by Gerald Boerner
The Lord is Risen… Happy Easter to all.
We now look at the culmination of Holy Week: Easter Sunday. While not part of Holy Week as such, it is the culmination of the celebration of the past several days. On Good Friday, Christ is betrayed, tried and crucified. His dead body was placed in a new tomb (“Whited Sepulchre”) for three days. On the third day Mary Magdalene went to watch over the tomb and found the stone rolled away from the entrance and the tomb empty. Christ was no longer dead, but had been resurrected. He had paid for mankind’s sins with his life and rose again to overcome death.
Today, we continue to celebrate this event in many ways, in many countries. Each country has made this special time personal to that country. Above all, man continues to worship a risen Christ and walk with Him as his children. GLB
“To a Christian, Easter Sunday means everything, when we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
— Bernhard Langer
“Christ appeared alive on several occasions after the cataclysmic events of that first Easter.”
— Josh McDowell
“My mom used to say that Greek Easter was later because then you get stuff cheaper.”
— Amy Sedaris
“We were taking collections for people with AIDS in New York around Easter.”
— Chita Rivera
“Passover and Easter are the only Jewish and Christian holidays that move in sync, like the ice skating pairs we saw during the winter Olympics.”
— Marvin Olasky
“The great gift of Easter is hope – Christian hope which makes us have that confidence in God, in his ultimate triumph, and in his goodness and love, which nothing can shake.”
— Basil C. Hume
“And it is always Easter Sunday at the New York City Ballet. It is always coming back to life. Not even coming back to life – it lives in the constant present.”
— John Guare
“A strangely reflective, even melancholy day. Is that because, unlike our cousins in the northern hemisphere, Easter is not associated with the energy and vitality of spring but with the more subdued spirit of autumn?”
— Hugh Mackay
Easter is the central religious feast in the Christian liturgical year. According to Christian scripture, Jesus was resurrected from the dead on the third day after his crucifixion. Some Christians celebrate this resurrection on Easter Day or Easter Sunday (also Resurrection Day or Resurrection Sunday), two days after Good Friday and three days after Maundy Thursday. The chronology of his death and resurrection is variously interpreted to be between AD 26 and AD 36. Easter also refers to the season of the church year called Eastertide or the Easter Season. Traditionally the Easter Season lasted for the forty days from Easter Day until Ascension Day but now officially lasts for the fifty days until Pentecost. The first week of the Easter Season is known as Easter Week or the Octave of Easter. Easter also marks the end of Lent, a season of fasting, prayer, and penance.
Easter is a moveable feast, meaning it is not fixed in relation to the civil calendar. The First Council of Nicaea (325) established the date of Easter as the first Sunday after the full moon (the Paschal Full Moon) following the vernal equinox. Ecclesiastically, the equinox is reckoned to be on March 21 (regardless of the astronomically correct date), and the "Full Moon" is not necessarily the astronomically correct date. The date of Easter therefore varies between March 22 and April 25. Eastern Christianity bases its calculations on the Julian Calendar whose March 21 corresponds, during the twenty-first century, to April 3 in the Gregorian Calendar, in which calendar their celebration of Easter therefore varies between April 4 and May 8.
Easter is linked to the Jewish Passover by much of its symbolism, as well as by its position in the calendar. In most European languages the feast called Easter in English is termed by the words for passover in those languages and in the older English versions of the Bible the term Easter was the term used to translate passover.
Relatively newer elements such as the Easter Bunny and Easter egg hunts have become part of the holiday’s modern celebrations, and those aspects are often celebrated by many Christians and non-Christians alike. There are also some Christian denominations who do not celebrate Easter.
The New Testament teaches that the resurrection of Jesus, which Easter celebrates, is a foundation of the Christian faith. The resurrection established Jesus as the powerful Son of God and is cited as proof that God will judge the world in righteousness. God has given Christians "a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead". Christians, through faith in the working of God are spiritually resurrected with Jesus so that they may walk in a new way of life.
Easter is linked to the Passover and Exodus from Egypt recorded in the Old Testament through the Last Supper and crucifixion that preceded the resurrection. According to the New Testament, Jesus gave the Passover meal a new meaning, as he prepared himself and his disciples for his death in the upper room during the Last Supper. He identified the loaf of bread and cup of wine as symbolizing his body soon to be sacrificed and his blood soon to be shed. 1 Corinthians 5:7 states, "Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed"; this refers to the Passover requirement to have no yeast in the house and to the allegory of Jesus as the Paschal lamb.
