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Spring - Primavera - Proljeće
Customs and Traditions

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A History of Easter
by Helen Buttery

The Easter Story

No other story has influenced the course of history as dramatically as the Easter story. From the events over three days, Christianity was born and the course of history changed.

Thursday, April 2, AD 33: The Last Supper

Although the Last Supper occurred one day before the Passover dinner on the Sabbath (Friday), it is recorded that Jesus and his disciples treated it as the holy meal. Eating with his disciples in the upper city of Jerusalem, it is said Jesus behaved peculiarly. For example, he washed his disciples' feet (a slave's task) and spoke quietly about being betrayed. When taking bread and wine, instead of the customary Passover saying Jesus said, "This is my body," and "This is my blood." He then instructed them all to drink - even though drinking blood was sacrileges. He also spoke of "going away."

After supper Jesus took his disciples to Gethsemane. This was his last walk as a free man.

Friday, April 3, AD 33: Good Friday

Although it is believed Jesus foresaw his demise he did not flee, but prayed and waited. Indeed Jesus was correct about being deceived. Judas left supper to tell Caiaphas, the High Priest, where Jesus would be later that night. Judas returned to Gethsemane with Jewish and Roman soldiers signalling Jesus' identity to the soldiers by kissing him. Nine of the disciples fled to Bethany to bring the news of his capture. Peter and John followed the soldiers to learn Jesus' fate. Tried on capital charges of political insurrection and blasphemy (claiming to be the Messiah and to enjoy a position at God's right hand) he was condemned to be crucified.

Made to carry his crossbeam to the site of crucifixion he was too weak and a man was recruited to haul it. Crucifixion was reserved for the lower classes and violent criminals. As foreshadowed by his actions the evening before - washing the disciples feet - Jesus was taking on the form of a slave. Stripped of his clothing, nailed to the crossbeam and hoisted up the vertical shaft he was heard praying: "Father forgive them; for they do not know what the are doing" (Luke 23:24).

At about 3 pm, after approximately five to six hours Jesus "breathed his last" (Luke 23:46; John 19:30). Joseph, a rich man of Arimathea, gained permission to bury Jesus in his own tomb. Since it was the evening of the Sabbath there was no time for a proper burial before the setting of the sun. Jesus' female followers promised to return at the first opportunity to properly anoint the body. Jesus was temporarily laid to rest and the customary disk-shaped stone was rolled across the entrance of the tomb.

Sunday, April 5, AD 33: Easter Sunday

Upon returning to anoint Jesus' body the women found the entrance stone had been rolled away. Inside the tomb was a man who said to the frightened women as they fled, "Do not be alarmed. It is all right. I know you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified. But why do you look for the living among the dead? Come back; see the place where he lay. He is not here, but has risen" (Mark 16:6; Luke 24:5).

The resurrected Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene and later that evening to his disciples. Over the next five weeks there were several encounters with Jesus in Galilee and Jerusalem. His last sighting is recorded on the Mount of Olives where he bestowed on his disciples the task of taking his teachings to the world. He then ascended to heaven and sat on the right of God.

On the Third Day:
The Historicity of Jesus' Resurrection

The belief in Jesus' resurrection ties all Christianity together and is the basis for the New Testament. Still, the Gospel accounts do not in fact describe the resurrection of Jesus. Instead, the resurrection is a supposition, inferred from the circumstances surrounding the Easter story. No question has been debated more than — what happened on the Sunday morning after Jesus was crucified?

It is generally accepted among scholars that:

1. Jesus died by crucifixion.
2. Was buried in a tomb.
3. The tomb was empty a few days later.
4. The disciples believed Jesus appeared to them.

Naturalists cannot accept the legitimacy of the resurrection because they reject supernaturalism. Instead, they hold that every effect is brought about by causes that are part of the natural world order. At the same time, however, it is hard for these thinkers to deny the evidence that supports the four factors surrounding the resurrection postulate.

In June 1968, a burial site dated from the first century AD was discovered one mile north of the old Damascus Gate. Yohanan Ben Ha'galgol was unearthed, a man aged 24 - 28. He was crucified in the same manner described in the Gospels, substantiating this account. The way, for example, the corpse was nailed (through the feet or heels and through the wrists or lower arms) to the cross was akin to how the Gospels described it.

