Easter is the most important day in the Christian calendar besides Christmas. Commemorating the resurrection of Jesus Christ three days after his death on the cross on Good Friday, Christendom has different takes on this essential event in human existence. Nevertheless, each one ultimately points to the apostle Paul’s pronouncement in 1 Corinthians 15:17: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless.”
Indeed the account on the Lord’s resurrection is the cornerstone of the Christian belief, for every hope of mortality is hinged on this wonderful story that had never happened before in human history.
Mark Chapter 16 (New International Reader’s Version) details the circumstances of the Resurrection.
“The Sabbath day ended. Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices. They were going to use them for Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, they were on their way to the tomb. It was just after sunrise. 3 They asked each other, ‘Who will roll the stone away from the entrance to the tomb?’
“4 Then they looked up and saw that the stone had been rolled away. The stone was very large. 5 They entered the tomb. As they did, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe. He was sitting on the right side. They were alarmed.
“6 ‘Don’t be alarmed,’ he said. ‘You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. But he has risen! He is not here! See the place where they had put him. 7 Go! Tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him. It will be just as he told you.’
“8 The women were shaking and confused. They went out and ran away from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. 9 Jesus rose from the dead early on the first day of the week. He appeared first to Mary Magdalene. He had driven seven demons out of her. 10 She went and told those who had been with him. She found them crying. They were very sad. 11 They heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him. But they did not believe it.
“12 After that, Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them. This happened while they were walking out in the country. 13 The two returned and told the others about it. But the others did not believe them either. 14 Later Jesus appeared to the 11 disciples as they were eating. He spoke firmly to them because they had no faith. They would not believe those who had seen him after he rose from the dead.
“15 He said to them, ‘Go into all the world. Preach the good news to everyone. 16 Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who does not believe will be punished. 17 Here are the miraculous signs that those who believe will do. In my name they will drive out demons. They will speak in languages they had not known before. 18 They will pick up snakes with their hands. And when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all. They will place their hands on sick people. And the people will get well.
“19 When the Lord Jesus finished speaking to them, he was taken up into heaven. He sat down at the right hand of God. 20 Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere. The Lord worked with them. And he backed up his word by the signs that went with it.”
Traditions and biblical interpretation of this mystery of faith may be different from one Christian denomination to another, but they certainly assert the same conclusion: That Jesus died for mankind and by virtue of his conquest of death, everyone will receive the gift of resurrection too (1 Corinthians 15:22).
There are non-theologians to this day who will argue that Easter comes from pagan origins. They say the event was named after the Teutonic (German) goddess Eastre or Eostre or the Babylonian-Assyrian fertility goddess Ishtar and the Phoenician counterpart, Astarte.
But in footnote of the mid-19th century edition of Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History, translator Isaac Boyle indicates that Easter is of Saxon (English) origin, “and precisely the same import with its German cognate Ostern, derived from the old Teutonic form of auferstehn or auferstehung which is translated as resurrection.
The annual spring celebration of the resurrection of Jesus was not called Easter until centuries after Christians began celebrating it. For them, the word “Easter” was thought to have come from the words dawn or east (the time and place of the rising sun), which describe the promise of new light and new life brought to humanity by the new-risen Son.
The most prominent and most widely practiced Easter celebration around the world is that of the Catholic faithful, who begin its anticipation on Ash Wednesday [the beginning of Lent], through the next 40 days until Palm Sunday to remind humans of their mortality—“From dust you came, to dust you shall return.”
On Holy Thursday, Catholics follow liturgical practices that include the re-enactment of the Last Supper during Mass, and where 12 chosen parishioners represent the 12 Apostles for the washing of feet by the priest presider. This is done to follow Jesus’ example in humility and serving his fellowmen.
In the Philippines, the day also marks the practice of “Visita Iglesia” – the tradition of visiting seven or 14 churches as panata.
While Mass is not celebrated on Good Friday, a procession of the Santo Entierro or the Dead Christ is held on this day. Religious figures carried during the procession are further covered in black as a symbol of mourning for the death of the Lord. The Divine Mercy Novena also begins on this day.
