Easter is the major, most significant, most meaningful and most profound festival of the Christian faith. It is central to our faith. Without Easter, there would be no Christianity. Consequently, in this short article, we cannot give a complete description of all it is. Libraries of books are given over to describing Easter, its meaning and its importance to Christians. So, we can’t pretend to make a successful stab at completeness.
What do we do?
Theologically, Easter begins on the Saturday evening before Easter Sunday — Easter Eve. However, in practical terms, it starts earlier that week, depending on how individual church communities view the festival, and how they each engage with the meaning and the story behind it. At St John’s, we follow a period of worship and commemoration known as the Triduum. This begins on the Thursday before Easter, Maundy Thursday, with a ritualised washing of parishioners’ feet by the priest, followed by an extended period of silent reflection (interspersed with ratings and chants) until Midnight when everyone leaves in silence from a darkened church. This is very atmospheric, and is intended to provide a time of quiet preparation for the ritual Good Friday vigils which commemorate and remind us of the death of Christ on the cross. At St John’s we generally hold a period of quiet vigil beginning around lunch time and concluding at 3pm when, once more, the church is left in silence.
Saturday, Easter Eve, is traditionally seen as a period of prayer and reflection. Sometimes called ‘Low Saturday’, there is no worship until after sunset, at which time Easter begins with a ‘Service of Light’, when a new Paschal Candle is blessed and lit from a new fire, kindled outside the church. A solemn ceremony then follows as the light is brought into the church, and the church is made ready for the next day, Easter morning, when we celebrate the risen Christ in our lives and give thanks for all God does for us, through his death and resurrection.
That ends the Triduum, and the week after Easter in known as Easter Week.
OK: that’s what we do. The question is, “Why?”
Easter is fundamental to the Christian faith because it is the time when we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus was crucified on Good Friday, and was dead and buried, but ‘on the third day’ rose from the dead and subsequently ascended to heaven.
Why is this important? Because of the way it gives us all hope, because of the message it describes of God never giving up on us, and because of the meaning it has for the whole world. Christians believe that God came to walk among us as Jesus Christ, and that he was executed by humanity because that was the only way that God could bring us all to new life. The message of new life requires both death and resurrection. Easter is a glorious and beautiful day. But it came at a cost: of God on the cross. Good Friday and Easter Sunday are all part of the same thing: God’s own sacrifice for us all. Easter shows us that we can be born again, and live as disciples of a resurrected God.