What God is Saying

Sing to the LORD; praise his name. Each day proclaim the good news that he saves. Publish his glorious deeds among the nations. Tell everyone about the amazing things he does. — Psalm 96:2-3

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Easter Devotion: Easter Symbols and Their Meanings (Day 33)

In today's and the last two days' devotions, we are looking at the symbols of Easter and their meanings.

Date of Easter:
Unlike Christmas, Easter is not celebrated on the same day every year. Like Christmas, which many agree is not celebrated on the actual birth of Jesus, Easter is not celebrated on the exact date of Jesus’ death or resurrection. It is, however, celebrated at the same time of year that Jesus Christ died, the time of the Jewish Passover. The Bible states that Christ celebrated Passover with his disciples. After they ate the Passover feast they went to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus was arrested. He was tried, condemned, and executed that same day. Three days later He rose from the dead.
Early Christians commemorated this event. The earliest recorded date of the celebration of Easter appears in the second century, but we can assume they were celebrating Easter in the church earlier than that. But even then Easter was celebrated on two different days. Jewish Christians kept Passover with a new meaning because Christ died and rose again during the Passover period. Gentile Christians, however, celebrated Easter on the Sunday after Passover because Christ rose from the dead on the first day of the week.
As time went on the confusion surrounding the date to celebrate Easter grew. In A.D. 325 a group of church leaders met in Nicea. The group, called the Council of Nicea, discussed many things including the creation of the Nicene Creed and the date to celebrate Easter. That’s why Easter is now celebrated on the Sunday following the first full moon on or after the Vernal Equinox. Because of this Easter falls between the dates of March 22 and April 25.

Palm Sunday:

On Palm Sunday, one week before Easter, Christians celebrate what is known as Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey surrounded by his disciples and crowds of people who covered the road with articles of clothing and palm branches and waved palm branches while singing and praising God.
Christians traditionally go to church on Palm Sunday where palm branches are given out during the service, remembering the palm branches that were waved when Jesus entered Jerusalem.
In some parts of the world Palm Sunday is known by other names. In parts of Wales Palm Sunday is called Flowering Sunday. On this day flowers are strewn on graves and churchyards. Also in parts of England, Palm Sunday is called Spanish Sunday. This name probably comes from a sweet drink made by children consisting of Spanish licorice shaken up in a bottle of water. Another name for Palm Sunday is Fig Sunday. Those who celebrate Fig Sunday eat figs or fig pudding in remembrance of Christ’s cursing of the fig tree, an event that occurred during Passion Week.

Maundy Thursday:
Maundy Thursday is the Thursday of Holy Week. It represents the day that the Jewish Passover was celebrated.
On that day, Jesus had his last meal with his friends and followers before he was killed. This meal is now know as 'The Last Supper'. At the meal, Jesus and his friends would have followed the Jewish Passover custom of eating roast lamb and bread and drinking red wine. However, Jesus gave the bread and wine a special meaning. When they got to the part of the meal when the bread was eaten and the wine drunk, Jesus said that these would be a symbol of his body and blood to his followers to help them remember that through his death, our sins are forgiven.
Maundy comes from Latin and is the word for 'Command', this is because Jesus commanded his followers to think of him when they ate bread and drank wine. This is very important to Christians and is now remembered in the Christian service known as Communion, Mass or Eucharist. It is practiced on Maundy Thursday.

Good Friday
Good Friday is the day thought by many to be the day that Jesus Christ died on the cross for the sins of the world.
This death of this innocent man, the Son of God, is considered so horrendous that many superstitions have arisen over the years concerning things done on Good Friday. On Good Friday miners would refuse to work fearing that a disaster would occur during the following year. Blacksmiths would not work with nails because of the nails that pierced Christ’s hands and feet. Fishermen considered it an ill-omen to put out to sea on Good Friday. Clothes would not be washed on Good Friday lest they be stained with blood and lest misfortune come upon the wearers. Not all Good Friday superstitions were bad, however. Gardeners would plant their crops on Good Friday to ensure a good harvest. They believed that the soil is redeemed from Satan’s power on Good Friday only so anything planted on that day is blessed.
At one time, in Portugal and in parts of England and Europe as well, people created a straw or wooden effigy of Judas Iscariot, the man who betrayed Jesus, and paraded it through town kicking it, cursing it, and deriding it. They would finally burn the effigy to show their contempt for the man who sent the Son of God to his death.
In Spain people participate in Semana Santa processions. These nightly processions begin on Palm Sunday and end on Good Friday. Representations of Christ, Mary, and the saints are paraded through the streets accompanied by barefooted penitents called Nazarenos wearing pointed black or white hoods with eye holes cut out of them. The procession ends with saetas, mournful songs, lamenting the death of Christ and the grief of His mother.

Attending Church

Because Easter is a celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Christians all over the world attend church on Easter Sunday. For Catholics, many attend an after-midnight Mass on Easter Sunday. Other Christians will attend an Easter Sunrise service as the Bible states "Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance," John 20:1 Still others attend church later in the morning.

New Clothes:
Wearing new clothes for Easter is a custom common among many Christians. It may have originated from the old practice of having newly baptized Christians wear new white clothes for the Easter celebration. Like many other Easter symbols, the new clothes represent the new life offered through the death and Resurrection of Jesus.
Easter promenades of people in new clothes are a tradition in many European towns and villages. A person holding a cross or an Easter candle leads some of these promenades. In New York City, thousands of people stroll in the Easter Parade down Fifth Avenue to show off their new clothes following Easter services.

Easter Sunday is a feast day. Many Christians in Eastern Europe and those of eastern European ancestry in North America have their Easter feast blessed by a priest. The priest may go to the home, or families may take their food to church for the blessing.

Eggs and Rabbits:
Eggs and rabbits are the only familiar symbols unrelated to the Easter story.
Bunnies, Rabbits and Lambs are often associated with Easter because most babies of the animals are born in Spring around Easter time.

In Pagan times, like Eggs, Rabbits and Hares were signs of Good Luck and New Life. The Early Christians took over the meaning of New Life because it helped them remember Jesus being raised from the dead and having New Life.

Easter Bunny:
No one knows for sure what the origin of the Easter Bunny is. Some think the Easter bunny has its roots in European folklore as the sacred beast of the spring-goddess Eostre. This view, however, is not supported by the earliest known references. The Easter bunny, originally known as the Easter hare, was first mentioned in a German book written in the late 16th century. Another German book written in the 17th century further described the Easter hare as the shy, egg-laying creature we know today

The tradition of the Easter hare was brought to the United States by European immigrants where it was eventually changed to the Easter rabbit or Easter bunny. The legend of the Easter bunny has grown, and it continues to grow thanks to the Easter television specials produced by Rankin/Bass. In 1971 Here Comes Peter Cottontail, narrated by Danny Kaye, was produced based on the novel by Priscilla and Otto Friedrich entitled The Easter Bunny That Overslept. This was followed in 1977 by The Easter Bunny Is Coming To Town. In this holiday special, Fred Astaire, reprising his role of Special Delivery (S. D. for short) Kluger, tells the story of the origins of the Easter Bunny.

Much of the above information came from Customs of Easter

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