought that before I encountered Easter’s prominence in the Russian Orthodox tradition a few decades ago; I’m not certain. In any case, Gethsemane, Calvary, and the empty tomb are the climactic scenes to which the birth of a Baby in Bethlehem is a wondrous prelude. There is no greater cause for celebration in all of earthly Christianity than the resurrection of Jesus Christ. So let’s celebrate Easter!
There are many ways to do it. None of the ways I’ll list involve the Easter bunny or a nice Easter dinner. I look forward to the baked ham, the chocolate, and the jelly beans (not the spice ones, and not the black licorice flavor) — but this not about those.
You’ll see that my categories overlap, but I won’t lose any sleep over that if you won’t. And I’m certainly not suggesting that you do everything I’m about to list. This is merely a list of ideas.
In case you’re wondering, I’ve done a lot of these in the past week, as I prepared this essay, and I’ve done the others before too. They all work for me; I hope some of them will work for you.
You could read the obvious passages in the New Testament gospels, Matthew 28: Mark 16; Luke 24; John 20-21. (Links are to the King James Version at ChurchofJesusChrist.org.) That would be excellent. But if you want to walk the extra mile this Easter, here are some more ideas:
- Read the entire Gospel of John in one sitting (one afternoon, perhaps). I’ve done this a few times. It’s an experience.
- Read a serious narrative account of Holy Week. Here are two, each about century old and each available online. Neither partakes of the pernicious but now long-standing scholarly fashion of dismissing anything obviously divine or even vaguely miraculous as an exaggeration or even a later addition to the original text, inserted to persuade readers of Jesus’ divinity.
- A staple of Latter-day Saint scholarship is James E. Talmage’s Jesus the Christ — perhaps Chapters 29-37, or 33-37, or just Chapter 37. Plan on spending some time; Talmage doesn’t read quickly, but his language is beautiful.
- A similar but non-LDS classic is Frederic W. Farrar’s The Life of Christ. I have it on my bookshelf next to my Talmage, but it’s also available at Google Books. Use the Table of Contents to decide where to start. Perhaps, if you have time, you might begin at Chapter XLVII, “The Raising of Lazarus.”
- Read of the Risen Lord’s appearance in the Americas in the Book of Mormon, beginning at 3 Nephi 11. (Read just Chapter 11. Or read through Chapter 18 to complete the teachings and wonders of the first day. Or read further for more. In any case, Chapters 12-14 are a sermon much like the Sermon on the Mount. Chapter 17 is profoundly beautiful.)
- One of my favorite inspirational Christian writers is Kim Hall, a Christian writer in Austin, Texas (born in Zimbabwe), who writes as “Given Breath.” Here are two short essays which bear on Easter:
I wrote a short piece about Easter a few years ago; a link to it is below, under the heading “Write.” In the same section is a relevant excerpt from my remarks at a funeral last summer.
There is more Christmas music than Easter music, I think, but we have sufficient Easter hymns to allow each of us a different set of favorites. Here are some of mine:
- “He Is Risen”
- “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today”
- “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”
- “It Is Well With My Soul”
- “Amazing Grace”
- “How Great Thou Art”
Singing some of these — or your own Easter favorites — is an excellent way to celebrate Easter. A lot of us will sing hymns in Easter services, where we don’t have to sing alone or even sing particularly well. Singing at home is good too, or in the car or wherever. Sing alone or invite some friends to sing with you.
But we don’t have to sing alone even if we are alone. Put on some Easter pieces by the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square, the Wartburg Choir, the Cambridge Singers, or whomever else you like on YouTube or your iPhone or in your CD collection. Turn it up and sing along.
If you’re feeling adventurous, sing along with some of the music I list below under the heading, “Listen to Music.”
Here are four Easter things I’ve enjoyed watching (among the many available):
- Finding Faith in Christ — a 30-minute dramatization focusing on Jesus’ mortal ministry, death, and resurrection. It’s not an exhaustive biography or a scholarly symposium, but I’ve loved it for years.
- He Is Risen — an April 2022 Easter celebration with the Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square, the Bells on Temple Square, and the Gabriel Trumpet Ensemble.
- The Purifying Power of Gethsemane — a 16-minute sermon from 1985 by Latter-day Saint apostle Bruce R. McConkie, focusing on the mission of Jesus Christ and uniting creation, fall, atonement, and resurrection in a single grand view. Elder McConkie was gravely ill and near death at the time.
- None Were With Him — An 18-minute Easter message from LDS apostle Jeffrey R. Holland, which he says is directed especially “to those who are alone or feel alone or, worse yet, feel abandoned.”
Listen to Music
Musical tastes differ. Yours are likely to differ from mine, but perhaps some of my favorite Easter music will give you some ideas of your own.
- Handel’s Messiah — either the entire oratorio or just the second and third parts. You may want to sing along with “Behold the Lamb of God,” “Hallelujah,” and some of the rest. Note that different performances of Messiah include different combinations of arias and choruses. Here are two of my favorites.
