Every spring, Christians around the world celebrated the holiday of Easter. It is one of the most important holidays on the Christian calender. It is celebrated around the world, including in Israel, the Holy Land. But it is NOT about the Easter Bunny, painting and hunting for eggs, and chocolate. What are Christians really celebrating? What is the true meaning of Easter?
In order to understand Easter, we must talk about the Holy Week leading up to that day.
The preceding Sunday is called Palm Sunday.
- Jesus arrives to the Mount of Olives right outside the walls of Jerusalem. He is not alone as he has come with his disciples.
- They decide to set up camp and sleep at the Mount of Olives while visiting Jerusalem. While they prepare for the night, Jesus tells two disciples to go into the opposite town and bring him a donkey (Mark 11:1-4).
- Jesus then rides this donkey into Jerusalem to visit the Temple and address the Jewish leaders who work there. As he heads into the city, followers living in Jerusalem lay down clothes and palm tree branches for Jesus’ entrance.
- “Palm Sunday” derives its name from those palm branches and to this day, Christians travel to Jerusalem, to carry palm branches on this day. After arriving to the Temple, he confronts the Jewish priests of corrupting the religion of Judaism. Jesus than returns to the Mount of Olives.
In the following days, several things happen. The first and most important event happens while Jesus is initially on his way into Jerusalem. He stops on the way and begins to weep for he prophesizes that the holy Temple and his beloved Jerusalem will be destroyed. This event is commemorated at the Dominos Fleviet Church.
The Last Supper
The Thursday evening following is known as “Maundy Thursday.” Historically, it was the first night of Passover, when Jesus and his disciples share a Seder, a festive meal that we know as, “The Last Supper.”
- This Seder is Jesus’ last supper as a free man. It is on this occassion that Jesus creates the practice of drinking wine to remember his blood and eating bread to remember his body. During the meal he also predicts that his disciple Peter will deny knowing Jesus three times before the night is through.
- The meal takes place on Mount Zion.
- After dinner Jesus and his disciples return to the Mount of Olives. Upon returning, Jesus takes three of his disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. The disciples sit to the side witness while Jesus prays to God the Father for comfort.
- Jesus knows that in the days to come he is going to be killed and this is frightening and so seeks God’s strength to support him through his trails.
- After praying, Jesus and the three disciples return to where the rest are preparing to sleep. Jewish authorities come to arrest Jesus for blasphemy. It is on Maundy Thursday night that the Jewish authorities take Jesus away and question him all night. What’s the final verdict? Guilty of blasphemy.
- Jesus is handed over to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate on Friday morning.
Jesus is deemed guilty when he admits his belief that he is the King of the Jews.
He will be forced to carry the cross on which he will be crucified along the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem, ending at the outskirts of Jerusalem where its cemetary was located. There he is nailed to the cross, tortured and dies Friday evening right before Shabbat, the Jewish Day of Rest, starts. He is buried in Joseph of Arimathea’s burial plot.
When the sun rises on Sunday morning something spectacular happens. This event is what gives rise to Easter Sunday.
Easter Sunday, the Sunday after Jesus is crucified, commemorates the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Mary Magdalene and other followers come to Jesus’ burial place, seeking comfort, only to find the rock in front of the tomb moved, and no one inside! They then remember what Jesus had said before: he will rise after his crucifixion. Easter Sunday remembers Jesus’ resurrection.
How Christians Celebrate
How Christians celebrate Easter today offers a modern answer to what is the meaning of Easter. Christian celebrations very depending what denomination the believer is a part of (Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Protestantism).
The preparatory celebrations of Easter commence with the Great Lent that begins on Clean Monday and ends on Lazarus Saturday. It is a forty-day period of self- reflection and fasting. Clean Monday refers to cleaning oneself from sinful attitudes. Lazarus Saturday occurs eight days before Easter Sunday. The next day begins the Holy Week which is discussed above.
