Easter has been celebrated since the beginning of Christianity. In fact, many consider it to be the oldest and most important Christian holiday since the redemption of mankind through the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ is the cornerstone of the Christian faith. Churches in Cochran, like all Christian churches around the world, will be providing worship experiences throughout the week before Easter. Click here to see a list of worship services in Cochran.
When is Easter?
It is easy enough in modern times for us to look on our pre-printed or electronic calendars and answer that question, but the question has not always been so easy to answer. In the earliest years of Christianity there was controversy over when Christians should celebrate Easter.
Many Jewish Christians followed the tradition of keeping Easter in sync with the Jewish celebration of Passover. However, since Passover was not always celebrated on a Thursday, Easter was not always on Sunday, and many in the early church felt Easter should always be celebrated on Sunday since the resurrection of Christ occurred on a Sunday. Christians at Antioch celebrated Easter on the first Sunday after the Jewish Passover. Roman Christians and Christians in Alexandria, however, celebrated Easter on the First Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox. This latter method is still the method the Christian church uses today in order to determine the date of Easter Sunday.
Like Christmas, Easter is not just one day of celebration. The Easter fast of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter Sunday. During the Lenten season Christians also celebrate Palm Sunday; Holy, or Maundy, Thursday; Good Friday; and Easter Sunday.
Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday
While most Americans are familiar with Mardi Gras because of the famous Mardi Gras parades and parties in New Orleans, Louisiana, we are not as familiar with the religious significance of this day. Mardi Gras is also known as Shrove Tuesday or Fat Tuesday. Shrove is the past tense of the archaic verb shrive meaning to impose penance and/or to grant absolution. Shrove Tuesday is the last feast day before the fast of Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday. The name Fat Tuesday comes from the tradition of overindulgence on the last day before the Lenten fast.
Ash Wednesday is exactly 40 days before Easter every year. Many protestant Christian denominations do not celebrate Ash Wednesday. This is a service of fasting and prayer that ends with attendees receiving a cross of ashes on their foreheads as a sign of penance and a symbol of grief. In the Catholic Church, the ashes are obtained from the burning of palm branches used in the celebration of Palm Sunday the previous year.
Like Advent, Lent is a time of fasting and prayer in which the faithful prepare their hearts for the celebration of Easter. Unlike Advent, Lent is often a time when many faithful believers sacrifice something important to them in honor of the sacrifice made by Christ on the cross.
Palm Sunday is the Sunday before Easter. It is a celebration of Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem the Sunday before his crucifixion. Biblical accounts tell of his entrance into Jerusalem on a donkey and of the cheering crowds who welcomed him by laying palm branches on the road before him; hence the name Palm Sunday.
Maundy is a word derived from the Latin mandatum, or mandate. It references the new commandment that Christ gave his disciples in John 13:34. Maundy is also a noun which refers to the observance of washing the feet of the poor as Christ washed the feet of his disciples after the Passover supper they shared in the upper room. In the United Kingdom, Maundy refers to the practice of the monarch distributing a specially minted coin often called Maundy money because it is distributed on Maundy Thursday. Most protestant churches in the U.S. do not observe Maundy Thursday. However, at least two churches in Cochran will be having Maundy Thursday services this year.
Good Friday is not an official Holiday in the United States like it is in many other countries, but some churches do hold services on this day. Good may seem a strange adjective to describe this day in the Christian tradition – the day of Christ’s death. However, Christians believe that it is only by the death of Christ on the cross that mankind can through repentance receive forgiveness for sin and thereby restore the broken relationship between God and man. So, with that in mind, perhaps good is actually too mild a word to describe the Friday celebration of Christ’s crucifixion.
After the somber services of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, Easter Sunday services are celebratory. Triumphant hymns and sermons recounting the glory, mystery, and awe surrounding the resurrection are celebrated in every Christian church around the world. The entire community of believers gathers in celebration of their risen savior on this the most holy of days in the Christian church. Here in Cochran as around the world Easter Sunday will see many in our community rising early to celebrate this most Holy of Days.
So What About the Eggs?
Many believe that the tradition of the Easter egg relates back to ancient pagan cultures that viewed eggs as a rign of fertitlity and rebirth. Certainly the idea of rebirth fits symbolically with the holiday as Chirstains believe that Christ was resurrected on Easter and his followers are said to be reborn spiritually. However, there is also another story of how eggs became part of the Easter tradition.
In Medieval times, when the Lenten fast was strict and Christians were not allowed to eat meat or dairy products for the 40 days of Lent, many eggs went to waste. However, toward the end of the fast, people were able to boil the eggs and preserve them to be eaten later. The boiled eggs became a much anticipated treat for people who had not eaten meat or dairy products for 40 days. The tradition of coloring the eggs was added later.