During the last weeks of Christ’s mortal ministry, he went about serving, sacrificing and suffering for those he loved. During the weeks leading up to our Easter celebration of Him, we typically focus on bunnies, Cadbury eggs, baskets and new dresses.
Lehi resident and author Emily Belle Freeman knew all too well the dilemma of wishing she could help her family of six commemorate Easter as a holy day, filled with meaningful opportunities to draw closer to Jesus Christ. Using the experiences of people who were closest to the Savior during his last weeks, Freeman put together a series of traditions that allow her family to properly celebrate this season of hope. Those traditions, along with beautifully written accounts of one-on-one interactions with the Messiah, are introduced in Freeman’s new book, “Celebrating a Christ-Centered Easter.”
Here are four of her methods for celebrating the holy holiday.
1. Recognize unexpected hope
In John 11 we learn of the four harrowing days Mary and Martha suffered after Lazarus’ death as they wondered why the Savior hadn’t come sooner to save His friend and their brother. At times, the miracles we hope for are not the miracles the Lord seeks to grant us.
“Most often that healing, that deliverance, will come in unexpected ways — that is the way of the Lord,” Freeman writes in her book. “Always, He is the means of bringing hope. The account of Lazarus reminds us of the truth that hope can come forth unexpectedly out of dark places.”
After you read the story of Lazarus’ death and miraculous healing from the dead, discuss with your family the hope the Savior brings us in the darkest moments of life. Spend an evening planting wheat baskets with materials you probably have on hand — wheat berries (check your food storage!), potting soil, and small containers. Place a layer of wheat berries on top of packed soil, dropping a small amount of dirt atop the seeds to keep them moist during watering. Water the wheat morning and night for several days. In a few days the wheat will begin to sprout.
“My children watch the process daily,” Freeman writes in her book. “Every year we are surprised at how fast the grass grows — how quickly and unexpectedly the green breaks through the darkness. So it is with hope.”
2. Draw near
After spending hours with the resurrected Savior on the road to Emmaus, two disciples had their eyes opened to Christ’s identity through the scriptures.
“This lesson is just as true today as it was two thousand years ago,” Freeman said in her book. “If you want to know Jesus Christ, you must turn to the scriptures.”
To remind themselves of the importance of scriptures during the Easter season, the Freeman family hangs a simple banner — made of triangles cut from brightly colored paper — that reads “Abide with Me.” The banner serves as a visual reminder of the personal experience that took place between the Savior and the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Your family’s scripture banner can illustrate any short scripture phrase that testifies of Christ. Hang it somewhere in your home where family members pass by frequently. Place small strips of scrapbook paper in a basket near your banner. During the week, ponder favorite scriptures about the Savior, then write them on the strips and hang them from the banner.
“I’m so impressed with which scriptures stand out to my chidlren from year to year,” Freeman said. “One of my favorite things as a mother are those moments when I see my children developing a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. As they walk by the banner, they think of things to write without help or prompting. I get to see their relationship with Jesus Christ as it’s developing and their ability to express it in their own ways.”
While shoveling each winter, the Freemans pile snow atop their front garden. One year, as the pile grew higher and higher, Freeman began to wonder if her lily bulbs would be able to bloom beneath the heavy burden.
“But way down deep in the bottom of my heart I believed that they would,” Freeman said in her book. “They always had before. Every spring the sun comes out, bringing with it warmth to overcome the coldness, and the lilies come forth in all their glory.”
Lilies remind the Freemans of the story of Thomas — the story that reminds us of the importance of belief even in an uncertain world.
“In our moments of doubt, He stands waiting with open arms,” Freeman said in her book. “If we open our hearts, the Son will come and bring with Him the peace that will lead to a deep and abiding belief…. With springtime comes the promise that the lilies will bloom again. They always have — they always will.”
During this Easter season, display a bouquet of lilies as a reminder of the peace that can sustain your family members through moments of doubt. Purchase an extra bouquet for a friend or neighbor who could also benefit from the floral symbol of life, purity, hope, faith, renewal, promise and remembrance.
4. Bear witness
The Easter story is made complete by the experiences of witnesses, especially those of women. Mary, the mother of Jesus, stood by Him at the end. Mary, the wife of Clopas, provided her with strength and support. And Mary Magdalene turned to Christ in her time of need, then shared her witness with others.
Eggs have long symbolized the eternal life of Jesus Christ. Painting Easter eggs is a beloved tradition, and for many, the eggs are dyed red to represent the blood that was shed on the cross. In some countries, a red egg is displayed in the home to guard the house in the year to come.
This Easter, gather your family to dye eggs and talk about what it means to stand as a witness for Jesus Christ.
“Focus on how every testimony is unique, fragile, and worth taking care of,” Freeman recommends in her book. “Discuss why the egg represents the eternal life of Jesus. You might consider dying several eggs red. Perhaps you will display one of those eggs prominently in your home as a reminder that Christ has risen.”
Use the skins of fifteen yellow onions to make a vibrant red dye. Bring three or four cups of water, two tablespoons of vinegar, and the onion skins to a boil in a pot. Boil for 30 seconds, then let cool. Meanwhile, wash six uncooked eggs, place them in the onion water, then simmer for 15 minutes. Let the eggs sit another 20 minutes, then place the pan with eggs in the refrigerator overnight to achieve a deep red.