Every year at my church we have a Good Friday event centered around the traditional Stations of the Cross. This is typically thought of as “a Catholic thing” and I am not Catholic, but I do love some of the traditions of more traditional churches.Version 2 One of the ways I enjoy interacting with my broader community is through helping to lead my daughter’s Girl Scout troop. One of the focuses of the Girl Scouting organization is to help girls grow into their best selves – feeling valued, empowered, living in kindness and courage, and in seeking unity with “sister Girl Scouts” and serving the community. Though Girl Scouting is not a faith-based group, I find that Girl Scout values mesh very well with my Christian values. And, the organization does recognize that a belief in something that is bigger than oneself can have a big impact on how we think of ourselves, live out our values, and interact with others. One of the awards girls can earn every year is called “My Promise, My Faith.” This is a way to help girls connect Girl Scout values to personal family or faith values, whether the faith is Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Athiest, Hindu, Buddhist or something else — whether we realize it or not, we all have SOMETHING  that undergirds our personal ideas of ethics and morality.

The activity we had wanted to do with our Girl Scouts this past Thursday didn’t work out, so instead, we took the chance to help girls earn their “My Promise, My Faith” pin through coming to our church’s Stations of the Cross event (one day before Good Friday), and looking at the very courageous role some of the women played in that crucifixion weekend. At a time when women were not treated well or considered all that valuable, Jesus did treat women as equals, and in response, we see their unswerving loyalty as several women followed Jesus right up to his death, though all the male disciples except John had deserted him. And, it was to women that Jesus first appeared after his resurrection, because they were the ones to come to the tomb to care for his body. This girl thinks that’s pretty awesome!

So, in preparing to share this experience with my Girl Scouts, knowing that some of the girls who would come would not be part of the Christian faith, I wrote this little summary, of what this Jesus guy was all about, and why Easter is about more than bunnies and egg hunts, and the significance of his death and resurrection. It’s a pretty basic explanation, and I didn’t put every Scripture reference in throughout, but I thought I’d share it here, and let you know you can share it too, if you know anyone who is wondering what Good Friday and Easter are all about.

The Story behind Good Friday and Easter
(This is told in the Bible, in the sections of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke & John)

One of the main annual celebrations of the Christian faith is now called “Easter” in America. About 2,000 years ago a man called Jesus was born into the Jewish people in Israel. Christians believe he was God in human form, also called the Son of God. God had promised the Jews that someone would come to save their people from the oppression they had experienced, and bring them eternal salvation, so they could always be in right relationship to God. The Jewish faith had a tradition of animal sacrifices as a symbolic way of putting to death anything that separated them from God, which was called sin (a missing of the mark that God had set for people on what is the most honest, fair, helpful, loving, and healthy way to live). When an animal was put to death and offered to God in the temple, God accepted that the people had turned from their sin and were turning back toward God and other people.

When Jesus came, he was a great teacher who also healed people from many diseases and did many other miracles to show that he really was God. Jesus came because people had misunderstood much of what God was trying to communicate to people, about how the most important things in life are to love God and to love others (Mark 12:28-34, The Bible). The Jewish people had been expecting a Savior. In Hebrew, the Jewish language, this was Messiah. In Greek, the common language of the time, the word is Christ. Many people thought the Messiah should be a political savior, to overthrow foreign rule in their land. Instead, Jesus came offering eternal salvation. He said the true way of freedom is to pursue love and peace first with God, by trusting God (having faith in God), connecting your heart to God’s heart. Second, we should love and serve others, instead of trying to control situations, force our own way, or work mainly toward our own advantage.  Instead, trust God to work on your behalf.

Many people liked the love and miracles Jesus gave, but many others did not like his message of freedom through serving and giving up power, instead of seizing power. Eventually the established religious and political leaders of the time convinced enough people in the crowd to ask the Roman rulership of the day that Jesus be put to death, upon exaggerated charges.

When Jesus knew the time was right and that he had completed the work God the Father had sent him to do on earth, in showing the people what God is really like, he allowed himself to be arrested and did not defend himself against the criminal charges brought against him. Jesus had never sinned, but the leaders of the time twisted the truth to make Jesus look bad. It was a very strange and frenzied trial. Jesus chose to submit to being put to death as a final act of love and service to people. Just as animal sacrifices had once been the way to turn from sin and turn back to God, Jesus allowed himself to be a once-and-for-all perfect sacrifice.  (Jesus knew it wasn’t really the end!)

Though many turned against him, Jesus also had many loyal followers. Some of them became afraid of the raging crowds and ran away from this conflict. Some were not allowed to be around during the proceedings because of the laws of the day. A few remained with Jesus to the end. But at the time, though Jesus had tried to tell his friends what was going to happen, no one understood, and they were very sad, scared, and confused when Jesus was put to death. He was killed by being nailed to a wooden cross that was raised up on a hill, which was a method the Roman rulers used to humiliate and execute the worst criminals.

What no one expected — though Jesus had tried to tell them it would happen — was that on the third day, Jesus was raised from the dead! Angels appeared and unsealed the tomb in which he was buried, and Jesus appeared to many people all around Jerusalem and nearby places in Israel. After forty days, with a crowd of around five hundred people gathered on a hill, Jesus rose to heaven right before their eyes — never to die again, because in his death on the cross, he defeated the power of death over people and made a new way for people to have closer relationship with God both on earth and forever after our death, for any who have faith in Jesus (John 3:16).

After the resurrection of Jesus, many of his friends began to share the story of Jesus’ life and teachings with greater courage than they’d ever had. First the movement arose from within the Jewish faith, and was also shared with those of other beliefs. Eventually the followers of Jesus came to be known as Christians, meaning “ones like Christ.”

Good Friday is remembered as the day of Jesus’ great sacrifice in dying for all people, that those who have faith in him could live forever. Easter is celebrated as the day of the Resurrection of Jesus, which signaled the triumph over death, and that we need not fear death, for God will be with us always (Matthew 28:20, Hebrews 13:5).