Easter is the celebration of Jesus Christ's rising from the dead (His Resurrection) after His crucifixion which took
place on what we now term Good Friday.
Easter is usually celebrated on the first Sunday after the full moon following the Vernal or Spring Equinox on March
21st. This can be any Sunday between March 22nd and April 25th. It is the most sacred of all the Christian holidays
Christ's return (or rising) from death is called the Resurrection. According to the scriptures, Christ's tomb was
empty three days after His death, which is commemorated on Good Friday. His followers saw Him and talked to Him after
this. Christians therefore believe that they have the hope of a new life (an everlasting life in Heaven) after their
HOW EASTER WAS CELEBRATED IN ANCIENT DAYS?
Although of course Easter is a Christian festival, it has many pre-Christian, Pagan traditions. While the origin
of its name is uncertain, some scholars accept the derivation proposed by the 8th-century English scholar St. Bede,
also know as The Venerable Bede, whose tomb is in the magnificent Durham Cathedral in North-East England.
Bede believed the name probably comes from Eastre, the Anglo-Saxon name of a Teutonic goddess of spring and
fertility. A month was dedicated to her, corresponding to our month of April. Her festival was celebrated on
the day of the vernal equinox and traditions associated with the festival live on in the modern day Easter rabbit,
a symbol of fertility, and in colored Easter eggs. These were originally painted with brilliant colors to represent
the warmth and sunlight of spring, and used in Easter-egg rolling contests or given as gifts.
Easter festival celebrations probably embody a number of other traditions occuring at around the same time.
Most scholars speak of the relationship of Easter to the Jewish festival of Passover, or Pesach in Hebrew.
The Passover celebrates the safe flight of the Israelites out of Egypt and across the Red Sea, lead of course
by Moses, and as described in the Book of Exodus.
At this time Jews remember how the children of Israel left slavery behind them when they left Egypt.
The Israelites had been under the rule of Pharaoh, the King of Egypt, until Moses led them out over 3,000 years ago.
Despite pleas from Moses, every time Pharaoh refused to release the Israelites. He warned that unless
his people were released from slavery and allowed to leave Egypt, God would send terrible plagues into Pharaoh's land.
The ten plagues were blood, frogs, gnats, flies, blight of the livestock, boils, hail, locusts, darkness and the death
of the first born.
God told Moses to tell the Israelites to daub the doors of their houses with lamb's blood so God could 'pass over' their
houses and ensure they were spared this last plague. Thus was born the Passover Festival and because many of the early
Christians were Jews brought up in Hebrew traditions, a link was created between Passover and Easter. The link is
strongest during the Seder, the very special family meal held on the eve of Passover, when during the drinking of
four small glass of wine, an extra glass is poured for the Prophet Elijah. It was Elijah who foretold of the coming
of the Jewish Messiah.
Our Lord Jesus Himself was of course from Jewish parents, and many of the early Christians too were Jewish and raised
in the Hebrew tradition. They regarded Easter as an addition to the Passover festival, which of course is a partly
a commemoration Elijah's prophecy
CHRIST AS A THREAT TO ROME AND THE JEWISH HIGH PRIESTS
As the Gospels tell us, Christ's message of peace, and love of your fellow man, began to worry the Roman
Military Governor (Procurator or Prefect) of Judea (the Holy Land), Pontius Pilate, as He was beginning to
gain quite a following. It also began to worry the Jewish leaders of the time, although they had very different
reasons. Christ was beginning to be thought of as the Jewish Messiah.
As the representative of Roman Emperor Tiberius, Pilate was responsible for tax collection, maintaining the huge
Roman estates in the Holy Land, and maintaining order. It was this latter responsibility which he felt threatened
by the following Christ was beginning to command.
We know from writings at the time of Romans, Philo Judaeus and Flavius Josephus, that Pilate was a cruel man,
brutal in enforcing his will but also probably incompetent, despite ruling for 10 years from 26-26AD.
Brutality at the time was almost a norm, but Pilate was so brutal that he was recalled to Rome after he'd
massacred a group of Samaritans at Mount Gerizim.
The Military governor of Judea had complete judicial authority over all who were not Roman citizens,
but many cases, notably those relating to religious matters, were decided by the Sanhedrin, the Jewish
supreme council and tribunal.
The Gospels tell us that after the Sanhedrin found Jesus guilty of blasphemy, it committed him to Pilate's
Roman court, as it had no power to declare and carry out a death sentence. The blasphemy, the Sanhedrin said,
was because Christ was openly saying He was the Son of God, and therefore the Messiah. Christ stated this under
affirmation to the Jewish High Priests of the Sanhedrin.
Interestingly and rather surprisingly, Pilate refused to approve the blasphemy judgment without investigation;
the Jewish high priests then made other charges against Jesus, and the governor had a private interview with him.
