The Story of Easter
In the last week of Lent, we remember the tumultuous events that culminated in the death of Jesus: the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday), the Last Supper (Maundy Thursday), and the arrest, trial and execution (Good Friday). The climax of the story occurs the following Sunday, Easter Sunday, the day when we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. The story can be found in the gospels in Matthew 26-28; Mark 14-16; Luke 22-24; John 13-20. The gospel accounts are not identical, but differ slightly. One explanation for this is that the different gospel writers and the Christian communities to which they belonged decided that different details more meaningful or important for their situation.
This year, we shall be following the account in the Gospel of Mark, supplemented by parts of the Gospel of John. These days, scholars believe that the original version of the Gospel of Mark ended at verse 8 of chapter 16 and did not include an account of meeting Jesus after the resurrection. The writer of the gospel certainly believed that Jesus had been resurrected (e.g., 8:31; 9:30-31; 10:32-34). Perhaps Mark omitted stories of the resurrection as a way of asking the reader the question “Will you go to your Galilee to meet Jesus?”
Palm Sunday (29th March)
This was the day when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem. He was hailed by the crowds as the one who had come to release Israel from the Roman imperial yoke and bring in the reign of God on earth, the long-awaited Messiah. The crowds threw palm branches before Jesus as he entered the city as a form of royal welcome (so the name Palm Sunday). The welcome given to Jesus troubled the authorities, and they decided to arrest Jesus.
The week following Palm Sunday is called Holy Week. The original Holy Week included the Jewish festival of Passover (see the story in the gospels). Since the Jewish and Christian traditions use different calendars, these days Passover might not fall in Holy Week.
This service commemorates the Last Supper of Christ with his disciples. The words of Jesus at this meal form the basis for our communion liturgy. According to the gospel accounts, Jesus was arrested after this meal, and tried in the night by the Jewish court and the Roman officials. The death sentence was ordered and carried out by the Romans.
The word Maundy echoes the Latin word for commandment, mandatum, and may have been derived from this word. At the Last Supper, Jesus gave us a new commandment, to love one another (John 13:34). This happened just after Jesus had washed the feet of his disciples, symbolically acting out the new commandment. The Maundy Thursday service often includes a ritual of foot washing. Some people call this Thursday by another name, such as Holy Thursday.
The day when we remember the death of Christ by crucifixion.
The services on this day celebrate the resurrection of Christ. Some Christians celebrate with a dawn service in an open air setting because of the story that women met Jesus at the start of the day at the empty tomb.
Some churches hold an Easter vigil from sunset on Holy Saturday, the day after Good Friday, to sunrise on Sunday. In part, this is based on a tradition that regards the day as beginning at sunset (rather than dawn, or midnight), so the vigil is the first service of Easter to celebrate the resurrection.
Who is to blame?
For centuries most Christians blamed the Jews for the death of Jesus. This led to terrible persecution of Jewish people. It is wrong, however, to put the blame on the whole Jewish nation for 2000 years. If you read the gospel story carefully, you will see that what led to the death of Jesus was the stand he took against “the system”, that is, the patterns of intolerance, exploitation, exclusion, self-interest and violence that operated in the society around him (e.g., Mark 2:15-20; 5:21-43; 12:28-34) At the time, these patterns were part of Roman imperial rule. Similar patterns exist today in our society. Without a doubt, had Jesus been born today, he would have been destroyed as surely as he was in the ancient society.
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