- My favorite complete performance is a 1987 two-disc offering by the Toronto Mendelssohn Chorus and the Toronto Symphony. I have it on CD and iPhone, but the audio is also on YouTube.
- This 2020 concert by Voces8 and the Academy of Ancient Music (2020) is excellent, but “Behold the Lamb of God” is not included. It’s video, in case you want to watch it too.
- A much more recent oratorio, Rob Gardner’s Lamb of God, has become a favorite, not just at Easter but especially now. Here’s the audio on YouTube with lyrics and art. One of my favorite pieces is “Gloria (My Savior Lives).” Here’s why it’s a favorite: “He is risen! Let the whole wide world rejoice!” is perfectly appropriate in the beloved hymn, a perfectly necessary celebration. But in this “Gloria” it’s not the whole wide world rejoicing. It’s Mary Magdalene — and it’s personal. There is power in taking Jesus — and specifically the resurrection, his and ours — personally. It doesn’t hurt that the aria itself is beautiful and brilliantly sung in this recording. This link goes straight to that aria in the same performance.
- I’ve loved Russian Orthodox liturgical music for many years. I have about 10 CDs of it, including a disc of Easter music which usually finds its way into my stereo at Easter. Here’s some audio of Russian Easter music on YouTube. The language is Church Slavonic, the Russian Orthodox liturgical language. These pieces are from a single hours-long YouTube recording. The link points to the beginning of each piece, and I’ll tell you how long it lasts, because is may not be obvious.
- Aleksandr Kastalsky: “Christ is Risen” (a little more than a minute)
- Sergei Rachmaninoff, “Christ Is Risen from the Grave” (from his All-Night Vigil; about 5-1/2 minutes)
- While we’re here, I’ll list a few non-Easter favorites from Russian Orthodoxy:
- Tchaikovsky, “Come, Let Us Worship” (about 4 1/2 minutes)
- Tchaikovsky, “We Sing (to) Thee” (about 3 minutes)
- Tchaikovsky, “Praise Ye the Lord from the Heavens” (about 3 minutes)
- Rachmaninoff, “Rejoice, O Virgin” (from Vespers; about 2-1/2 minutes; as sublime a piece of choral music as has ever been written)
- Back to Easter … Behold the Wounds in Jesus’ Hands, by David R. Naylor and John V. Pearson, here sung by BYU choirs; it seems to be based on 3 Nephi 17 (see “Read” above).
If you’ve done any of the things I’ve listed so far, you may have summoned your own Easter memories already. If you haven’t, here’s an idea. Remember the holiness you have seen or felt — in holy places, in the company of holy people (of which there are more than we sometimes think), or when hearing or reading holy words.
Among my ready memories related to Easter are standing on the Mount of Olives, just across the Kedron Valley from Old Jerusalem; walking the streets of Old Jerusalem; seeing the place where some believe Jesus’ cross stood; and the face and words and tears of a woman I saw begin to realize what was already obvious to many of us: Jesus Christ, in his mercy and grace, had changed her heart. She had become, in the highest Christian sense, a new person. This is not a rare thing, but it is the greatest sort of miracle I have witnessed.
Again, you may have your own Easter things to ponder at this point. If you don’t, here are some ideas:
- Ponder the wonder that life has more power and permanence that death.
- Consider how different your world view — your view of yourself and your place in the world, and your view of others — is because of Jesus Christ.
- Ask yourself: How does an awareness of Jesus’ and your own immortality affect your desires, thoughts, words, and actions from day to day? Ponder how you might increase that effect.
Pray however you pray, of course. I suggest including praise and gratitude. We might also pray for help — believing, doing, remembering, whatever we need. We might pray for hope and cheer.
We might ask the Almighty, What shall I do? — Then listen, as we go about our day or week. If we don’t “hear” anything, we can find something good to do anyway. If we hear something, feel something, find words placed in our minds — we can do that, whatever it is.
We can resolve to do something new, beginning this Easter, or to stop doing something old. It could be small; it probably will be. I suppose it doesn’t have to be.
Because he lives … what? I will hope? I will try not to fear death? I will see more holiness in the world or the neighborhood? (It’s there.) I will remember than no one is beyond the reach of his infinite mercy and grace, including myself and the people I don’t like very much?
It’s your Easter. You decide.
Wish someone happy Easter. It could be a neighbor, a relative, a stranger. In Russian Orthodoxy, the Easter greeting is (in translation), “Christ is risen!” The response is, “Truly He is risen.” I love that, but “Happy Easter” is good too.
Call someone on the phone. An old friend. A cousin. An estranged parent or sibling or child.
Send an e-mail.
Send a postcard or a letter.
You don’t have to mention what you remember, what you’ve pondered, what you’ve read or heard or watched or written this Easter, if anything — but you could. Or you could just say, “I thought about you today. Happy Easter!”
Or you could write something — on paper, on a laptop screen, wherever. For example, you could try to write a page or more on what you feel, believe, or know of Jesus Christ.