One interpretation of the Gospel of John is that Jesus, as the Passover lamb, was crucified at roughly the same time as the Passover lambs were being slain in the temple, on the afternoon of Nisan 14. This interpretation, however, is inconsistent with the chronology in the Synoptic Gospels. It assumes that text literally translated "the preparation of the passover" in John 19:14 refers to Nisan 14 (Preparation Day for the Passover) and not necessarily to Yom Shishi (Friday, Preparation Day for Sabbath) and that the priests’ desire to be ritually pure in order to "eat the passover" in John 18:28 refers to eating the Passover lamb, not to the public offerings made during the days of Unleavened Bread (Leviticus 23:8).
Anglo-Saxon and German
Ostara (1884) by
The modern English term Easter is speculated to have developed from Old English word Ēastre or Ēostre or Eoaster, which itself developed prior to 899. The name refers to Eostur-monath, a month of the Germanic calendar attested by Bede as named after the goddess Ēostre of Anglo-Saxon paganism. Bede notes that Eostur-monath was the equivalent to the month of April, and that feasts held in her honor during Ēostur-monath had died out by the time of his writing, replaced with the Christian custom of Easter. Using comparative linguistic evidence from continental Germanic sources, the 19th century scholar Jacob Grimm proposed the existence of an equivalent form of Eostre among the pre-Christian beliefs of the continental Germanic peoples, whose name he reconstructed as Ostara.
The implications of the goddess have resulted in theories about whether or not Eostre is an invention of Bede, theories connecting Eostre with records of Germanic folk custom (including hares and eggs), and as cultural descendant of the Proto-Indo-European goddess of the dawn through the etymology of her name. Grimm’s reconstructed Ostara has had some influence in modern popular culture. Modern German has Ostern, but otherwise, Germanic languages have generally borrowed the form pascha, see below.
Semitic, Romance, Celtic and other Germanic Languages
Isenheim Altarpiece: The Resurrection
by Matthias Grünewald,
The Greek word Πάσχα and hence the Latin form Pascha is derived from Hebrew Pesach (פֶּסַח) meaning the festival of Passover. In Greek the word Ἀνάστασις (upstanding, up-rising, resurrection) is used also as an alternative.
Christians speaking Arabic or other Semitic languages generally use names cognate to Pesach. For instance, the second word of the Arabic name of the festival عيد الفصح ʿĪd al-Fiṣḥ has the root F-Ṣ-Ḥ, which given the sound laws applicable to Arabic is cognate to Hebrew P-S-Ḥ, with "Ḥ" realized as /x/ in Modern Hebrew and /ħ/ in Arabic. Arabic also uses the term عيد القيامة ʿĪd al-Qiyāmah, meaning "festival of the resurrection," but this term is less common. In Maltese the word is L-Għid. In Ge’ez and the modern Ethiosemitic languages of Ethiopia and Eritrea, two forms exist: ፋሲካ ("Fasika," fāsīkā) from Greek Pascha, and ትንሣኤ ("Tensae," tinśā’ē), the latter from the Semitic root N-Ś-’, meaning "to rise" (cf. Arabic nasha’a – ś merged with "sh" in Arabic and most non-South Semitic languages).
In all Romance languages the name of the Easter festival is derived from the Latin Pascha. In Spanish, Easter is Pascua, in Italian Pasqua, in Portuguese Páscoa and in Romanian Paşti. In French, the name of Easter Pâques also derives from the Latin word but the s following the a has been lost and the two letters have been transformed into a â with a circumflex accent by elision.
Easter in the Early Church
Reenacting the Stations of the Cross
in Jerusalem on the Via Dolorosa
from the Lions’ Gate to the
Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
The first Christians, Jewish and Gentile, were certainly aware of the Hebrew calendar (Acts 2:1; 12:3; 20:6; 27:9; 1 Cor 16:8), but there is no direct evidence that they celebrated any specifically Christian annual festivals. The observance by Christians of non-Jewish annual festivals is believed by some to be an innovation postdating the Apostolic Age. The ecclesiastical historian Socrates Scholasticus (b. 380) attributes the observance of Easter by the church to the perpetuation of its custom, "just as many other customs have been established," stating that neither Jesus nor his Apostles enjoined the keeping of this or any other festival. However, when read in context, this is not a rejection or denigration of the celebration—which, given its currency in Scholasticus’ time would be surprising—but is merely part of a defense of the diverse methods for computing its date. Indeed, although he describes the details of the Easter celebration as deriving from local custom, he insists the feast itself is universally observed.
