Cover image: For This Purpose I Have Come, by Yongsung Kim via the Come, Follow Me manual.
The word Easter appears only once in the Bible in Acts 12:4. There, the preferred translation is likely not Easter, but Passover. Passover was divinely instituted to help the children of Israel remember their covenants and reflect on the time when the destroying angel passed over the houses of the Israelites and delivered them from the Egyptians. The Lord commanded, “And it shall come to pass, when your children shall say unto you, What mean ye by this service? That ye shall say, It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s Passover, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt” (Ex 12:16-27).
The unblemished lambs used at the time of Passover represent Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, whose sacrifice saves all mankind and allows the grip of death to pass over all of us. The Jewish Passover nowadays lasts for eight days and Passover seder is held on the first few days and includes: a home ritual blending religious rituals, food, song and storytelling.
For us in the Church of Jesus Christ, we celebrate Easter. The focus of that celebration is the resurrection and atonement of our Savior. Through his great and last sacrifice, we can all overcome death, and through him and his grace attain exaltation.
There are too many lessons from Easter and Passover to include here, but it may be helpful to look briefly at the eight days leading up to and including the original Easter. As we look at a few events of each day, let’s consider what lessons we may learn and apply to our Easter week this year. As a result, perhaps our Easter week can have more meaning.
Love the Lord With all Thine Heart
One week before what we now refer to as Easter Sunday, Jesus travelled to Bethany to stay with his friends Lazarus, Mary and Martha. There, he would stay several nights. Bethany was a village about two miles east of Jerusalem situated on the well-traveled road to Jericho. The edges of Bethany reached to the Mount of Olives.
From Bethany, Jesus would later ascend to heaven following his resurrection after spending time with his disciples (Luke 24:50). But it is obvious that his affection for Bethany had a lot to do with his friends who lived there: Lazarus, Martha and Mary.
Eight days prior to Passover, Jesus arrived at the home of Lazarus. While Martha served the guests, Mary left the table and took a pound of spikenard ointment to anoint Jesus. Spikenard is an aromatic, amber-colored oil derived from a honeysuckle plant that nowadays grows in the Himalayas of Nepal, China, and India. Whether spikenard came from Nepal in Jesus’ time or not, we don’t know. But we do know it was extremely valuable.
Mary took a pound of the ointment and washed and anointed the feet of Jesus. Then, she wiped his feet with her hair. John 12 says, “Then saith one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, which should betray him, ‘Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?’This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein” (John 12:1-9).
Because the Israelites often wore sandals, frequent washing of the feet was a necessity. It was the first duty of the host to give his or her guest water for the washing of feet. We don’t know if Jesus had already washed his feet or not. However, Mary retrieved the valuable oil. She used her own hair, not just cloth or fabric, to wash the feet of her Lord. In full humility, love and gratitude, she served her Lord and master. She demonstrated to him that she loved him and, I believe, that she knew him and that his mission was at hand. She also demonstrated that he was welcome in her home.
Most interesting was that the Lord allowed it. Hundreds of years earlier, he had commanded the priests in the temple to wash their feet and hands in preparation for sacrificial ordinances. Likewise his great and eternal sacrifice would take place in less than a week’s time. Was this a sign of washing or anointing in preparation for the Passover events to come?
Earlier in his earthly ministry, a sinful woman approached him and washed and kissed his feet. He said to his host who questioned the actions of the woman, “Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head…My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment” (Luke 7:44-46)
He wants us, including those of us in need of repentance, to worship him. In the thick of life’s urgencies, like Mary, can we make time to enter into his house, and serve, worship and honor him? Perhaps this is the week to do so.
Prepare His Path
On the following day, Sunday, one week prior to his resurrection, Jesus walked from Bethany to Jerusalem. Just outside Jerusalem, near the Mount of Olives, Jesus told two of his disciples: “Go into the village over against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them, and bring them unto me.
The disciples did as they were commanded. They put their own garments on the back of the animal. Jesus then rode the donkey into the city. Along the way the people spread their garments on the ground, perhaps to prevent dust, and laid down palm branches in token of victory and triumph.
The Doctrinal New Testament Commentary says, “This whole dramatic scene prefigures that yet future assembly when ‘a great multitude,’ which no man can number, ‘of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues,’ shall stand ‘before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands,’ crying with a loud voice, ‘Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.’ (Rev. 7:9-10).
As they prepared the path of the Lord with palm leaves, they shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.” This is in fulfillment of the prophecy recorded in Zechariah 9:9, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.”