You can write for yourself, someone special, or someone unknown who might find your writing in the future. You don’t have to finish it today. You can start it, go as far as you can, then put it away. Come back to it later, perhaps next Easter, if not tomorrow or next Sabbath.
When you think it’s almost ready, you might send it to someone or post it on the Internet somewhere. I did that in 2018 — “One Savior, Four Gifts” (Easter Thoughts) — and it quickly found its way to readers on five continents beyond my own. (That doesn’t always happen.) In 2020 it was poem, “Thou, Lord”, though I’m not a poet and I rarely attempt to write verse. I finally posted it later that year.
Here’s something more recent, a slightly-edited excerpt of my remarks at an aunt’s funeral in June 2022. It says some things I keep trying to say, and not too badly, I think. In context, I’m listing three things we should do at funerals; the second and third, as described here, have a lot to do with Easter.
Funeral Remarks (excerpt)
To mention another important thing we do at funerals, I’ll need to speak of the faith which [my aunt] and I and many of you share…. Those of you who believe otherwise or simply don’t believe, I hope you don’t mind this too much. But I wonder if I might ask all of us, just for a few minutes, to try to believe a couple of things, even just a little. I’ll tell you what those things are as we get to them.
According to my faith, a human soul consists of a spirit and a body. These are united when we are born into this world, and separated at death; that’s what death is. That’s why the Savior said to his Father, from the cross, when his mortal work was done, “Into thy hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46).
Before our birth, according to my faith, we lived as spirits in the presence of God, who is the Father of our spirits. After death, we live as spirits again, until we eventually receive an immortal body in the resurrection, after which our spirit and body will never again be separated.
In my faith, everything about a person that is not the physical body is the spirit. Here is the first thing I invite you to believe, if only a little, if only for a few minutes today. [My aunt] has not ceased to exist as a person. She has not been absorbed into some formless, impersonal life force. She presently lacks a physical body – but her mind, her personality, her sense of humor, her love and hope and concern for her family – these are all intact. Her knowledge is intact and presumably has grown some in recent days. In the realm she now inhabits, she can move and communicate and even work; we are given to understand that there is plenty of work to do there.
She has already been reunited with loved ones, presumably including her husband, several of her siblings, her parents, some dear friends, and others who have loved her and awaited her arrival.
So, again, the first thing I hope you’ll try to believe, just for now, is that the person we knew as [my aunt], the person we loved – we still know. We still love. She is still essentially the person she became here, just temporarily without the powers and limitations of a physical body.
So if you notice me speaking of her in the present tense, not just the past, that’s the reason.
Beyond tending to our memories and the awareness that a fine woman still exists and has gone ahead, personality intact, into another realm, a third thing we should do at a funeral is at the very core of Christian faith.
It is to consider the atoning sacrifice and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. At Gethsemane and Calvary he redeemed us from all sin, on the sole condition of our repentance. We learn from the Bible and the Book of Mormon that in those awful hours he also personally experienced the individualized pain, suffering, sickness, doubt, and temptation of each human soul, including you and me. He experienced our experience, including our darkest hours, “according to the flesh.” He did this both to perfect his mercy (because he will one day be our judge) and to perfect his ability to help us in the meantime. (See Alma 7:11-12.) Beyond those incalculable gifts, it is by the power of his atonement – by his grace – that he can change us gradually from what we are into beings who are fit to dwell with God forever.
After his death, he was buried in a borrowed tomb – hastily, because the Sabbath was at hand. Here is the second thing I hope you’ll try to believe today, at least a little, for a minute. On the third day he rose from that tomb, with a perfect, immortal, glorified body. He will never die again – and because he broke the bands of death for us too, not just for himself, by his power every human soul ever born into this mortal world will likewise be raised to immortality, with spirit and body reunited forever, never to die again.
“I am the resurrection, and the life” (John 11:25), he said to Martha several days before his death.
“Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands,” he said to Thomas several days after his resurrection. “Reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.”
“And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God.”
Then the resurrected Son of God said, “Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” (John 20:27-29).
(Perhaps we should take that personally: blessed are we who have not seen, and yet have believed.)
Alma explained, “All shall be raised from … death. The spirit and the body shall be reunited in its perfect form; both limb and joint shall be restored to its proper frame … even there shall not so much as a hair of their heads be lost” (Alma 11:42-44).
As fearsome and painful as death can be, including for those who remain behind to mourn and to carry on, it is merely the next step in a personal progression, the end of which, by the grace of God, is joy and family and connections which can last forever.
Yes, there’s a plan. A plan for you, for me, for [my aunt], an individualized plan for every child of God. No being in the universe is as good as God – or more merciful or patient or persistent than God – when he makes and executes a plan. If you can manage to believe that too, for now, that’s not a small thing.
So That’s My List
I’ve listed ten things, or maybe it’s about forty. While preparing this essay, I did most of the reading, some of the singing, all the watching, most of the listening to music, some remembering and pondering, some writing (obviously), and some reaching out. I’ll do more of some of those and take a shot at the others this weekend. I’m looking forward to it.
Photo credits: Cdoncel on Unsplash and Pisit Heng on Unsplash
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