by Melinda Pillsbury-Foster
Today we celebrate Easter with Easter Bunnies and eggs, which originate from the pagan cultures which began their conversion to Christianity over a thousand years ago. On the day Christ rose from the dead his followers numbered less than 3,000.
By the beginning of the reign of Constantine, they would number 40% of the Roman Empire.
Delving back into the origins of the date and the events surrounding Holy Week, the last week of Lent, bring to our celebrations today a deeper understanding. Focusing on the resurrection, we may forget the history and significance of the day which is the most sacred for Christianity.
By 300 early Christianity was becoming removed from its identification as a sect of Judaism. Most Christians then were not, and never had been, Jewish.
Early Christians, nearly all Jewish, celebrated the day in conjunction with their continuing traditions, linking the day to the Passover and Exodus from Egypt recorded in the Old Testament through the Last Supper and crucifixion, which preceded the resurrection. Seder, with its themes of Slavery and Freedom, Four Cups of wine to be drunk, the Seder Plate, and its focus on Children, would have been very present for those early Easter celebrations, ending with their remembering of the death and resurrection of Christ.
According to the New Testament, Jesus gave the Passover meal a new meaning for his own purposes, which included humanity becoming one in Him.
He prepared himself and the disciples he had gathered for his death in the upper room during the Last Supper, telling those assembled there to remember him, and identifying the matzah and wine as his body, which would soon be sacrificed as his blood was shed. Jesus was referred to as the Passover lamb because his death occurred at about the same time as the Passover lambs were being slain in the temple. Lambs marked for the feast were to be slain, "between the two evenings," that is, at twilight.
His words, reported by the disciples show he understood very clearly what was going to happen, and he embraced it for purposes which went beyond the understanding of his disciples.
When Jesus died Israel was a people whose king was more Roman than Hebrew. It was a small nation, controlled by the most powerful empire on earth. 300 years later Christians, following his example to love one another had conquered the Roman Empire.