Springtime religious holidays speak of rebirth, renewal and restoration.
This year, with the world emerging from the coronavirus pandemic, with economic uncertainty and a war in Ukraine and other global strife, spiritual leaders say the messages of redemption are cloaked in an urgency and the need for collective prayer among people of all faiths is great.
The Christian savior’s death and resurrection, marked on Easter Sunday, promises eternal life for followers.
But the tendency for Christians to focus on belief in Jesus as prelude to being transported to heaven when they die can usurp another important call, says the Rev. John Yu, senior pastor of True Light Community Church in Aurora, part of the Presbytery of Denver.
“The gospels talk about how we need to bring down heaven on earth, how we need to let God’s kingdom be lived here on earth,” said Yu, who will deliver the sermon at the 75th Easter Sunrise Service at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, which begins at 6 a.m. Sunday. Organizers expect about 10,000 attendees.
The event is presented by the Colorado Council of Churches, a statewide, ecumenical and social justice organization that represents 13 Christian denominations and more 800 churches across Colorado. It also will be streamed live online at www.cochurches.org.
Yu said he will preach on the concept of peace — shalom in Hebrew — as not just an absence of conflict but how everything works in harmony.
“It’s a fullness, completeness, a wholeness that Christians need to live for each and every day,” he said. “It might require sacrifice, giving in to accommodate people who are of a different opinion from you, whatever the issues might be, also people who are hurting or in need, and meeting them where they are.”
People often think they know what others need, rather than trying to figure out that person's particular need in a given situation, Yu said.
“Empathizing with people in need helps you bring them to wholeness, and you, in turn, become whole as well,” he said.
Bishop James Golka, leader of the Catholic Diocese of Colorado Springs, which serves about 180,000 Catholics, also speaks of the living resurrection, saying “Easter is not simply remembering something that happened a long time ago to Jesus.”
He draws inspiration from the Jesuit poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, who uses the word "Easter" as a verb in one of his poems: “let him (Jesus) easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us …”
The word in some languages has a shared etymology with the Hebrew word for the Jewish feast of Passover, pascha, but also has roots in the Latin word for dawn and the German word for east.
“Easter is both an action and a state of being,” Golka said. “Easter is something that happens to us and something that happens in us.”
In celebrating Jesus rising from the dead, Christians of today are not merely spectators, the bishop said.
“Our God desires more for us,” Golka said. “To have Jesus ‘easter in us’ is to know that there is more to death than the conclusion of human life. It is also to believe God desires for us to share in the risen life of Jesus, a life that animates, redeems and heals.”
The world’s ills underscore the dimness and the longing and need for Christ’s light, Golka said.
New Life Church in northern Colorado Springs holds eight prayer meetings a week, and every day since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, New Life Church leaders have been praying about the situation, said the Rev. Brady Boyd, senior pastor.
He’s also mentioned the crisis at every Sunday service.
“We believe if it's something people are talking about it in the lobby, we should be talking about it in the pulpit,” he said.
As his eight church sites prepare for 14 services on Easter and what's expected to be the largest crowd ever of up to 20,000 attendees, Boyd will address why Christians pray in the name of Jesus.
“We believe Christ is alive; we’re praying to the living Christ,” he said.
Boyd will reference the biblical book of Colossians 3, which instructs Christians to do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus. He'll relate his personal story of going to the courthouse for the finalization of the adoption of his two children and that was the moment they could take the Boyd name, and the significance of Jesus' name.
“It’s a big Sunday for Christians all over the world,” he said. “Our church is ready, and we’re happy and excited.”
The Islamic holy month of Ramadan, a time for Muslims to strengthen their relationship with God through fasting, prayers, charity and supplication, began April 2 and ends May 1.
Ramadan is not tied to Easter, nor does it have anything to do with it, said Kamel Elwazeir, president of the Islamic Society of Colorado Springs.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, during which the Prophet Mohammad started receiving the revelations of the Quran, the religion’s holy book.
The requirement of fasting is viewed as a commandment from God that provides a spiritual, physical and mental cleanse of the body, Elwazeir said.
“It allows us to feel the suffering of those who have nothing to eat, no clean water or simple amenities,” he said. “By fasting we are able to appreciate the blessings we have from God.”
The observance emphasizes mercy, kindness and compassion and calls on Muslims to increase their community involvement, charitable giving and extending a hand to the needy, he said.
“Ramadan is a great time to self-reflect and praise Allah's favors on us, remembering that we are blessed and have the warmth, shelter and security here in the United States, and offer more prayers and ask the Lord for peace and help for those who don't have it,” Elwazeir said.
Conflict and unrest in Ukraine, Yemen, Syria and other parts of the world go hand in hand with Ramadan’s focuses, he added.
“We believe the reward for charity is multiplied during this holy month, and Muslims are encouraged to give to those in need; there are many legitimate Islamic charities that make sure the food, water and supplies reach those in need.”
Passover marks the story of the ancient Israelites' exodus from Egypt to overcome slavery. The eight-day Jewish holiday began at sundown on Friday and ends on sundown on April 23.
“One of the important messages of Passover is that no person is free until all persons are free — if there is injustice to one, we all suffer from injustice, we are in this condition together,” said Jeff Ader, immediate past president and board member of Temple Beit Torah in Colorado Springs.
He’s also a founding member of the Pikes Peak Interfaith Coalition, which brings together various faith communities.
A tenet of the Torah, Judaism’s holy book, is “healing the wound,” Ader said, which refers to healing the physical world as well as relationships with one another.
“We’re at a time in our existence where we are in jeopardy from disease and man’s inhumanity to man, which you see most noticeably in the attacks on Ukraine,” he said.
“The message is about reaching out to one another across faith-based traditions, across races, across economic status, across all of the things that separate us as human beings and recognizing we are all one human race, and this is the time to heal those relationships and be kinder to one another.”
Buddhist teachings do not follow a seasonal calendar. David Gardiner, co-founder of BodhiMind Center in Colorado Springs and a religion professor at Colorado College, said words of wisdom won't change during upcoming meetings, which remain in an online format.
“I will address, as I always do, the importance of developing mindful awareness through meditation practice, so that we can embody greater patience, kindness, generosity, patience, courage, wisdom and love,” Gardiner said. “That's it. All year long.”