Black Saturday is considered special day during the Holy Week with the Easter vigil beginning late at night. An hours-long celebration in anticipation of the resurrection of Christ, it is also a time for new Catholics (converted adults) to be baptized. The priest wears white for this Mass, as symbol of Jesus’ victory over death.
An important part of Black Saturday’s rites is the lighting of the Paschal candle, the first candle to be lit during the vigil to represent the light of Christ coming into the world.
Pope Benedict XVI expounded on the importance of the Paschal candle during his Easter Vigil in 2012, “ This is a light that lives from sacrifice. The candle shines inasmuch as it is burnt up. It gives a light, inasmuch as it gives itself. Thus the Church presents most beautifully the paschal mystery of Christ, who gives himself and so bestows the great light.”
At dawn on Easter Sunday, the event starts with the salubong or encounter presupposing the risen Christ meets Mother Mary to proclaim his resurrection.
Catholics and Cultures, a worldwide organization of Catholic countries, explains the Filipino tradition, “The statue of Mary, covered in a black mourning dress, is carried by the women of the town along one route, with statues of the saints who had been with Jesus before and after his death.
“On the other hand, the statue of the Risen Christ is carried by men along a different route. Crowds join both processions, where the destination is an outdoor stage where the images of Jesus and Mary meet.
“On stage, a ritual of singing and dancing marks the meeting of the images. Young women, chosen each year for this honor, have the leading roles in these ceremonies. One woman, in a role as tenyenta, dances a dance of thanksgiving and welcome. Another woman as kapitana sings recounting the role of Mary in Jesus’ life.
“A giant paper banana blossom hangs over the stage just above where Mary’s statue is placed, and when it opens it reveals a young girl dressed as an angel in white, then removes the Mary’s black veil of sorrow. Participants join in the celebration of the Resurrection and the end of Mary’s sorrow.”
Aglipays or Independiente
A spin-off of the Roman Catholic Church, the Aglipayan Church –officially called the Philippine Independent Church or Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) when it was established in 1902 – follows the same practices as its forebears. They hold the salubong very early on Easter Sunday, preceded by the Vigil Mass held on the evening of Black Saturday.
Named after its first supreme head, Father Gregorio Aglipay, the group proclaimed its break from the Catholic Church by the members of the Union Obrera Democratica Filipina or the Democratic Workers Union of the Philippines due to abuses and maltreatment of Filipinos by the Spanish friars.
Take note that the Aglipayan Chuch does not adhere to Roman Catholic dictum of “infallibility of the Pope.” In fact, it rejects the spiritual authority of the head of the Vatican.
Formally called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints but nicknamed the Mormon Church, its members who are called Mormons, celebrate Easter not just to commemorate the Resurrection of Christ but also to observe the universal resurrection that the Apostle Paul asserted in 1 Corinthians 15:20 to 22: “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” (King James Version)
What makes this Christian denomination unique is their use of “another scripture” besides the Bible—this is the Book of Mormon, an account of people of Jewish descent that inhabited the Western Hemisphere. The book in gold plates—said to have been compiled by Prophet Mormon and delivered to Joseph Smith in 1823 by his son Moroni, who was resurrected and became an angel—was translated and first published in 1830.
The Book of Mormon corroborates the testimony of the apostles that Jesus Christ died and rose from the dead, and that he is the Savior who will come to judge both the living and the dead in an appointed time, which only God the Father knows. It further contains religious writings of civilizations in ancient America between 2200 BC and AD 421, including an eyewitness account of the ministry of Jesus Christ on the American continent following his resurrection in Jerusalem.
The Latter-Day Saints (LDS) official website (www.lds.org) explains how Easter is celebrated among them.
“Latter-Day Saints conduct Easter Sunday services but do not follow the religious observances of Ash Wednesday, Lent, or Holy Week. LDS Easter services traditionally review New Testament and Book of Mormon accounts of Christ’s crucifixion, His Resurrection, and surrounding events.
“For these services, chapels are often decorated with white lilies and other symbols of life. Ward [equivalent to a parish]choirs frequently present Easter cantatas, and congregations sing Easter hymns. As at services on other Sundays, the emblems of the sacrament are passed to the congregation.
