Ask most people ‘What is the most important Christian festival?’ and they are likely to reply “Christmas’, but for most of Christian history, the celebration of Easter was as important if not more important than the celebration of Christmas. In the 19th century, Christmas was gradually commercialized as a secular holiday. The story of a birth, with its emphasis on the family, was a comfortable platform for a secular emphasis on present giving and self-indulgence. Easter is the story of death and resurrection; it is brutal and it is miraculous and despite the chocolate eggs and Easter bunnies the magnitude of its central importance to the Christian faith cannot be obscured by commercial exploitation. The Easter story is why we are Christians. The birth of Jesus is mentioned in only two of the gospels. His crucifixion and resurrection is recounted in all of them. The celebration of Easter is a celebration of the transcendence of death and our belief in the life eternal.
The Easter Story in The Bible
‘On the next day, when the large crowd that had come to the feast, heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and began shouting, ‘Hosanna, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, indeed, the King of Israel. Jesus, finding a young donkey, sat on it, as it is written.’ John 12: 12-14 (NASB)
Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, on Palm Sunday, marks the start of Holy Week. Maundy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper, Matthew 26:17-30, Mark 14:12-25, Luke 22: 7-23. The Last Supper took place on the first day of the Feast of the Passover, which celebrates the freeing of Israel from Egyptian slavery, when the angel of death passed over the homes of the Israelites, which had been marked with lamb’s blood. During the meal, Jesus told his disciples that one of them would betray him and then he broke bread and shared wine with them, as a symbol of his body and blood.
‘And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is being given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup, which is poured out for you, is the new covenant in my blood.’ Luke 22:19-20 (NASB)
Jesus then washed the feet of his disciples, a task normally only undertaken by servants; this symbolic act was to show them how they too must become servants of God.
Following his betrayal by Judas Iscariot, Jesus was arrested and taken before Pontius Pilate, who, finding no fault with Jesus, made a public show of washing his hands of the situation, before condemning him to death.
Good Friday commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, nailed to a cross and hung between two criminals. Matthew 27:1-54, Mark 15:1-40, Luke 23: 1-48, John 19:1-30.
On the third day after his crucifixion, Jesus rose from the dead. Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20.
‘But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb bringing the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.’ Luke 24:1-3 (NASB)
It is the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the promise of salvation that Christians celebrate on Easter Sunday.
The History of Easter Celebration
The earliest recorded celebration of Easter dates back to the second century, but given its centrality to Christianity, it was almost certainly celebrated well before that date. The origins of the word ‘Easter’ are also lost in time and subject to much scholarly discussion. One suggestion is that the word may have come from the old German word ‘eostarum’ meaning ‘dawn’. Deciding on the date on which Easter should be celebrated was the subject of great dispute in the early church and the question was not resolved until the 8th century, when it was decided to use the Jewish practice of using the phases of the moon to determine the timing of holy days. This means that Easter is a ‘moveable feast’; it does not take place at the same time each year, though it must always fall between march 22nd and April 25th. Today, the date of Easter is decided on the basis of some fairly complex calculations, but essentially Easter Sunday is placed on the first Sunday, which takes place on or after the 21st March.
All Christian traditions have their own special way of celebrating Easter; for example, North American Protestants celebrate the resurrection by attending a sunrise service on Easter Sunday.
For children, understanding that the agonizing death of Jesus, nailed to a wooden cross, is a cause for celebration, can be difficult; which is perhaps why the Easter egg, symbol of new life, has become so popular. For the most part the celebration of Easter is unencumbered by the secular distractions of Christmas and so, in a way; it is easier for the Christian to focus on the spiritual importance of this period. You can help children understand the miracle of the resurrection by baking ‘empty tomb’ rolls with them. These delicious sweet treats have a hollow center, which gives you an easy way in to telling them the story of the resurrection. You may feel that there are simply no Christian Easter songs but they are there, though they are much less well known than their Christmas counterparts. ‘Crown Him with Many Crowns’, ‘Easter Hallelujah’, ‘God So Loved the World’ and ‘How Deep the Father’s Love For Us’, are all great Easter hymns and there’s plenty more if you look for them. Above all, Easter is a time when you should join your fellow Christians in church, read the Easter story in your Bible and pray to God in thanks for our salvation through Christ our Lord.