Perhaps the earliest extant primary source referencing Easter is a mid-2nd century Paschal homily attributed to Melito of Sardis, which characterizes the celebration as a well-established one. Evidence for another kind of annual Christian festival, the commemoration of martyrs, begins to appear at about the same time as evidence for the celebration of Easter. But while martyrs’ "birthdays" were celebrated on fixed dates in the local solar calendar, the date of Easter was fixed by means of the local Jewish lunisolar calendar. This is consistent with the celebration of Easter having entered Christianity during its earliest, Jewish period, but does not leave the question free of doubt.
Third/Fourth-Century Controversy and Council
It is not known how long the Nisan 14 practice continued. But both those who followed the Nisan 14 custom, and those who set Easter to the following Sunday (the Sunday of Unleavened Bread) had in common the custom of consulting their Jewish neighbors to learn when the month of Nisan would fall, and setting their festival accordingly. By the later 3rd century, however, some Christians began to express dissatisfaction with the custom of relying on the Jewish community to determine the date of Easter. The chief complaint was that the Jewish communities sometimes erred in setting Passover to fall before the northern hemisphere spring equinox. Anatolius of Laodicea in the later third century wrote:
Those who place [the first lunar month of the year] in [the twelfth zodiacal sign before the spring equinox] and fix the Paschal fourteenth day accordingly, make a great and indeed an extraordinary mistake.
Peter, bishop of Alexandria (died 312), had a similar complaint
On the fourteenth day of [the month], being accurately observed after the equinox, the ancients celebrated the Passover, according to the divine command. Whereas the men of the present day now celebrate it before the equinox, and that altogether through negligence and error.
The Sardica paschal table confirms these complaints, for it indicates that the Jews of some eastern Mediterranean city (possibly Antioch) fixed Nisan 14 on March 11 (Julian) in A.D. 328, on March 5 in A.D. 334, on March 2 in A.D. 337, and on March 10 in A.D. 339, all well before the spring equinox.
Because of this dissatisfaction with reliance on the Jewish calendar, some Christians began to experiment with independent computations. Others, however, felt that the customary practice of consulting Jews should continue, even if the Jewish computations were in error. A version of the Apostolic Constitutions used by the sect of the Audiani advised:
Do not do your own computations, but instead observe Passover when your brethren from the circumcision do. If they err [in the computation], it is no matter to you…
Two other objections that some Christians may have had to maintaining the custom of consulting the Jewish community in order to determine Easter are implied in Constantine’s letter from the Council of Nicea to the absent bishops:
It appeared an unworthy thing that in the celebration of this most holy feast we should follow the practice of the Jews…For we have it in our power, if we abandon their custom, to prolong the due observance of this ordinance to future ages by a truer order…For their boast is absurd indeed, that it is not in our power without instruction from them to observe these things….Being altogether ignorant of the true adjustment of this question, they sometimes celebrate Passover twice in the same year.
The reference to Passover twice in the same year might refer to the geographical diversity that existed at that time in the Jewish calendar, due in large measure to the breakdown of communications in the Empire. Jews in one city might determine Passover differently from Jews in another city. The reference to the Jewish "boast", and, indeed, the strident anti-Jewish tone of the whole passage, suggests another issue: some Christians thought that it was undignified for Christians to depend on Jews to set the date of a Christian festival.
Date of Easter
Easter and the holidays that are related to it are moveable feasts, in that they do not fall on a fixed date in the Gregorian or Julian calendars (both of which follow the cycle of the sun and the seasons). Instead, the date for Easter is determined on a lunisolar calendar similar to the Hebrew calendar.
