Dr. Bill Atwood

Reflecting on Easter Sunday and its meaning to me

A look down Highway 41 in Oakhurst iin 2014 shows a vibrant business district.
A look down Highway 41 in Oakhurst iin 2014 shows a vibrant business district. Fresno Bee file

Last Sunday was Easter and I usually share my comments with you before that very special day. I wanted to comment on Easter from a different perspective. Last June, I visited Israel for two weeks and went on an educational tour. I visited many of the places mentioned in the Bible relating to the events that surrounded the first Easter.

During the Holy Week services I could close my eyes and see those places halfway around the world. I could picture Jesus riding into Jerusalem being hailed as a hero with folks throwing their cloaks and palm branches down along the road. Four days later, He would be arrested, tried, and sentenced to His death.

On my last day in Jerusalem, I started out at 4 a.m. and made the short walk to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher to visit without the large crowds from my visit a few days earlier. This church is built on the site of the Crucifixion which was done with great intentions to preserve the site. I was able to venerate the slab upon which His body was prepared for burial after being brought down from the Cross.

Later that morning, I was with the tour at the Mount of Olives where many events took place but it was from that hilltop that Jesus ascended into Heaven 40 days after his Resurrection. At one time, it was covered with olive trees. However, today it is a cemetery.

We boarded our tour bus and we visited Bethlehem to worship at the spot that the major religions of the world all agree is the spot where Jesus was born. Friends on the tour had a baby girl with them and while they descended the stairs to visit the spot of His birth I watched Chloe. Imagine the emotions of hearing a baby’s sounds in Bethlehem.

Upon my return to Jerusalem, I visited the temple where Jesus heard His fate and I walked on stone steps that He would have used to enter and depart from that temple. We then walked to the garden of Gethsemane and visited the chapel next to those trees that grow there. As I sat in the garden on a bench alongside the chapel my emotions got the better of me. Simply put, I lost it. Feelings of guilt for my numerous sins and feelings of gratitude for the sacrifice made for me by Jesus. I tried to picture His arrest, Judas giving Him the kiss, the slave having his ear cut off only to be healed by Jesus, and the men who had been His followers hiding from the troops.

Jesus could have simply climbed the small mountain right behind the garden and escaped into the desert. He chose to stay to fulfill His destiny and ours. The temple, Mount of Olives, and Gethsemane are walking distance apart. (For an idea of that distance, picture a walk from Raley’s to Von’s to Oakhurst Park.) He died for us. Then He rose as He said He would three days later.

I ended my last day there at the Western Wall.

Last Sunday, churches were packed, families gathered for ham dinners and egg hunts took place. This Sunday is known as “Low Sunday” in many churches because attendance falls off dramatically from the Easter crowds. The promise of the resurrection and the hope it offers is eternal. Hopefully those who used last Sunday to connect with or reconnect with a church will attend church again realizing the joy of knowing that the tomb was empty. Remember this- He IS risen. Happy Easter season. Hallelujah.