The history of Easter: Why we celebrate


Easter is a holiday that celebrates the resurrection of Jesus. Easter Sunday culminates the weeklong events that led up to the crucifixion of Jesus. This year, Easter Sunday falls on Sunday, April 17. This article will review the history of Easter.

The historical context of Easter begins in the gospel of Mark. “At key points, Mark shows his cards. His book describes “the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). From that first verse, Mark’s presentation of Jesus’ identity has two parts. After the book’s first half, Peter nails the first bit: “You are the Christ” (Mark 8:29). After the book’s second half, a Roman centurion cannot deny the second bit: “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39). Together, these pieces drive to a singular conclusion: Jesus is the appointed King of Heaven and Earth. He is the Christ, the Messiah, the one anointed to take up God’s cause on Earth. And He is God’s Son, the one in close fellowship with the Father, appointed to represent God’s interests in the well-being of His people,” as stated by knowableword.com.

In addition to the gospel of Mark, other gospels that discuss the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection include Matthew, Luke and John. Despite some minor differences, major details are all consistent within these four gospels.  Author Cholee Clay outlined the consistencies of events in an article titled, “Comparing the Gospel Accounts of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ” and wrote, “The verbiage may vary slightly, however the order of events and how they happened are exactly the same.” Clay concluded the following were fundamental events that have no contradictions among the four gospels.

• Jesus died and was buried.

• Several women left for the tomb very early in the morning, including Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James.

• They found the stone rolled away and the tomb empty of Jesus’ body.

• An angel spoke to them.

• The women fled from the tomb.

• The disciples were not prepared for his death and were confused about his Resurrection, what it meant, and the words Mary spoke to them.

The events leading up to Easter Sunday are known as Holy Week, which occurred on Sunday, April 10 through Saturday, April 16 this year. Below are the dates of Holy Week for the year 2022, along with their significance.

• Palm Sunday, April 10: celebrates Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem

• Maundy Thursday, April 14: commemorates the foot washing and Last Supper of Jesus with the Apostles

• Good Friday, April 15: commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus and His death at Calvary

• Holy Saturday, April 16: commemorates Jesus’ body resting in the tomb

• Easter Sunday, April 17: celebrates the resurrection of Jesus

Easter is not only seen as a holy event and many celebrate Easter with the traditions of the Easter Bunny and egg hunts. Easter has over time developed traditions outside the context of what is written in the Bible, much like the Christmas holiday that is often represented by Santa Claus. According to information obtained from brittanica.com, the use of Easter eggs was first recorded in the 13th century. During that time, it is noted that eggs were not to be eaten during Holy Week so people began to decorate the eggs obtained from their chickens. It is reported that the egg itself had become a symbol of resurrection by the egg symbolizing new life emerging from the shell.

Easter egg hunts became very popular among children in the United States. According to brittanica.com, First Lady Lucy Hayes, wife of Pres. Rutherford B. Hayes, is often credited with sponsoring the first annual Easter egg roll (an event where children and their parents were invited to roll their eggs on the Monday following Easter) on the White House lawn in 1878. That year the event was moved to the White House from the grounds of the U.S. Capitol Building, where large numbers of children had gathered beginning in the early 1870s to roll their eggs and play on Easter Monday. Members of Congress were dismayed by the large crowds on Capitol Hill and feared that the foot traffic was damaging the grounds. By 1876, Congress and Pres. Ulysses S. Grant passed a law that forbade the practice of egg rolling on Capitol Hill.

The Easter bunny arose in the 17th century but did not become popular until the 19th century. The belief came to be that the Easter bunny would lay the eggs and decorate and hide them. This led to the common practice of Easter egg hunts and Easter bunny customs we have today. However, it is reported that other countries believe in something besides the Easter bunny. Switzerland adopted the idea that the cuckoo provides the Easter eggs while Westphalia, a northern region of Germany adopted that a fox provides the Easter eggs.

No matter what beliefs, Easter appears to be a holiday in which families get together and break bread. The children also laugh and play collecting eggs and toys. And those that do practice faith participate fully in church events and prayer.

Crosswalk.com provided a short prayer for Holy Week that is as follows:

“Father, Holy Week reminds us how intentional You are about loving us. You came to save the lost, You sent Your only Son to be sacrificed so we could be in Your presence. Jesus, thank You for making a way for us. May we come to know fully and never forget the lengths You went to save us. Bring the story of each day to life for us as we walk through this week. Move our hearts closer to You and direct our lives to bring honor to You. Jesus, help us to follow Your new command of love. Help us to understand and receive Your love and teach us how to love the people in our lives well. Bless this week, Father, and may many new souls come to receive Your grace. In Jesus’ Holy Name, Amen.”

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