“Some LDS families include Easter bunnies and eggs in their family festivities for the delight of children. Such traditions are not officially discouraged, though they have no religious significance to members. The focus of the holiday is religious.
“For Latter-Day Saints, Easter is a celebration of the promise of eternal life through Christ. They share the conviction of Job [in the Old Testament]: ‘For I know that my redeemer lives, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God’.” (Job 19:25-26)
On July 27, 1914, Felix Manalo – upheld by members to be the last messenger of God – registered Iglesia Ni
Cristo (INC) with the Philippine government and deemed it as an act of divine providence in fulfilment of biblical prophecy. The “angel coming from the East,” concurrent with the coming of the seventh seal marking the end of days as written in the Book of Revelation, is believed to be Manalo.
INC does not celebrate Easter nor observe Lent and Christmas. Their belief is anchored on the dictum that customs associated with these Christian holy days and holidays are of pagan origin.
Expounding on its doctrine, INC adheres to the misconception that Easter was derived from the forgotten dawn goddess Eastre, same as the customs held during the period are of pagan element, like the blessing of eggs (and the activity of egg-hunting), meat and other food that were forbidden during Lent.
Unique as a Filipino-founded church, INC does not acquiesce to the godhood or divinity of Jesus Christ. For them, the central figure of Christianity is a holy and special man. They believe that he is the Son of God and that God made him Lord and Savior, but he is not God—he is only the mediator of man to God.
However, they believe that Christ’s resurrection is an assertion that the dead will live again.
“Those in Christ will rise first to be with Him forever in the Holy City [Jerusalem]; those who are not of Christ will rise a thousand years after the first resurrection to be cast into the lake of fire,” encapsulates their conviction.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW) is another group whose assertion of their “truthfulness” is their non-adherence to traditional Christian beliefs and customs like Easter and Christmas—which according to Watchtower and Bible Tract Society (publisher of their own Bible edition and books and magazines containing their doctrines)—is the correct interpretation of the Holy Scriptures.
First, they believe that Jehovah is the name of the only true God, and Jesus Christ is His only begotten Son who sacrificed his life to redeem humanity from the original sin inherited from Adam.
For them, the most important event during the period is the “Memorial” or Last Supper, commemorating the date of the Jewish Passover when Jesus gathered his disciples in an upper room and broke bread with them.
As explained in jw.org, the Last Supper is the only anniversary that the Lord commanded his disciples to celebrate, quoting Luke 22:19, “And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’”
The date, under the Jewish calendar, occurred on the evening of Nisan 14, 33 CE. This year, it fell on March 31. Also on this occasion, JWs believe that those who have been chosen as part of the special 144,000 (as written in the Book of Revelation) partake of the bread symbolizing the body of Christ (which is called sacrament or communion in other denominations).
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An Easter hymn
One of the most remarkable hymns about the Resurrection was written by Samuel Medley (1738-1799) with music by Lewis D. Edwards. Titled “I Know That My Redeemer Lives,” the hymn was included in the first LDS hymnbook published in 1835.
I know that my Redeemer lives
What comfort this sweet sentence gives!
He lives, he lives, who once was dead
He lives, my ever-living Head
He lives to bless me with his love
He lives to plead for me above
He lives my hungry soul to feed
He lives to bless in time of need.
He lives to grant me rich supply
He lives to guide me with his eye
He lives to comfort me when faint
He lives to hear my soul’s complaint
He lives to silence all my fears
He lives to wipe away my tears
He lives to calm my troubled heart
He lives all blessings to impart.
He lives, my kind, wise heav’nly Friend
He lives and loves me to the end
He lives, and while he lives, I’ll sing
He lives, my Prophet, Priest, and King
He lives and grants me daily breath
He lives, and I shall conquer death
He lives my mansion to prepare
He lives to bring me safely there.
He lives! All glory to his name!
He lives, my Savior still the same
Oh. sweet the joy this sentence gives:
“I know that my Redeemer lives!”
He lives! All glory to his name!
He lives, my Savior still the same
Oh, sweet the joy this sentence gives:
“I know that my Redeemer lives!”