Sunday, April 4, 2010

360 Sunday Extra: Easter

Today, 2,000 years after it occurred, there remains something about the Easter story which captivates believer and skeptic alike. The culmination of the “greatest story ever told” unfolds across the pages of time like the climax of a great novel.

Jesus Christ died on a cross on a Friday almost two thousand years ago. Christians believe that on the following Sunday, Christ rose from the dead and, in doing so, proved that He is the Son of God.

Christians celebrate the resurrection of the Son of God each year between March 22nd and April 25th (the first Sunday after the vernal equinox). Religious celebrations include family gatherings and special Easter church services.

The Coming Of The Bunnies

In olden times, Christian monks were very good at explaining their religion to those who hadn't heard of God or Jesus. They almost always took symbols of significance of the people they were teaching and used those symbols to teach about God.

The timing of Easter was such that it coincided with the spring festivals of many pagan religions. (In northern Europe, the goddess of spring was Eostre - some people say that Easter may have even gotten its name from this goddess).

These spring festivals celebrated the wakening of the world after spring. Luckily, this "awakening" went very well with the monks teaching of Jesus' resurrection! The ideas of the rebirth of spring were merged with the Christian teachings of Jesus resurrection to form the Easter holiday most of us know today.

Easter Traditions

Easter traditions differ around the world. Here are just a few of them.

Children in the United States and Canada say the Easter bunny or rabbit brings eggs at Easter. In Germany and England, they say the hare brings them. The hare looks like a rabbit, but it's larger, with longer ears and legs.

In Australia, rabbits are quite a nuisance as they are not native to the land. For this reason, there is an attempt being made to dub the Bilby as the the chief egg bringer of the land. For lack of a better description, the Bilby looks a bit like a cross between a mouse and a rabbit.

In Italy, Belgium and France, children say Easter eggs are brought by the church bells. There, church bells do not ring from Good Friday until Easter Sunday. Because of this, people say that the bells have flown off to Rome. As the bells fly back home for Easter, they drop colored eggs for boys and girls to find.

But there are more foods than eggs to enjoy on Easter!

People in Russia eat an Easter bread that is full of plump white raisins and tastes like cake. In some countries of Eastern Europe, people enjoy an Easter Cake called babka. It's shaped like a skirt -- babka means "little old woman". Easter cakes in Italy are shaped like a rabbit, which is a symbol of birth and new life and many other countries make cookies and cakes shaped like a lamb, a symbol of Jesus. Hot cross buns are another traditional Easter bread with icing in the shape of a cross.

The Promise of Easter Is An Audacious One

For reasons having more to do with modern secular culture and commerce than religious significance, Christmas is more elaborately celebrated. But for believing Christians, Easter is the centerpiece of the faith. It marks the improbable miracle that God’s messenger in human form was killed by the agents of the powers of this world, yet rose from the dead. In so doing, he triumphed not only over the grave but revealed the pretensions of the powerful of this world.

The execution of Jesus reveals the utter arbitrariness of political power. As both Pilate and Herod acknowledged, in different versions of the story, Jesus had done nothing to deserve death, under the laws of the Jews or of the Romans who occupied and ruled the Holy Land at the time. Yet the authorities were uneasy about this man and saw him as a threat to their power.

When questioned he gave only short and cryptic answers and often no answer at all, sending the message that the powers of this world have no right to demand answers from those over whom they claim authority and that the righteous are not required to answer to earthly authority.

So the uneasy authorities decided that such impertinence must be silenced once and for all. But if Jesus really rose from the dead after being duly executed, then he stands as a challenge not only to the Roman Empire and the religious authorities of that day, but to every empire from the beginning of time down to the present day, to every mere human being who claims the right to rule over another human being, thus usurping the authority of God.

The authorities of the time were right to be uneasy, but they had no idea how profound the challenge to the powers and principalities of this world would be.

The overturning of the existing order continued. In a society that was intensely patriarchal, the Gospels say that it was women who discovered the empty tomb, were told of the Resurrection and were instructed to tell the other followers the good news. This upset yet again the worldly understanding of proper authority.

The promise of Easter is that all who believe can not only share in the promise of eventual resurrection, but share already in a transformed life that amounts to living in the Kingdom of Heaven, whatever their sorrows and travails in this earthly pilgrimage. The promise is more audacious even than most who profess Christianity can fully understand.

Easter Memories & Thoughts

We invited you to share your Easter stories and memories. Over the 2,000 emails we received, we are posting the following for now; the rest will appear throughout the month of April each Sunday.

"I remember my first childhood Easter Sunday. We didn't have much because of the Great Depression, but oh how we looked forward to getting on our Easter best, going to church, followed by a big lunch, and hunting Easter eggs. I loved those brightly colored eggs. I always was there to help my little sisters get as much as they could!"

Eve B., St. Louis, Missouri

"Easter for us has always been like a spring Christmas with all the family sitting down to lunch after church - both sets of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, my brothers and sisters, mommy and daddy. We even invited stragglers from church. It was always so wonderful to see everyone but so sad for the day to end. But at least we has our memories and lots and lots of beautiful, tasty Easter eggs and candy."

John & Sarah Howell, Nashville, Tennessee

"I will always remember the food and the family, but we were always mindful of the reason for Easter - mom made sure of that. Before our lunch, before hunting for eggs, before another big meal of leftovers in the evening, we prayed. There was a sense of neighborhood and family back then as we all saw each other in church, then had lunch and finally the Big Hunt dad use to call it. Everyone is about all passed away now, but those of us still around remember many Easter Sundays to cherish forever."

K. T., Louisville, Kentucky

"The first thing my bother and I would do Easter Sunday morning is wake up our parents and have a big pancake breakfast. Then it was off to get dressed and ready to have our pictures taken before Sunday School. We couldn't wait for church to end as we sat in the pews looking and smiling at the others kids with their parents because we knew what was coming. Our church's egg hunt WAS the event of Easter. Right after church, we kids would all gather in a grassy area with large shade trees, had a brief prayer (that no one would get hurt during the hunt!) and off we went with basket in hand. There were wrapped chocolate covered eggs, ornately painted hard-boiled eggs, chocolate rabbits. One time we got so sick!"

T. W., Orlando, Florida

Happy Easter!

1 comment:

VoteNovember2008 said...

Here comes Peter cottontail hopping down the bunny trail, hippity, hoppity, Easter's on it's way! VN8