Easter – What and Why

Easter, the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, is the most holy day of the church year.  Without Easter, Christmas would have no meaning.  Without Easter, there would be no Christian church, as the resurrection is at the very center of our faith.

Because Easter is the most important festival, the season goes from Easter Sunday to Pentecost Sunday – 50 days, a week of Sundays.  The church considers this entire time as a single celebration of Easter so they are Sundays of Easter rather than Sundays after Easter.  Each Sunday is a celebration of Jesus’ resurrection.

Easter is referred to as a “moveable feast” because it does not fall on a set date each year.  The date is calculated as the first Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox; therefore, it can be observed anywhere between March 22 and April 25.

There are several theories as to the origin of the word “Easter.”   One is that it came from the Anglo-Saxon Eostre, the Germanic goddess of spring and new birth.  Another possibility is the Norse eostur, eastur, or ostara, which meant “the season of the growing sun” or “the season of new birth.”  The word east comes from these same root words.

The liturgical color for Easter is white, symbolizing purity, holiness, and virtue, as well as the joy of the resurrection.  As white is also the traditional color for baptism, this is a connection to our new life in Christ through our own baptism.  With Jesus’ death and resurrection, the old life is left behind and a new life in Christ is begun.  Gold can also be used, signifying that Easter is the “queen of feasts,” unique in the church year.  Alleluia makes a joyful return to worship – in the hymns and the liturgy, and as we proclaim each Sunday, “Alleluia!  Christ is risen.  Christ is risen indeed.  Alleluia!”  The Paschal candle, blessed at the Easter Vigil, burns near the altar throughout the season to signify the presence of the risen Christ.

Churches are gloriously decorated with lilies on Easter Sunday.  These trumpet-shaped white flowers were brought to the United States from Japan by a tourist in 1875.  It is said that the flower retells the resurrection story with its life cycle.  The bulb buried in the ground represents the tomb of Jesus and the fragrant flowers which grow from the bulb symbolize his life after death.  The bright white color signifies the purity of Jesus and the joy of the resurrection while the trumpet-shaped blossoms bring to mind Gabriel’s trumpet call to rebirth and new life.