Christians celebrate the central

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 31, 2002

mystery of their faith at Easter

What happened on Easter is nothing short of a miracle.

On that day, Jesus Christ ­ the son of God born to man ­ rose from the dead. Three days after he was tried, convicted, beaten and crucified on a cross, Christ conquered death and, in that moment, sealed the ultimate mystery of the Christian faith.

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"It is the most important day of the year," said the Rev. Marty Conner, who will be pastor at St. Mark Episcopal Church come April. "It makes us who we are. Without the resurrection, our faith would not be much."

Indeed, St. Paul said: "For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

"But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ." (1 Corinthians 16:22)

And today, religious leaders of all Christian denominations celebrate that life.

For Dean, Easter is the prism through which he views all other holidays and religious events of the year.

"Easter is something I came to understand more as I matured in my faith and grew older," Dean said. "And as I did, I understood that all others are tied into that. (At Christmas), Christ was born, but he was born to die."

And when Christ died then rose again, he fulfilled both the prophecy and the promise.

"After he died on the cross, many lost hope," Dean said. "It was only after the resurrection that they came to understand many of the things he said in life and about the resurrection."

And because Christians believe that Christ conquered death and was given eternal life, they believe that same grace can be granted to them by God.

"Easter means my salvation," said the Rev. Tommy Cronier, pastor of Mount Olive Assembly of God. "Because Jesus arose from the dead, I will be resurrected and go to live with him. Because he lived, we will live also."

That new life ­ a rebirth ­ is the spiritual center of Easter. But it is physically evident, as well, in the coming of spring. "In Troy, Alabama, you might not feel it as much as you might in Michigan," Conner said. "But the plants are coming up from the ground, the flowers are blooming

it is a rebirth."

And, Conner said, it’s even evident in that feeling some call spring fever. You feel just that sense of joy and blessedness, even if you are not aware of it, it’s a gift from God," she said. "It’s your soul quickening, looking for new life."

Conner admits that as a young girl, Easter to her was more about that springtime rebirth than about Christ’s resurrection; and, like others, she matured into a deeper spiritual understanding of the season. "It’s certainly something I grew into," she said. "As I was growing up, Easter seemed a lot more to me about going to church so people could see your new dress."

Now, it’s more about her "soul quickening" and about her faith deepening. "In the liturgical churches (such as Episcopalian, Roman Catholic or Lutheran) we celebrate Easter as a season instead of a day," she said. "And that’s a good thing because so often there’s a sense of anticlimax

"We celebrate 50 days of Easter, going through Pentecost, so we have a little more opportunity to live that experience and celebrate that resurrection."

The Rev. Herbert Reynolds, pastor at Mount Zion Baptist Church, challenges himself and his congregation to live that experience each day of their lives.

"On Easter, we renew our commitment to our Lord," Reynolds said. "Christ has risen and we have to get up and make changes in our lives for the betterment of ourselves and others. What we do in our lives affects the lives of others. Our actions must be acceptable in His sight."

Reynolds said during this Easter season he was approached by some who asked why they had to go to nursing homes and hospitals and other places where there are people in need.

"The Bible tell us that when Christ, himself,

had no clothing, nobody clothed him," Reynolds said. "When he was hungry, nobody fed him. When he was in prison, nobody came to him. He is not asking us to do those things for him. He is asking us to do those things for people here on earth who are in need. We must do that."

For Reynolds, the Easter message is also very personal.

"The message should hit home with all of us,’ he said. "We should all be working in our daily lives for the time when Christ will resurrect us. We can all identify with his suffering, but if we hold on and do the best we can, we, ourselves, will one day overcome."

The message of overcoming death is even more poignant this year, the religious leaders said, as the nation and world recover from the tragedy of Sept. 11.

"After the events of Sept.

11, we will be more conscious of our ‘temporary-ness,’" said the Rev. Richard Holmes, pastor at Brundidge United Methodist Church. "We are but on a journey on earth, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ gives us hope and the assurance that once our lives have ended, we will be resurrected in heaven. Because Jesus arose and defeated death ,we, too, can defeat death and be with Him."

Cronier said there will be a special closeness among his membership this year. "Everyone has been affected by the tragedy of Sept. 11 and there seems to be a need for closeness for families and for our church family."

That need for closeness prompted Mr. Olive to forgo its service on Easter Sunday night in order that families could spend more time together.

"My family will be here and I know many members of the congregation will have their families at home," he said. "I believe we need this time together Sept. 11 brought us all closer to the realization of how close we live to the coming of the Lord. It brought me closer to that knowledge, and that He is my salvation Easter and every day."

­ Jaine Treadwell and Stacy Graning