One translation of Hosanna means “save, we beseech thee.” What was the purpose of this triumphant entry? Perhaps Jesus knew that this very path, would someday be the path for the redeemed to travel to Zion. That it would be a type for the pathway at the time of his second coming in which the highway to Zion will be raised up and made straight.
Jesus knew beforehand what he was to do. Even the donkey was prepared. The day had been foretold. It was a celebration of the fulfillment of his earthly mission and all there would witness and participate in that mission.
Now, in our lifetime, we will not likely lay down palm leaves on the path to Jerusalem. But we can prepare his path in other ways. The scripture says, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” Alma said in Alma 7:19, “For I perceive that ye are in the paths of righteousness; I perceive that ye are in the path which leads to the kingdom of God; yea, I perceive that ye are making his paths straight.”
Isaiah 62:10 says, “Go through, go through the gates; prepare ye the way of the people; cast up, cast up the highway; gather out the stones; lift up a standard for the people.”
So, on this Passover week, we can make his paths straight in our life by walking the covenant path more closely and making it obvious to our children what path we walk. The coventant path is a daily walk of holy habits.
The Temple and Healing
The Monday before Easter, Jesus went to the Temple. There he cast out “all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves” (Matt. 21:12-17).
After he had driven out the moneychangers, the “blind and the lame came to him in the temple; and he healed them.” Jesus then returned to Bethany.
This was the second time, that we know of, that Jesus cleansed the temple. Why did he cleanse the temple a second time? We aren’t sure, but here is what I believe.
Perhaps the lame and blind could not find their way to the temple as long as the money changers had residence there. The Lord loves to bless. By cleansing the temple, the way was opened for the blind and the lame to come to him.
During this Easter week, what if we followed the example of Jesus and pushed a bit more of the world out of our life making room for Christ to heal us. In some ways we are all short-sighted or blind. In many ways, we are all unable to overcome and walk the way we should. What if we focused on repentance and improved holy habits during this Easter week? I know he loves to heal, but from this story it seems he is likely to heal if we push out the world.
Oil, Talents, Sheep, Goats and Other Parables
On Tuesday, Jesus taught people in the temple and on the Mount of Olives. Some of these teachings, are the most profound and powerful of the Savior’s earthly ministry.
The Lord gave the parable of the ten virgins. Ten virgins took their lamps and went forth to meet the bridegroom. Five were foolish and took no oil with them. Five were wise and took oil in their vessels with their lamps. When the bridegroom came, the foolish virgins asked the others for oil. But there was not enough to spare. Only the wise were able to go with the bridegroom.
This parable is a message to the members of the church. D&C 33:17 says, “Be faithful, praying always, having your lamps trimmed and burning, and oil with you, that you may be ready at the coming of the bridegroom.”
In the parable the five wise virgins are those who “have received the truth, and have taken the Holy Spirit for their guide, and have not been deceived” (D&C 45:57). They had prepared vessels of oil. In other words, they were not complacent but had strived to draw closer to the Lord and prepare for times when their faith and testimony would be tested.
On the same day, Jesus also taught, “For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger and ye took me in: naked and clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison and ye came unto me.”
When did we serve, clothe and visit him? “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matt. 25:35-45).
This week, could we add oil to our lamps by drawing closer to the Lord through better holy habits? Could we show Christ our love for him by how we care for those around us? Yes. Easter week would be the perfect time to follow his teachings.
On Wednesday, we don’t have record of what the Lord did. I imagine he spent the day in rest or with his disciples. The following day our Savior would suffer for the sins of the world.
Passover Supper & Garden of Gethsemane
On Thursday, the first day of the feast of unleavened bread, Jesus instituted the sacrament. He taught his disciples how to administer the sacrament. He identified Judas as the person who would betray him and went to the garden of Gethsemane. Gethsemane, meaning olive press, was an apt name for where the Son of God would take upon him the weight of all the sins of the world.
Jesus asked his disciples, “Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder.And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me.”
When the time of his suffering had come, the scripture says “And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matt 26:36-39).
“Only Christ had the power to lay down His life and take it up again. From His mortal mother, Mary, He inherited the ability to die. From His immortal Father, He inherited the power to overcome death.
“Only Christ could redeem us from our sins. God the Father gave Him this power. The Savior was able to receive this power and carry out the Atonement because He kept Himself free from sin: ‘He suffered temptations but gave no heed unto them’ (D&C 20:22). Having lived a perfect, sinless life, He was free from the demands of justice. Because He had the power of redemption and because He had no debt to justice, he could pay the debt for those who repent.”[i]
There, the Savior of the world the greatest of all suffered. He said he trembled “because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would not that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink” (D&C 19:18).