The first celebrations of Easter (the most important services of the ecclesiastical year) with:
- Paschal Matins,
- Paschal Hours,
- And the Paschal Divine Liturgy.
Paschal Matins is an early morning prayer services, and the conclusion to an all- night prayer vigil. Believers chant Paschal Hours service to focus on the joy of Easter. It is also a communion (also called Eucharist) service.
It is traditional for Orthodox Christians to greet one another with the phrase “Christ is Risen!” The response is “Truly, He is Risen!” This phrase in Greek, “Christos Anesti” is also a traditional hymn sung during the season.
The Easter Egg
Eggs in the Orthodox tradition are a symbol of new life. It was an early symbol of the regeneration of believers. During Easter, Christians dye eggs red to represent the blood of Jesus that was shed during his crucifixion. Foods vary among Eastern Orthodox communities.
Catholics also hold an Easter Vigil on Saturday night, marking the beginning of the holiday of Easter. It is an important tradition for Catholics to take communion during Easter, for it is during Jesus’ Last Supper he creates this practice and commands his followers to take part.
Protestants celebrate Easter with a service in the morning but no Easter Vigil the proceeding night.
Other popular traditions include painting Easter eggs, which resembles new life, just has Jesus has a new life when he is resurrected after his crucifixion. The practice of rolling eggs in an “Easter Egg Roll” is popular as a symbolic re-enactment of the followers rolling away the stone from the Christ’s tomb.
The Easter Bunny
While in some countries in Eastern Europe foxes and cuckoo birds are associated with the holiday, they have very little competition in the United States with the Easter Bunny. It is not exactly clear where the tradition of the Easter Bunny comes from. Some say it is because they symbolize fertility (due to their energetic breeding).
It is also thought that the Easter bunny arrived to the U.S. with German immigrants in the 1700’s. When settling in Pennsylvania, they brought their tradition of an egg- laying hare (or rabbit) called Osterhase or Oschter Haws.
The children would make nests for the rabbit to lay its colored eggs in. With time, this custom spread across the country, expanding the deliveries to including chocolate and other candy and gifts. The nests were later replaced with decorated baskets. Sometimes children also left out carrots in case the Easter Bunny got hungry from hopping around the country.
How do Israeli Christians Celebrate Easter? What is the meaning of easter
The practice of services is the same in Israel. However, many believers want to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, commemorating a the most significant and powerful part of his life. The Mount of Olives is filled with pilgrims on Palm Sunday. Believers walk along the Via Dolorosa on Good Friday in memory of Jesus walking the same path.
Orthodox and Catholics lead masses and processions in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. There are special night vigil and morning masses. Protestants participate in a sunrise service at the Garden Tomb, their commemoration of the sites.
Religious leaders help guide believers through these sites from a spiritual perspective. During the Easter season, you will see the monks, priests, and other leaders with groups from around the world. But while the religious leaders address the spiritual needs of Christians coming to the Holy Land, many who come will use the time to see other parts of the country as well. Some will drive up north to see sites relative to Jesus’ life and activity in the Galilee. Some will hike the Jesus Trail, a 65- kilometer hiking trail that stretches from Nazareth to Capernaum. All of it depends on the interests of the group.
Check out some of those sites on my Facebook Page.
Why is it Important? What is the meaning of easter
Easter is important both religiously and historically. It is important on a religious level as Jesus’ resurrection proves the truth of his prophecy.
- Jesus was truly the Son of God,
- Jesus’ teachings and prophecy are divine and derive from God,
- When Jesus returns in the Second Coming, the world will enter the Messianic Era.
Historically, speaking, it is a pivotal part of one of the world’s largest monotheistic religions. So if you want to understand Christianity, you must understand Easter.
To all my Christian blog readers, I hope you all had a meaning holiday, and I wish you a reflective, successful year until next Easter!
What is the meaning of Easter? by Samantha Israel Tours