This year more than ever we need to celebrate Easter. Even as I type that, I wonder, ‘Is it really true?’ Certainly, we need something to celebrate this year, and there is nothing worth celebrating more than the resurrection of Christ, securing his victory over death and victory over sin for those who trust in Him, but do we really need this celebration more than other years? The past 12 months have been hard for us as a society, but we cannot say that 2020 has been the most difficult year for every individual. We will all have different periods in life that are some of our darkest or most painful. 2020 may or may not qualify for the distinction of “hardest year ever” at an individual level.

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We need to celebrate Easter, but in reality we don’t need to celebrate it any less than we did last year when we were all under safer at-home orders or more than two years ago when we had never heard of COVID-19. Every year that we have the opportunity to remember Christ’s death and celebrate his resurrection we need to do so.

We need to do so because we have all sinned, and God is a just God. He cannot simply look the other way when people do things that cause harm and pain to one another. His response to our sin is what we call his justice, and justice applied to wrongdoers is punishment. We all deserve to be punished; there is no way around this truth.

But there is a way for love to triumph over punishment, and on Good Friday, we remember that God’s way for love to triumph over punishment was for the punishment to be willingly absorbed by himself. That is what happened at the cross, that is why Jesus had to die, to absorb the punishment that is necessary because of the sin of humanity. God, in Christ, bore the punishment that humans earned and cannot escape. The love of God sent the Son of God to absorb the wrath of God.

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And the fact that love, not punishment, won the day is what we can celebrate at Easter. If the story ended at Good Friday we would not be free from sin because sin and death would have had the final word. But the story does not end with the death of Jesus, but rather his resurrection. God declared the word of Jesus on our behalf to be complete, so complete that death could not win and Jesus conquered the grave.

This is news that we need every year, not just in years of pandemics, riots, injustice, insurrection and isolation. Because every year we are impacted by the brokenness caused by sin, and every year we need to hear again the good news that Jesus Christ died to save sinners, and that God has raised him from the dead.

Happy Easter! Christ is risen!

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Brent Costello is executive pastor at Lakewood Evangelical Free Church.