Easter Is More Than Just a Bunny
First, what is traditionally known as Easter and why is it celebrated? For the Christian faith, which depending on what poll is taken into consideration, is between 73% and 78% of the population in the United States, Easter is the day when Jesus Christ is celebrated rising from the dead. Jesus is the Son of God and heroically gave his life to die for mankind’s sins. It was on the third day after he was crucified, the day now celebrated as Easter Sunday, Jesus’s followers went to his grave, and found that he had risen from the dead, just as he preached it would happen. This resurrection was to offer anyone who believes the gift of eternal life and forgiveness of their sins.
Easter, which is one of the most important days of the Christian liturgical year, has greater importance today than ever before in my lifetime, because of the visceral attitude towards Christianity that permeates throughout the world. Highlighted by the persecution of Christians in Africa and the Middle East, in the media, in segments of Hollywood and by some politicians, it is now time to reassert the values of Christianity that this great country of ours was built on, and time to demand respect of the Judeo. Christian foundation on which this country was built. Even Pope Francis, who has been so loving and conciliatory in his preaching, prayed for an end to the persecution of Christians in his somber Easter Sunday address, a sermon that memorialized the 147 Christians who were mostly students, senselessly and without provocation massacred by Islamist militants at the Garissa University in Kenya. Pope Francis, after performing Easter Sunday Mass for tens of thousands of faithful followers that were undeterred by a rainy day in St. Peter’s Square, delivered the annual message to his flock and to the world with somber overtones.
With the escalating attacks of Christians around the world as the grim backdrop of the Holy Week ceremonies leading up to Easter, Pope Francis’s annual message to the world reflected loudly the sentiment of enough is enough that echoed in his message: “we ask Jesus, the victor over death, to lighten the sufferings of our many brothers and sisters who are persecuted for his name, and of all those who suffer injustice as a result of ongoing conflicts and violence, and there are many.”
The Pope again spoke about the massacre in Kenya, where the gunmen of al Shabaah, an Islamic Terrorist Organization, massacred 147 Christians, singling them out, while they led followers of the Islamic faith to another room and ultimately freedom. Then at point-blank range they executed these followers of Christ whose only sin was not to be Islamic, but Christian. The Pope continued in his message “May constant prayer rise up from all people of goodwill for those who lost their lives, for all who have been kidnapped, and for those forced to abandon their homes and their dear ones.” The Pope also called for peace in the middle east, where last February Islamic State militants beheaded 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians. The Pope called for an end to “the present absurd bloodshed and all barbarous acts of violence”. The Pope prayed for peace in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, Sudan, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria, where Boko Haram Islamist militants have also targeted Christian churches. The solemn crowd was left with an understanding where there is faith there is always hope.
The persecution of Christians is not just nestled in far away places. That sentiment also resounds loudly in the media, where certain media outlets dictate that “Christians” should be more open minded. But then, in the same segment on T.V., radio, or of the article they seem to berate, challenge, ridicule, scorn and belittle the faith and beliefs of Christians that they say do not have an open mind. Or, in Hollywood where Christianity is the new 4-letter word or the butt of a joke that only the so-called “open minded” people get or think is funny. Then there was no better example where Christianity was held up to unnecessary criticism than at the Easter Prayer Breakfast. With Christian blood still dripping from the weapons of the executioners in Kenya and in Libya, staining the fabric of Christianity around the world, President Obama denounced Christians as “Less-than-loving.”; nothing more needs to be said to magnify the persecution of those of faith.
It is under this veil of religious, more specifically, Christian intolerance that I reached out to the local clergy of Rugby as well as North Dakota’s Senator Hoeven and Senator Heitkamp and asked them to share with our readers what they think of when they think of Easter and the plight of Christianity today.
Father Tom shared “as a Catholic Christian, to me Easter says look death in the face and know that it is not the end. I take that attitude toward the massacre of Christian students in their Garissa University College dormitory in Kenya. I call it to mind again when I think about the fate of Christians in Iraq, Syria, and other territories under the control of the Islamic State and other militant Islamic groups. The violence of our world is stomach churning, nightmare inducing, and just plain senseless. In effect it is the use of power to control those who don’t
accept ones beliefs.
“My heart goes out to those forced from their homes, those tortured, and ‘converted’ at gunpoint. My charitable contributions, at least some of them, go to those who address the plight of the refugees. My prayers are for the families of those who die as martyrs giving the ultimate witness to faith. While senseless, it comes as no surprise because at first glance this violence really does strike a note of fear in our bowels.”
Christian faith challenges us to look beyond the gut-wrenching emotions and get to the Heart of Mercy. Rise to that level of choice even with those who would persecute you and those who believe as you do. Turn the other cheek, offer forgiveness, and don’t seek retribution for in the end you lose sight of the Good News. Ultimately all power, even over death, belongs to God who administers it in a self-sacrificing manner, not a self-serving one. God has shown us that in Jesus’ Easter resurrection.”
Senator Hoeven shared with us “As Mikey and I celebrated this Easter Sunday, we were again reminded as Christians of the hope that comes through the resurrection of Christ. That hope, and the promise of God’s grace, can provide great solace and spur us to do more as we witness suffering and atrocities around the globe, including the targeted killing of Christians in Kenya.”
And, Senator Heitkamp shared “This Easter season is a wonderful reminder of the ways North Dakota is truly blessed. When the cold of winter months melt away, we look within ourselves to renew our faith. As communities across our state are blooming with innovation, ideas, and a spirit of togetherness, let’s reflect on the collective spirit that unites us and that will keep North Dakota blossoming for years to come.”
It is with these heartfelt sentiments that all people, of all faiths, should find their way in society so they can practice their faith without scorn or ridicule. We must remember in this country, our country, the United States of America that we have a constitutional right of Freedom of Religion and not Freedom “From” religion as some would make you believe.
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