Further evidence was the discovery of the Shroud of Turin, the alleged grave clothes of Jesus. Hidden by the Roman Catholic Church for centuries, modern technology has revealed the garment's history. On the clothes, traces of pollen grains from Palestine from the first century AD were discovered, and one of the coins placed over the victims eyes has been identified as a lepton of Pontius Pilates (minted AD 29-32). This puts the clothing in the correct time period and place to have belonged to Jesus.

It has also been confirmed the man who wore the garment was crucified, was dead and his body was in a state of rigor mortis. Furthermore the man's injuries were identical to the ones recorded in the Gospel. For example, punctures were found on the scalp, evidence of the infamous crown of thorns. In addition there were approximately a dozen wounds that do not normally result from crucifixion, which were shared by the shroud and the account of Jesus' crucifixion. This evidence was contingent on the shroud not being unwrapped. If it had been the bloodstains would not have been intact. Furthermore, the shroud does not contain any bodily decomposition. This supports the theory that Jesus' body passed through the shroud when being resurrected.

Although such evidence is compelling, the resurrection itself lacks proof; there are no eyewitness accounts of the big event. Without witnesses it has been up to critics to explain how the aforementioned facts came to be barring the resurrection of Christ. There have been dozens of alternative theories to account for the facts we do know. The swoon theory supposes Jesus did not actually die on the cross but somehow managed to escape the tomb and appeared to his disciplines before dying.

It has also been speculated that Jesus' followers returned to the wrong tomb. Another suggestion is that those who believe they saw Jesus resurrected suffered from a mass hallucination. These theories seem more farfetched that the resurrection itself. Yet, just because something cannot be shown to be false, does it make it so? Philosophers, historians and Christians have incessantly tried to prove or disprove the resurrection of Christ. As there is no clear answer, the conclusion is a matter of faith.

Easter Customs

Easter marks the resurrection of Jesus for millions of Christians worldwide. Even so, its origin predates Christianity, and these roots remain the source of many of today's Easter traditions.

Like Christmas, Easter's origins are Pagan. The name Easter is derived from the Eastre festival, named after the Pagan goddess of spring. Accordingly, it encompasses the celebration of rebirth and new life. Naturally the rabbit and eggs, symbols of reproduction and fertility, became associated with the celebration.

The source of the Easter egg hunt stems from a tale published in a German book in 1682, where a bunny laid eggs and hid them in the garden. Edible Easter bunnies, made of pastry and sugar, were first made in Germany during the early 1800s.

Decorating eggs has been widely practiced by many different cultures. Eggs were painted with bright colours to represent spring. The Ukrainian Pysanki eggs were intricately decorated by drizzling beeswax on the eggs and then dipping them into several dyes. The most famous and valuable Easter eggs are the Fabergé eggs designed in St. Petersburg by Russian goldsmith Peter Carl Fabergé. Created for the Russian royal family the eggs are lavishly enameled and jeweled. Today they are priceless.

Easter Quick Facts

  • Easter and Pentecost were the only holy days observed by Christians until the fourth century AD.
  • Pascha (Easter) began as a Christian version of Passover. Christ represented the paschal lamb, sacrificed for the sins of the world. In the fourth century it became closer to the modern celebration, praising Jesus' resurrection.
  • Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter, commemorates Jesus' entry into Jerusalem before his execution.
  • Maundy Thursday honours the Last Supper.
  • Easter Sunday pays homage to the resurrection of Jesus. It falls on the first Sunday after the spring Equinox.
  • To pay tribute to the Saxon fertility Goddess an ox was sacrificed for the feast of Eastre. The ox's horns became the symbol for the feast and were carved into the bread. The word bun derives from boun Saxon for "sacred ox." This gave rise to hot cross buns.
  • Lent is the 40-day Christian tradition of spiritual preparation, which includes fasting and repentance. 40 days represents several events in the bible. Forty days is the period that Christ, Moses and Elias spent in the desert. Also, there are traditionally 40 disciplines.
  • The first White House Easter Egg Roll occurred in 1878 on the South Lawn under President Rutherford B. Hayes on the Monday after Easter.

Source:

  • Helen Buttery, "A History of Easter", History Television - http://www.historytelevision.ca/archives/easter/

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Created: Fridayt, April 09, 2004; Last updated, Tuesday, February 19, 2013
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