Last Updated: March 2017
Easter Sunday is the day of rejoicing that follows the sorrow of Good Friday and Holy Saturday. For most Christians, Easter is the celebration of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. It bears witness to God’s enduring promise of eternal life. As the climax of Holy Week, Easter is a time of hope and assurance. It is humanity’s turning point from destruction to glory and salvation.
Easter and the Resurrection
What is the Real Meaning of Easter?
For the first three centuries, the Church celebrated the real meaning of Easter in connection with the Jewish Passover. The Passover began on the evening of the full moon in the Jewish month of Nisan, which coincided with the Spring Equinox.
As the crucifixion occurred on the first day of the feast, early Christians found a scriptural correlation between Jesus and the sacrificial lamb. The Apostle Paul refers to this in his first letter to the Corinthian Church where he states: “For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” (1 Corinthians 5:7-8) The flexibility of Passover allowed the early Church to celebrate Christ’s resurrection any day of the week on which the third day of the festival happened to fall.
As the Western Church began to emerge, its celebration of Easter coincided with the first Sunday after the first full moon of spring, which caused some contention with the Eastern Church. The matter came to the attention of the Emperor Constantine, who convened the Council of Nicaea in AD 325. The council ruled that all churches would celebrate Easter on the first Sunday after the first full moon of the Spring Equinox. This became the standard for the Church under the Julian calendar until 1582 when Pope Gregory XIII revised the calendar and the Easter tables by adding the leap-year rule.
What are Easter and the Resurrection?
The name “Easter” did not become associated with the resurrection of Christ until the second century. It most likely comes from the ancient Saxon spring festival called Ostern. Some Easter customs also originate from ancient spring festivals. The tradition of the Easter Bunny has its origins with the Saxons, who would adorn their villages with rabbits carved from wood. The giving of brightly colored eggs was a custom in the Middle East during the spring. In many cultures, the egg symbolized rebirth or renewal.
Easter is a time of rejoicing for Christians. The Roman Catholic, Anglican and Greek Orthodox Churches commemorate the resurrection of Christ with the Easter Mass, which includes special prayers, litanies, psalms and hymns. In some Churches throughout Spain, Easter customs include special processions to honor the Virgin Mary. Protestant Churches have Easter services that include Communion, special sermons and sometimes Easter plays. Many Evangelical Churches have sunrise services that include much singing and rejoicing.
The purest meaning of Easter is the celebration of the resurrection or rising of Christ to heaven, which is the foundation of Christianity. Easter Sunday reminds all Christians of their heavenly calling and of the open door for relationship with God through Jesus, His Son. (By David Katski)
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