(Editor’s note: Retired News + Record Managing Editor Bob Wachs, who contributes a regular column to this newspaper, also serves as co-pastor of Bear Creek Baptist Church. During this Easter …
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(Editor’s note: Retired News + Record Managing Editor Bob Wachs, who contributes a regular column to this newspaper, also serves as co-pastor of Bear Creek Baptist Church. During this Easter season, we asked him to write about the subject.)
This Sunday is Easter Sunday, a high holy day in the lives of many folks, most especially to Christians. It’s also known as Resurrection Day because it commemorates the resurrection, or rising, of Jesus from death and the grave.
As such, it’s the foundational block of Christianity. It teaches that God took on human form as Jesus, who gave His sinless life to cover the sins of humanity that separate humanity from a holy God who cannot abide unholy sin. The culmination of that grace from God was that Jesus, who died on what is known as Good Friday, overcame and defeated death, came out of his tomb and lives again. In the Bible, the New Testament teaches that all who believe in Jesus and His work will share in His gift of eternal life with Him in Heaven after their earthly death.
But as Chatham County becomes more diverse, many of the beliefs of its society that once were commonplace are being joined by differing beliefs. While that’s happening in many areas of life, one of the most noticeable is in religious activities and faith-based beliefs.
Once overwhelmingly Christian in religious thought and activity, Chatham County today finds itself home to a wide range of other organized religions as well as to individuals who might describe themselves as humanists, agnostics or atheists.
Among the other religions impacting Chatham are an established Buddhist congregation and the recent announcement of plans by Hindu practitioners in Wake County to construct a temple on more than 130 acres along the Deep River at the Chatham/Lee county line near Moncure. Among the proposed structures on that property is a 155-ft. tall statue of Lord Murugan, the Hindu god of war whose purpose is to protect people from destructive forces.
So, with all that non-Christian activity, as well as cultural observances, just what is the day and, more importantly, what does it really mean?
Apparently, that depends on who you ask.
Those outside the Christian faith often view Jesus – and his life, death, burial and resurrection – as merely a teacher. Buddhists, for instance, usually have little or no opinion of Jesus other than to note him as “an enlightened man,” according to Gasan, a 14th century Japanese Zen Buddhist. At its core, Buddhism looks to the “now” and seeks direct immediate insight into the nature of the mind. Some Buddhists who have heard the story of Jesus or even read the Bible have concluded that Jesus was a Buddha, a state that is available to anyone in Buddhism. Being a Buddha means that an individual has fully awakened or become enlightened and devoted his life to teaching the truth to others to end their suffering.
Hindus have a variety of beliefs mostly related to their thought that God is not a personality but that God and humans share the same soul and everyone and everything in the universe is part of that supreme soul. Hindus typically believe Jesus is also a god and Hindu holy books say there are many ways to reach the truth.
To the Christian, however, that thought process is diametrically opposed to a basic belief in who Jesus was and still is. Willard (Bill) Neal of Goldston has been a Christian pastor since 1985, serving eight different congregations, sometimes two at a time during that period. After a lengthy tenure at Mt. Herman AME Zion Church near Goldston, he is now pastor at Thompson Chapel AME Zion Church, also near Goldston.
Neal says Jesus wasn’t just an enlightened personality or a great teacher but, more importantly, also the Savior of mankind. “At the different churches I’ve served,” he says, “we’ve done some things differently from each other to celebrate Easter. But central to it all was to get our thinking out of the world because Easter is about a risen Savior.
“If that’s not at the center of what you’re doing, then you’re doing the wrong thing.”
Likewise for Tripp Harmon, who is nearing 20 years of service — first as youth pastor and later as pastor of Pittsboro Baptist Church — Easter is all about grace and new life. “One of the things we do on Easter Sunday is celebrate the day with baptisms,” he says. “This year we have seven folks, adults and children. And the symbolism of the baptismal water is just great – dead and buried as you go under the water but then raised to new life with Christ.”
Easter also has another dimension completely apart from religious or spiritual significance, namely a secular or cultural observance. Included are such things as Easter eggs and egg hunts, the Easter bunny, Easter parades – although they are now few and far between – and Easter fashions and clothing.
Many of those traditions have their roots in non-Christian or even pagan celebrations. Many non-Christians take part in those observances while giving no thought to the religious parts of Easter celebrations. It’s believed, for instance, that eggs represented fertility and birth in some non-Christian cultures, as does the rabbit, renowned for its reproductive prowess. Some Christian denominations — mostly Quakers (the Society of Friends) and Lutherans have formally abandoned those traditions, saying they are too pagan. Other denominations, however, have adapted, mostly for children, the egg as a visual symbol of birth, tying it to the new spiritual birth of a believer in Christ.
Another tradition, with a much more obvious religious association that is observed by many, is an Easter dinner of lamb. Lambs were often used as a sacrificial animal in Jewish traditions and lamb is often served during Passover. The phrase “Lamb of God” is one of many names given to Jesus as a reminder of His sacrificial death. Passover, of course, holds a significant place in the story of Easer since the Last Supper of Jesus with His disciples was a Passover meal. At that meal, Jesus gave new significance to the event when he called the bread they ate His body and the cup they drank His blood.
Seemingly, after all is said and done, the day and the season take on different emphases for different folks. For some, it’s just another day. For others, however, it’s a reminder of a life-changing event.
“It’s what the grace of God is all about,” Harmon says. “Faith in Jesus covers the sin of the world. I’m still not perfect but I’m covered by Christ. That’s why preaching the Word is central to our worship. It’s preaching about what God gave us.”
Neal also looks at Easter with a personal eye. “Even though I know this body of mine will return to the dust,” he says, “the Savior will give me an immortal body.”
“That’s important for the world to know,” he says, “that the troubles of the world will be no more, that I won’t have to worry about arthritis or having to pay bills or anything else.
“One day, I’ll simply spend eternity worshiping the Lord. That’s what Easter is.”