Easter Traditions

By Rev. David Wilson Rogers |  April 20, 2014

            Jesus arose from the dead, lived and walked with the disciples for 40 additional days, and then ascended to God the Father ten days before the Jewish celebration of Pentecost when the Spirit poured forth and gave birth to this mysterious faith we call Christianity.
            From its very earliest days, the Christians worked faithfully to center their time together in ways that recalled their shared unity in Jesus Christ—the One in whom they had pledged their faith and life. Yet they were also devoutly Jewish. Initially, none of the Christians saw their faith in Jesus Christ as anything but a genuine expression of their Jewish faith. Yet, over time and for a multitude of reasons, the two religious traditions parted ways and the Christians increasingly identified themselves as distinctively Christian.
            At the heart of Christian ritual worship was a special gathering every Sunday that highlighted critical aspects of their shared faith in Jesus Christ. Sunday was chosen as the day of gathering for celebration and feasting because it was the day of the week when Jesus arose from the grave, therefore making Sunday a weekly celebration of resurrection.
            The weekly gatherings were fundamentally days of joy. The sermons preached, scriptures read, and prayers offered were all celebratory in nature as they all proclaimed the hope, love, and grace that flows from the divine mystery that is the living Jesus. Other days of the week, predominantly Wednesday and Friday, were set aside for the more somber, serious, and often challenging rituals of faith. Sunday—resurrection day—was clearly reserved for joyous celebration and unrestrained praise to God for the miracle of everlasting life. 
            In conjunction with these early weekly gatherings, the church would also host a shared meal. Resembling a traditional church pot-luck lunch, the Christians from all over the area would bring food to share and culminate the time of worship and praise with a bounteous feast—a feast that would eventually become the modern-day observance of Holy Communion in much of Christian tradition.
            A key aspect, however, was that the feasts, worship, and sacred time of praise was open only to those who had been baptized into the faith. Taking the act of Christian Baptism extremely seriously, an early custom developed to have candidates for baptism spend substantial time preparing, studying, and praying to prepare for an annual day of baptism—a day that was loosely tied to the Jewish Passover and would eventually become to be known as the most holy day of the year—Easter.
            Less than 300 years after the first Easter Sunday, the church tradition of holding an annual celebration of Christ’s triumph over the grave was passed by the Council of Nicaea and the annual observance became an essential part of the cycles and seasons of the vibrant, active church.
Over the centuries that followed, specific, regional, and uniquely local varieties of commemorating the annual celebration have developed. In the United States, the secular customs of seeking eggs, mystical rabbits, and spring fashions are all a strange (and not universally understood) combination of ancient pagan and Christian customs that merged across the European continent between a thousand and 1500 years ago.
Regardless of how Easter is celebrated in all its wonderful expressions of faith, joy, hope, and love, the occasion remains at the heart of our faith as Christians. Without the empty tomb, everything Jesus taught and did loses its power. We are because Christ lives! That is good news!