Books, Articles and Essays
by FR. FELIX RAJ, SJ, DIRECTOR | «
Easter - A Celebration Of
By Fr. John Felix Raj.
About 2,015 million Christians
all over the world, belonging to all denominations, celebrated Easter on 11
April, which marked the resurrection of Jesus Christ after his death by
crucifixion and burial in Jerusalem about 2,000 years ago. Easter is victory
over death, a celebration of new life. The Easter holiday is one of the high
points of the Christian religious calendar. Easter ceremonies correspond to the
Passover, the Jewish festival. It symbolizes the ultimate victory of good over
Easter is the time of springtime festivals, a time to welcome back the lilies,
the tulips and the daffodils. It’s a time of new suits, new dresses and new
footwear. It is a day for great rejoicing and merry-making. Feasts are given,
sweets exchanged and processions taken out on this occasion. It is a time of
chocolate bunnies, marshmallow chicks, and coloured eggs!
Prior to 325 AD, Easter was celebrated on different days of the week. In that
year, Emperor Constantine convened the Council of Nicaea and issued the Easter
Rule, which stated that Easter should be celebrated on the first Sunday that
occurs after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox. However, a
caveat must be introduced here. The “full moon” in the rule is the
ecclesiastical full moon, which is defined as the fourteenth day of a tabular
lunation, where day one corresponds to the ecclesiastical New Moon. It does not
always occur on the same date as the astronomical full moon. The ecclesiastical
“vernal equinox” is always on 2 March. Therefore, Easter must be celebrated on a
Sunday between 22 March and April 23.
Lent precedes Easter celebration, a 46-day period of preparation for the Holy
Week during which the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus are
commemorated. It begins on Ash Wednesday; a day when the creation of man is
remembered. Mardi Gras (French for “Fat Tuesday”) is a celebration, sometimes
called “Carnival”, practiced around the world, as the sacrifices of Lent began.
Death is tragic and horrible. Death on the cross is even more horrible. But
Jesus chose to die on the cross, all because of His love for the entire human
family in which He wanted to establish God’s kingdom, the reign of love, peace
and justice. He practiced what he often preached; “there is no greater love than
to lay down one’s life for his friends”. That is why the cross, the symbol of
crucifixion has become not only the symbol of Easter, but also the official
symbol of the Christian faith. Death manifests that the nature of the physical
body is corruptible. “All flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the
flower of the grass. The grass withers, and its flower fall away.” (New
Testament, 1 Peter 1:24). As the Proverbs 31: 30 states, “Charm is deceitful and
beauty is passing”.
But resurrection reveals that life is everlasting. Since the creation of the
universe, life has never ceased to exist but has continued to life. Life has
neither volume nor weight, but it has a great strength. A tree’s roots can break
through rocks and turn it into a great tree. Its life draws water from the
ground and names leaves and fruits, for life is the strength itself. Although
death is strong and it seems invincible, life is stronger than death. For those
who live in the presence of the divine there is no fear of death.
The resurrection is transformation into an incorruptible body that suffers from
neither illnesses, nor injuries, nor even from death. As the three saints of
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego who emerged unscathed from the fiery furnace
burning seven times hotter than it was usually heated (Old Testament, Daniel
3:19-26), resurrected bodies will be utterly strong. Man would become new, so
would everything in the entire universe.
Peter was one of Jesus’ apostles who later becomes the first People of the
Church. Once when Jesus had asked him, “Peter, do you love me?” Peter answered,
Master, I love you, I will go wherever you go I will lay down my life for you”.
The same Peter denied Jesus when the soldiers who were leading Jesus for
crucifixion confronted him on the way to Calvary. Jesus had earlier foretold
Peter that he would deny him three times. Peter realized his weakness, wept
bitterly and repented.
Many Easter traditions around the world are related to the idea of new life and
springtime. Of all the symbols, one of the most recognizable is the egg, symbol
of new life and fertility. Eggs have been associated with Easter for centuries.
Originally, according to historians, eggs were painted bright-symbolic of the
light of spring. They were used in things like rolling contests and exchanged as
gifts. Later they were decorated with fancy designs and exchanged as signs of
love, like valentines.
In Europe, eggs were given to workers at Easter. In Germany, they were given to
children along with other gifts. In Greece, Easter eggs are crimson to honor the
blood of Christ. In parts of Germany, green eggs are given on Maundy Thursday.
Easter eggs in the Ukraine and other Eastern European countries are elaborately
decorated with intricate designs, paper cuttings and painting. Some are called
Ukrainian pysanki are works of art. Designs are made in melted beeswax on a
clean white egg. They are dipped in successive batches of dye and successive
layers of wax are applied to produce intricate designs. In America, hollow
eggshells are decorated with pictures of religious figures and designs. In some
countries the hollow eggs are hung on a tree or shrub, according to Holidays on
American traditions also vary widely and have been influenced by many cultures
in the American salad bowl. There is the Easter Bunny who in some homes brings
candy eggs to children. Easter egg hunts in parks and gardens are popular. Some
families have hot cross buns on Easter; others might have fresh butter molded in
the shape of a lamb.
While for some Easter is a festive celebration of spring and new life, for many
it is an important religious and spiritual celebration of Christ’s victory over
death. The power of Jesus’ resurrection makes man incorruptible and new. It
makes him strong and transforms him into a spiritual being. With the spiritual
power one is able to recognize His footsteps as, “He comes, comes, ever comes,”
The author is vice-principal, St Xavier’s College, Kolkata