Holy Week began this week for the Christian faithul. Area churches offered services beginning with Maundy Thursday or Holy Thursday, recognized by many Christian faiths as the night of the Last Supper, followed by Good Friday services today and Easter services on Sunday.
But like many holidays, Easter means different things to different people.
In today’s society Easter also brings to mind images of the Easter Bunny, colored eggs and plenty of candy. Others think of the Easter season as a time when Winter has finally passed and the days begin to warm toward Summer.
The Easter Story
According to the Bible, Easter signifies that day that Jesus rose from the dead after his brutal crucifixion at Golgatha.
Scripture tells of Jesus’s dead body being placed in a tomb that was then sealed by a large stone. However, when Christ’s followers returned to the gravesite to honor Jesus, the stone had mysteriously been moved. The followers found only the burial shroud that had wrapped the prophet’s body. Scripture goes on to say that Jesus, his body no longer in the tomb, had risen from death in order to save the people of the world.
An angel near the tomb told Christ’s followers that a miracle had taken place.
The Season of Lent
The resurrection, as described in the Bible, is the crescendo of the Christian calendar. The Easter holiday, which defines so much of the Christian faith and beliefs, is therefore the last day celebrated during the forty-day season.
But while Easter may symbolize the “city on the hill” for believers, the road to Easter has many stops along the way.
The Easter season begins with Lent which covers the forty days leading up to Easter Sunday. Lent has historically been a period of Christian preparation for Easter. For many, Lent is a time for penance when sorrow and forgiveness for sins is expressed.
Many Christians often seek to identify with this sorrow through fasting, sometimes giving up a certain type of food, or perhaps not eating for one day per week during the Lenten season. Other Christians may give something up during Lent as acknowledgement to the suffering of Jesus.
While not all Christians abstain during Lent, those that do pattern their behavior after Jesus who prayed and fasted in the wilderness prior to his death on the cross.
Lent begins on Ash Wednesday when many churches hold special services. The tradition of ashes placed on the forehead of worshipers is a reminder to have a humble spirit. Lent continues until Holy Week.
Palm Sunday and Good Friday
Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday, which celebrates Christ’s entry into Jerusalem. Tradition says that people celebrated Christ’s arrival by spreading palm branches on the ground before him.
Good Friday is said to be the day that Jesus died on the cross. Many Christians believe that the crucifixion occurred between the hours of noon and 3pm. Many churches still honor this tradition by holding services during the same timeframe in order to promote reflection about the three hours of darkness as Jesus suffered on the cross.
The resurrection of Jesus is celebrated on Easter Sunday. Warming Spring weather traditionally leads many churches to hold the celebratory services outdoors, often at sunrise.
For Christians, the Easter service is not a time to dwell on death and sorrow, but rather on the miracle that Jesus rose from the dead as prophesized in the Bible. The miracle of renewed life inspires Christians to renew their belief in hope, faith and love through the belief that Jesus died willingly in order to save the human race.
Easter is also considered a “white” holiday because newly baptized church members often wear white clothes at the Easter service observances.
Easter’s and the Season of Spring.
While Easter may symbolize the renewal of life through Christ for Christians, the season also offers a reminder of new life for non-Christians as well. New plant growth, the return of birds and butterflies as well as warmer weather has long-prompted people of all faiths to associate the season with new life and renewal.
The feast day of Easter was originally a pagan celebration of renewal and rebirth.
Originally celebrated in the early spring when pagans honored the Saxon goddess Eastre, as the early missionaries converted the Saxons to Christianity the holiday was merged into the Christian calendar and became known as Easter.
The meaning of Easter was also slowly changed to reflect the new Christian orientation.
And the Easter Bunnyâ€¦
According to Wikipedia, Easter eggs seem to have originated in Alsace and the Upper Rhineland regions when ruled by the Holy Roman Empire. The practice of coloring eggs was first recorded in southwestern Germany in the 1500s. The first edible Easter Eggs were created in Germany during the early 19th century and were made of pastry and sugar.
According to legend, the Saxon goddess Eastre found a wounded bird at a winter camp. To save the bird from death, the goddess turned the bird into a doe while preserving its ability to lay eggs.
From this legend the tradition of a rabbit delivering eggs as gifts to children was born.
The Easter Bunny is said to have been introduced to the United States by German settlers who arrived in the Pennsylvania Dutch country during the 18th century. The arrival of the “Oster Hawse”, the German term for the Easter Bunny, was considered one of childhood’s greatest pleasures, similar to the arrival of Kris Kringle on Christmas Eve.
According to the tradition, children would build brightly colored nests, often made from caps and bonnets, to secret areas of the home. The “Oster Hawse” would then lay brightly colored eggs in the nest provided that the children had been good throughout the previous year.
As the Easter Bunny tradition spread, the nest has become the modern, manufactured Easter basket along with the tradition of hiding baskets.