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Easter Sunday

Resurrection - Annibale Carracci, 1593

20 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. 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.

11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).

17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

Easter, or Resurrection Sunday (Also known as Pascha) is the Sunday that commemorates the resurrection of Jesus Christ after his crucifixion and burial and the culmination and apex of the Passion of Jesus. Easter Sunday is the third day of the Easter Triduum and marks the beginning of Eastertide (which ends on Pentecost Sunday).

In both Latin and Greek, the word Πάσχα or Pascha is derived from the Aramaic פסחא cognate to the Hebrew פֶּסַח which was originally used to denote the festival of Passover. In nearly all languages except the Germanic languages (including English), the day is known by names derived out of the Greek pascha. Saint Paul the Apostle applied the term to Christ in his letter to the Corinthians but it is unlikely that the Christians there had no previously heard this word linked to Christ and his death and resurrection.

"Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed"
-Saint Paul 1 Corinthians 5:7

Piero della Francesca’s The Resurrection

Early Christians tied the date of the celebration of Jesus's resurrection to Passover from the very beginning, with direct evidence of a fully formed Christian festival of Pascha in the mid second century with a Paschal homily from Saint Melito of Sardis (Bishop of Sardis). In his homily, Saint Melito refers to the celebration as one that is already well known and established among Christians. A transcript and translation of this homily can be found here. The ending of his homily reads:

100. But he arose from the dead and mounted up to the heights of heaven. When the Lord had clothed himself with humanity, and had suffered for the sake of the sufferer, and had been bound for the sake of the imprisoned, and had been judged for the sake of the condemned, and buried for the sake of the one who was buried,

101. he rose up from the dead, and cried aloud with this voice: Who is he who contends with me? Let him stand in opposition to me. I set the condemned man free; I gave the dead man life; I raised up the one who had been entombed.

102. Who is my opponent? I, he says, am the Christ. I am the one who destroyed death, and triumphed over the enemy, and trampled Hades under foot, and bound the strong one, and carried off man to the heights of heaven, I, he says, am the Christ.

103. Therefore, come, all families of men, you who have been befouled with sins, and receive forgiveness for your sins. I am your forgiveness, I am the passover of your salvation, I am the lamb which was sacrificed for you, I am your ransom, I am your light, I am your saviour, I am your resurrection, I am your king, I am leading you up to the heights of heaven, I will show you the eternal Father, I will raise you up by my right hand.

104. This is the one who made the heavens and the earth, and who in the beginning created man, who was proclaimed through the law and prophets, who became human via the virgin, who was hanged upon a tree, who was buried in the earth, who was resurrected from the dead, and who ascended to the heights of heaven, who sits at the right hand of the Father, who has authority to judge and to save everything, through whom the Father created everything from the beginning of the world to the end of the age.

105. This is the alpha and the omega. This is the beginning and the end–an indescribable beginning and an incomprehensible end. This is the Christ. This is the king. This is Jesus. This is the general. This is the Lord. This is the one who rose up from the dead. This is the one who sits at the right hand of the Father. He bears the Father and is borne by the Father, to whom be the glory and the power forever. Amen.

The Disciples Peter and John Running to the Sepulchre on the Morning of the Resurrection - Eugene Burnand

The date of Easter moves from year to year and is determined by a lunisolar calendar that closely resembles the Hebrew calendar. The process of determining the correct route for identifying the date is one of great controversy and debate in the early church. These differences in opinion continue to this date - the Roman Catholic (and most of Western Christianity) utilize the Gregorian calendar to determine the date while the Eastern Orthodox utilizes the Julian calendar. Because the Julian Calendar's full moon falls several days after the astronomical full moon, the Eastern Orthodox celebrations often fall several days later than the Western Church's celebration each year. The first controversy began with the so called "Quartodeciman" controversy. According to Eusebius, Saint Polycarp debated with Saint Anicetus on Quartodeciman - the practicing of celebrating Easter on Nisan 14 of the Hebrew calendar. Saint Polycarp was Quartodeciman, including the Roman province where he was Bishop while Saint Anticetus was not. The Roman and Alexandrian churches continued the Lenten fast until the Sunday following in an effort to associate Easter with Sunday. While the two did not come to an agreement, neither felt the matter serious or grave enough to cause a schism.

Resurrection of Christ and Women at the Tomb by Fra Angelico

Following the martyrdom of Saint Anticetus however, the situation was thrust back to center stage. Saint Victor, the Bishop of Rome immediately following Saint Anticetus, brought the issue back as a central issue of the Church and sought excommunication for all Quartodeciman. Saint Irenaeus intervened after several synods of Bishops were gathered and the excommunication rescinded. The end result of these synods was that Easter should be celebrated on Sunday. The situation was finally and formally resolved at the First Council of Nicea in 325 AD. Epiphanius of Salamis wrote:

the emperor ... convened a council of 318 bishops ... in the city of Nicea ... They passed certain ecclesiastical canons at the council besides, and at the same time decreed in regard to the Passover that there must be one unanimous concord on the celebration of God's holy and supremely excellent day. For it was variously observed by people

Following the council's decision, the Alexandrian church worked out a computational system that became the standard and norm throughout the church. The Alexandrian rules were adopted in the West with the tables of Dionysius Exiguus in 525 AD and there were no continuing discrepancies between the churches (Roman and Alexandrian) as both churches now used identical tables. The current table of dates of Easter from 2001-2025 can be found below (from wikipedia):

“Doubting Thomas” by Caravaggio

In Roman Catholicism, the celebration of Easter falls directly after Lent. In the traditional liturgical celebration, a Easter Vigil is held on Holy Saturday. In many parishes and Christian denominations there is also a sunrise service. This sunrise service, held outdoors, celebrates the resurrection of Christ and the tomb being found empty. In many countries the day is considered a public holiday, though because the day is traditionally not a work day (Sunday), many countries also grant Easter Monday as a public holiday.

Pope Francis at the Easter Vigil

The tradition of Easter eggs can be traced back to Mesopotamia and the very early Christian communities there who stained eggs red to show the blood shed by Christ at his crucifixion. In Poland and other Slavic countries, a tradition of richly colored and detailed eggs call pysanka is extremely popular and gave rise to the House of Faberge. The Easter bunny tradition first originated in Germany and closely resembles Santa Clause giving gifts to children.


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