Celebrating Easter

Virtually all Christians mark Easter (the Society of Friends or Quakers is one of a few exceptions).  The ways they celebrate it vary:

The week leading up to Easter Sunday is often called Holy Week and Christians focus more deeply than usual on their faith.

It begins with Palm Sunday.  Services on this day, seven days before Easter, recall Jesus entering Jerusalem triumphantly, cheered by crowds as he rode a donkey.  Palm leaves were waved on that occasion, and are still significant in church worship, often twisted into the shape of a cross.

Four days later is Maundy Thursday, when Jesus’ followers remember that on the night before he died he asked them to remember him by eating bread and drinking wine.  Maundy comes from the Latin word for commandment, recalling Jesus’ command that day that Christians should love each other in the same way that he loves them.

The next day is Good Friday (called Holy Friday in countries with large numbers of Roman Catholic Christians).  This is the most solemn day of the Christian year because it is used to recall the appalling death of Jesus.  Although it is a public holiday it is increasingly difficult to distinguish it from other days of the year, so many churches hold processions or open air services in public places to draw attention to its significance.  Inside churches there are meditative services in a bare setting.  It may be that the day was originally known as God Friday, and the name changed as language developed.  Elsewhere in the world it is called Great Friday or Holy Friday.

Easter Sunday recalls the day when Jesus’ followers discovered that his tomb was empty.  It is the most important and joyful day of the Christian year.  Jubilant music is performed, and flowers and banners fill the churches with colour.  The centuries-old cry, ‘Alleluia!  Christ is risen!’ is met with the response, ‘He is risen indeed.  Alleluia!’

In the first Christian centuries Easter Sunday was the day on which new converts to Christianity were baptised.  This tradition continues in some places.  More recent, but popular, ways of celebrating include Easter vigils late on Saturday night, which begin in darkness and culminate in the lighting of a fire in the early hours of Easter morning.  Since the 18th century there has been a tradition of gathering on the highest local hill for a service of praise to God as the sun rises.

What the Bible says about it

An extract from the Bible:

What I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.  After that, he appeared to more than five hundred.

Where to find it:

1 Corinthians 15:3-6

About these words:

From a letter written by Paul, one of the first Christian leaders, to a church in Corinth, about twenty years after the events.  Paul had not met Jesus in person, so he was passing on what Christians widely believed about him at that time.

And they said…

A E Housman, poet, 1859-1936:

If in that Syrian garden, ages slain,
You sleep, and know not you are dead in vain,
Nor even in dreams behold how dark and bright
Ascends in smoke and fire by day and night
The hate you died to quench and could but fan,
Sleep well and see no morning, son of man.

But if, the grave rent and the stone rolled by,
At the right hand of majesty on high
You sit, and sitting so remember yet
Your tears, your agony and bloody sweat,
Your cross and passion and the life you gave,
Bow hither out of heaven, and see, and save.