Pilate appears to have been impressed with the dignity and with the frankness of Jesus' answers to his questions
and is said to have tried to save Him. Nevertheless, fear of an uprising in Jerusalem forced Pilate to accede to
the demand of the populace (releasing the criminal Barabas instead of Jesus) and Jesus was then executed by crucifixion.
As the Sabbath (Holiest day of the week) was now approaching, and burials were not permitted, Christ's body was
laid in a new tomb by Joseph of Arimathea. It is thought that this was a tomb that Joseph had prepared for his
own death, but having pleaded with Pilate for the release of Christ's body, he urgently needed a suitable
safe place for the body to be kept until burial after the Sabbath. Assisted by a Roman called Nicodemus,
Joseph bought fine linen in which he wrapped Christ's body as it was brought down from the cross.
At the entrance to the tomb was placed a large bolder.
Nearly three days later, on the Sunday, Mary Magdelene and Mary, Mother of Jesus's disciple, James,
entered the tomb to anoint Christ's body and prepare it for burial. However, upon entering, they were
shocked to find the tomb empty. Christ's body had gone. The two Mary's saw an Angel who announced
that Christ had had resurrected, and assumed life after death.
Naturally, they were very scared, but strangely comforted, especially when they spoke with several of
Christ's disciples, who said Christ had appeared to them, and assured them that He had risen. From that time on,
followers of Christ were assured the hope of life after death, an everlasting life in the Kingdom of Heaven.
The real meaning of Easter had begun.
Roman Emperor Constantine and the real start of the Easter Festival
As we say above, a long time ago people used to celebrate when Spring arrived. People used to believe that changes
in seasons were guided by spirits or gods, and that the blooming of plants and flowers and animals coming out of
their hibernation and the return of birds brought life back to the land. This new life in spring symbolizes the new
life Christians gain because of Jesus's death on the cross and His subsequent resurrection.
In ancient Egypt, Easter was celebrated at the same time Jesus was crucified during the Jewish Passover.
This was so for many years. However, in A.D. 325, the Roman Emperor Constantine (after whom the old Turkish
capital of Constantinople is named) convened the First Council of Nicaea (now called Turkey), which determined
and published the first ever Christian Doctrine, called the Nicene Creed.
One result of the council was an agreement on the date of what they called the "Christian Passover"
(Pascha in Greek) and of course what we call today, Easter in modern English, and the most important feast of
the ecclesiastical calendar. Actually, some Christians in the US especially, still celebrate a Christian
Passover Seder, the special family meal, but with different meanings to that of the Jewish Passover Seder.
The council decided in favor of celebrating the resurrection on the first Sunday after the first full moon
following the vernal equinox, and authorized the Bishop of Alexandria (presumably using the Alexandrian calendar)
to announce annually the exact date to his fellow bishops. Thus the dates for Easter were fixed within a range
of March 22nd and April 25th. Vernal means "spring" and equinox means "equal night". This special Sunday
is the one 24-hour period in spring when both day and night last exactly twelve hours.
WHAT IS LENT?
Lent is the forty days special season prior to Easter Sunday. Sundays are not counted because it is the Lord's
Day and should be celebrated and therefore no fasting. Lent is a period of fasting or doing without certain foods,
praying and repentance. This is to serve as a reminder of the forty days Jesus fasted in the wilderness.
Some countries have celebrations like the Mardi Gras, which means "Fat Tuesday" in French, the day before
Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. It is also called "Carnival" sometimes. While the largest celebration is
probably in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, that in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA, is probably the most spectacular.
WHAT IS THE HOLY WEEK ?
The Holy week is the last week of Lent. It begins with the observance of Palm Sunday, the Sunday
before Easter Sunday. The name, Palm Sunday originated from Jesus's entry in Jerusalem. The crowd
laid carpets of palms on the street for Him. The Last Supper is commemorated on Holy Thursday of special
week (often called Maundy Thursday) and Friday is the anniversary of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ on the cross.
The Lenten season and Holy week end with Easter Sunday (the Resurrection of Jesus Christ).
NAMES OF EASTER
Easter was called Pesach by early Christians. It is the Hebrew name for Passover. Today, the name for
Easter in many cultures in Europe are similar to the word Pesah. For example :
HOW DID EASTER GET ITS NAME ?
The English name "Easter" is much newer. Before Christianity in early England, the people
celebrated the vernal equinox with a feast honoring Eostre, the Pagan goddess of spring.
When the early English Christians wanted others to accept Christianity, they decided to use
the name Easter for this holiday so that it would match the name of the old spring celebration.
This made it more comfortable for other people to accept Christianity. Some believed that
the word Easter came from an early German word "eostarun", meaning dawn and white.
Newly baptized Christians wore white clothes as a sign of their new life on Easter.