In Western Christianity, using the Gregorian calendar, Easter always falls on a Sunday between March 22 and April 25, inclusively. The following day, Easter Monday, is a legal holiday in many countries with predominantly Christian traditions. In Eastern Orthodox Churches — which continue to use the Julian calendar for religious dating — Easter also falls on a Sunday between March 22 and April 25, inclusive, of the Julian calendar. (The Julian calendar is no longer used as the civil calendar of the countries where Eastern Christian traditions predominate.) In terms of the Gregorian calendar, due to the 13 day difference between the calendars between 1900 and 2099, these dates are between April 4 and May 8, inclusive. Among the Oriental Orthodox some churches have changed from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar and the date for Easter as for other fixed and moveable feasts is the same as in the Western Church.
The precise date of Easter has at times been a matter for contention. At the First Council of Nicaea in 325 it was decided that all Christian churches would celebrate Easter on the same day, which would be computed independently of any Jewish calculations to determine the date of Passover. It is however probable (though no contemporary account of the Council’s decisions has survived) that no method of determining the date was specified by the Council. Epiphanius of Salamis wrote in the mid-4th century: …the emperor…convened a council of 318 bishops…in the city of Nicea…They passed certain ecclesiastical canons at the council besides, and at the same time decreed in regard to the Passover that there must be one unanimous concord on the celebration of God’s holy and supremely excellent day. For it was variously observed by people…
Procession in Santiago de Compostela.
The Easter festival is kept in many different ways among Western Christians. The traditional, liturgical observation of Easter, as practised among Roman Catholics and some Lutherans and Anglicans begins on the night of Holy Saturday with the Easter Vigil. This, the most important liturgy of the year, begins in total darkness with the blessing of the Easter fire, the lighting of the large Paschal candle (symbolic of the Risen Christ) and the chanting of the Exultet or Easter Proclamation attributed to Saint Ambrose of Milan. After this service of light, a number of readings from the Old Testament are read; these tell the stories of creation, the sacrifice of Isaac, the crossing of the Red Sea, and the foretold coming of the Messiah. This part of the service climaxes with the singing of the Gloria and the Alleluia and the proclamation of the Gospel of the resurrection. At this time, the lights are brought up and the church bells are rung, according to local custom. A sermon may be preached after the gospel. Then the focus moves from the lectern to the font. Anciently, Easter was considered the ideal time for converts to receive baptism, and this practice continues within Roman Catholicism and the Anglican Communion. Whether there are baptisms at this point or not, it is traditional for the congregation to renew the vows of their baptismal faith. This act is often sealed by the sprinkling of the congregation with holy water from the font. The Catholic sacrament of Confirmation is also celebrated at the Vigil.
The Easter Vigil concludes with the celebration of the Eucharist (known in some traditions as Holy Communion). Certain variations in the Easter Vigil exist: Some churches read the Old Testament lessons before the procession of the Paschal candle, and then read the gospel immediately after the Exsultet. Some churches prefer to keep this vigil very early on the Sunday morning instead of the Saturday night, particularly Protestant churches, to reflect the gospel account of the women coming to the tomb at dawn on the first day of the week. These services are known as the Sunrise service and often occur in outdoor setting such as the church cemetery, yard, or a nearby park.
The first recorded "Sunrise Service" took place in 1732 among the Single Brethren in the Moravian Congregation at Herrnhut, Saxony, in what is now Germany. Following an all-night vigil they went before dawn to the town graveyard, God’s Acre, on the hill above the town, to celebrate the Resurrection among the graves of the departed. This service was repeated the following year by the whole congregation and subsequently spread with the Moravian Missionaries around the world. The most famous "Moravian Sunrise Service" is in the Moravian Settlement Old Salem in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The beautiful setting of the Graveyard, God’s Acre, the music of the Brass Choir numbering 500 pieces, and the simplicity of the service attract thousands of visitors each year and has earned for Winston-Salem the soubriquet "the Easter City."
Additional celebrations are usually offered on Easter Sunday itself. Typically these services follow the usual order of Sunday services in a congregation, but also typically incorporate more highly festive elements. The music of the service, in particular, often displays a highly festive tone; the incorporation of brass instruments (trumpets, etc.) to supplement a congregation’s usual instrumentation is common. Often a congregation’s worship space is decorated with special banners and flowers (such as Easter lilies).
[Please refer to the complete article for more details
about the Easter Celebration around the world.]
Background and biographical information is from Wikipedia articles on:
Brainy Quote: Easter Quotes…