The Lord was then betrayed and arrested.
When you and I attend Sacrament meeting on Easter Sunday, could we take time during the sacrament established on Easter week, to remember the sacrifice of Jesus Christ?
In the morning on Friday, Jesus was taken to the chief priests and elders. They took council against him and sent him to Pilate. It was then that Judas, seeing his sin in full view, brought back his payment of 30 pieces of silver to the priests. In regret, he threw down the coins before going to hang himself.
Later, Pilate questioned Jesus, attempted to release him, but the crowd “cried out the more, saying ‘Let him be crucified.’” (Matt. 27:23).
Then, Pilate washes his hands, had Jesus scourged and delivered him to be crucified. They stripped him and put on him a scarlet robe. When they had put upon Jesus’ head a crown of plaited thorns, they “mocked him saying Hail King of the Jews. And they spit upon him, and took the reed, and smote him on the head.” (vs. 29-30).
Jesus then carried his cross, endured the cross and died for all mankind.
The Lord himself tells us why:
And my Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross; and after that I had been lifted up upon the cross, that I might draw all men unto me, that as I have been lifted up by men even so should men be lifted up by the Father, to stand before me, to be judged of their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil—
And for this cause have I been lifted up; therefore, according to the power of the Father I will draw all men unto me, that they may be judged according to their works.
And it shall come to pass, that whoso repenteth and is baptized in my name shall be filled; and if he endureth to the end, behold, him will I hold guiltless before my Father at that day when I shall stand to judge the world. (3 Nephi 27:14–16)
The Son of God was lifted up that he might draw all men unto him. On Easter week, could we willingly draw closer to him?
On Saturday, Jesus’ body lay in the tomb. But we know from latter-day scripture that he was about organizing his work. From the revelation given to Joseph F. Smith we know that the hosts of the dead, both small and great were assembled waiting the advent of the day of their deliverance.
“While this vast multitude waited and conversed, rejoicing in the hour of their deliverance from the chains of death, the Son of God appeared, declaring liberty to the captives who had been faithful;And there he preached to them the everlasting gospel, the doctrine of the resurrection and the redemption of mankind from the fall, and from individual sins on conditions of repentance.” (D&C 138:18-19).
What a gathering! What a message! And to hear it from the one who, from the beginning, was called and fulfilled the will of the Father. After Jesus preached, the “saints rejoiced in their redemption, and bowed the knee and acknowledged the Son of God as their Redeemer….Their countenances shone, and the radiance from the presence of the Lord rested upon them, and they sang praises unto his holy name.” (D&C 138:24).
D&C 138 tells us that on that day Jesus did not go to the wicked. Instead, he organized from among the righteous the forces of messenger and gave them power to go forth and carry the light of the gospel to those in darkness. And the great work of preaching the gospel in the spirit world began.
This week, above all weeks, is the time to bow the knee and acknowledge the Son of God.
On Sunday morning, Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James, went to the place where Jesus was buried. A great earthquake took place and an angel descended from heaven. He rolled back the stone to the tomb and sat upon it. “His countenance was like lightening, and his raiment white as snow” (Matt 28:3).
The angel told the women that Jesus was not there, but he was risen. He invited them to look and see, then told them to go tell the disciples. He also told them that Jesus had gone before them into Galilee. Mark would later write that Jesus “appeared first to Mary Magdalene.” John wrote that Mary was at the tomb weeping and saw two angels in the tomb. She spoke with them.
Then turning from the tomb, she saw Jesus standing there. She didn’t know it was him. He said, “Woman, why weepest thou? Who sleekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if though have borne him hence, tell me where though hast laid him, and I will take him away. Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She tuned herself and saith unto him, Rabboni, which is to say, Mater” (John 20:15-16).
Jesus would eventually make many appearances to his disciples and to saints, other sheep, in other lands. The great earthly mission of the Lord was complete.
So, as you contemplate the week of Easter, consider the incredible events of that same week over 2,000 years ago. There has not been such a week at any time in the history of the earth. And in that contemplation, think about how you can make your week, this year, a bit better. A week and year filled with a bit more oil to fill your vessels and light your lamp.
Our Easter week could be filled with more stiving to make his path straight in our life. We could show our love for Jesus by how we care for the “least” of those in his kingdom. We could repent and draw on the power of his atoning sacrifice. And perhaps, this week, we could join with the hosts of heaven in praising his name and being grateful for the price he paid so that you and I can someday return to him.
[i] Atonement of Jesus, churchofjesuschrist.org, Doctrinal Study.