True Easter: A Theology and History
What's the Big Deal?
Easter. For Non-Christians (and admittedly a lot of Christians as well), it is a time of chocolate, bunnies, and eggs. For those who know the "true meaning of Easter", however, it is the most joyful time of the year. In the Christian Faith, Easter is the culmination of everything that we believe in and the most important celebration of the year--yes, even more important than Christmas.
Therefore, this hub aims to show not only the theological significance of Easter and its practices, but also to give [links to and] an historic account of Easter, so that the reader may come to a fuller appreciation of what Easter has been from the beginning of its practice.
The primary focus of Easter is on the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Church holds this as the highest celebration of the year, and one Popesaid that even Christmas is only celebrated in preparation for Easter.
So why is Easter and the Resurrection so important to Christians? The Resurrection is the culmination of everything Jesus taught--that the Kingdom of God really is at hand, and can be received by us if we follow Christ. It shows that Jesus has forgiven sins and conquered death. Finally, it proves Jesus' claims, that he is indeed the Son of God, can usher us into eternal life, and really is the savior and messiah.
Like I said, the Resurrection prefigures the resurrection of every Christian, and as such Easter is a time of intense Joy and Hope. It is why all of the Easter season we exclaim Alleluia as much as we can. It shows us that at the Eschaton we will have Glorified Bodies, but even until then we will live forever united to God.
The Fulfillment of Prophecy
Easter is also the fulfillment of prophecies throughout the Bible, both about Jesus himself and about salvation and God's love.
The fact that Jesus rose fulfills prophecies about him being the messiah. For example, John 2:19-21 shows Jesus giving prophecy about his resurrection. There are also prophecies of resurrection in the Old Testament books of Ezekiel, Isaiah, Daniel, and 2 Maccabees. While these passages are not specifically Messianic, they do point to a resurrection of the dead that Christ both fulfills and prefigures for us. Paul seems to affirm this in 1 Cor 15:3-4 when he states that Christ rose according to scripture.
Besides specific prophecies about Jesus himself, the resurrection of Christ also fulfills salvation history. While covenant theology is too big to be entirely covered in this hub, the importance of Easter is best seen through the Old Testament event of the Passover. Passover happened as the last plague of Egypt when Moses led the Jews out of slavery. The Angel of Death descended upon the land to kill the first born of every family. Moses told the Jews that, in order for the Angel to "pass over" them and their firstborns, they had to 1) sacrifice an unblemished lamb, 2) eat the meat of the lamb, and 3) spread the blood of the lamb on the post and lintel of the door.
This is why we call Jesus the "Lamb of God". Jesus, an innocent and sinless person was sacrificed, his blood spread on the wood of the cross, and now we eat his Flesh through the Eucharist. Thus by his cross Jesus fulfills the first two parts of Passover, and by his resurrection and giving of the Eucharist he fulfills the third. This is why his death is meaningless without his resurrection, for if he had not risen we could not have the Eucharist, and death would not "pass over" us. Also, the Hebrew word for "Passover" is "Pesach" which is translated to Greek and Latin as "Pascha", and then English as "Easter". This is why we call Jesus the "Paschal Lamb" and also shows that Easter, in its essence, is actually a celebration of the fulfillment of the Jewish Passover.
The History of the Celebration
Acts 12:4 gives us evidence of the almost universally accepted belief that the early disciples and Apostles of Christ celebrated Easter in some fashion (at least as a type of Passover), but besides that we have no historical mention of it until the late second century, in what is known as the "Quartodeciman Controversy". This was the debate over when exactly Easter should be celebrated. Many churches, especially those in the East (Bishop Polycarp the most well known) believed that Easter should be celebrated on the day of passover. These were the Quartodecimans. Others however, including the Bishop of Rome (Anicetus) and Alexandria believed Easter should be celebrated on Sunday, the day of the Lord's Resurrection. The Issue wasn't resolved until the Council of Nicaea in 325, when the date of Easter was fixed as the first Sunday after the full moon following the northern hemisphere's vernal equinox.
Historically, in the Catholic Church, the three days before Easter are called the "triduum" (Lt. 3 days). It consists of Holy Thursday (The Last Supper and Washing of the Feet), Good Friday (The Death of Christ), and Holy Saturday (Easter Vigil). It is on Holy Saturday that people seeking to be members of the Church complete their catachesis and are Baptized, Confirmed, and receive First Eucharist. This is an ancient practice of the Church that can be traced back to some of the writings of the early fathers.
It's About Joy!
Easter is meant to be the most joyous time of the ecclesiastical year. It follows Lent, a 40 day time of penance and fasting in preparation for the death of Christ, and the Easter season runs 50 days, ending with the celebration of Pentecost. It is joyful because we celebrate the conquering of death, the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies, and the hope that we ourselves have of being resurrected on the last day. It is for this very reason that, during Easter, we say Alleluia as much as possible!
© 2012 rdlang05