Worship services in churches point to Easter
Easter Sunday is a socially significant time in our society — many families come together to celebrate as families, children engage in Easter egg hunts, and many individuals lay aside their winter clothing and dress in new spring styles.
Easter also comes at a time of the year when signs of new growth and life in nature are visible everywhere — shrubs, trees and plants are sprouting forth new leaves.
For Christian people, Easter is important because it commemorates the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. All of Christian faith hinges on the resurrection. St Paul tells us that “without Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, our faith is void.” (1 Cor. 15:17)
The date of Easter is different every year. This is determined by what is known as the “Gregorian calendar,” which is the standard international calendar for civil use. This calendar had its origins in the Council of Nicaea, convened by the Emperor Constantine, in 325 C.E. Using this Calendar, Easter occurs between March 21 and April 25.
The date of Easter determines many religious ceremonial days — Palm Sunday, Holy or Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, etc. For Christian churches, Palm Sunday was celebrated last Sunday, April 14.
In the final days of the earthly life of Jesus, events of major importance occurred. Most of these events are liturgically celebrated in Christian churches.
As a faithful Jew, Jesus celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples (Luke 22:15-16).
Judas, one of his disciples, left from the Passover meal to betray Him. Jesus was arrested and charged with claiming to be the Messiah, was found guilty in the court of Pontius Pilate, and was condemned to death by crucifixion (Matt. 27:26).
On the day that has come to be known for Christians as “Good Friday,” Jesus was crucified on the hill of Calvary outside the gates of the city of Jerusalem.
On the third day after his death, He appeared to some of his disciples (Mark 16:6), thereby fulfilling his promise that God would raise Him on the third day.
This belief of Jesus’ resurrection remains the central tenet of the Christian faith. To understand the expression “third day after his death” one has to realize the Hebrew way of expressing time was different from our way of expressing time. That means the day of Jesus’ death (Friday) was counted as the first day, Saturday as the second day, and Sunday as the third day.
Christian churches ceremonially mark the events leading to the Resurrection in different ways. The Roman Catholic Church celebrates Holy Thursday as the “Day of the Lord’s Supper,” on Thursday, April 18, this year, the central purpose is to recall and relive the spirit, and meaning of Jesus’ Last Supper (Passover) with his disciples. Good Friday service recalls the journey of Jesus to Calvary and His ignominious death by crucifixion on Calvary Hill. The ceremony is scheduled at 5:15 p.m. today at St. Mary Basilica.
The celebration of the Resurrection begins with a solemn Saturday service after sundown, known as the “Easter Vigil.” This begins at 8 p.m. on the steps of St. Mary Basilica with the blessing of the “Easter Candle,” a symbol of the light of Christ. This is taken in procession into unlit churches, symbolizing the world of darkness into which Jesus came, and from that candle all the congregants light their individual candles. New members, who have undergone a nine-month intensive study program, are baptized and confirmed as full members during the Easter Vigil. The Easter Vigil at Holy Family Church also begins at 8 p.m.
On Easter Sunday, the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus continues is the central focus. Christians are invited to reflect on the resurrection and prayerfully open their minds and hearts to its saving graces. Easter Sunday services are scheduled at Holy Family at 8 a.m.; Assumption Church at 8:30 a.m.; St. Mary at 10 a.m., St. Ann, Fayette at 11 a.m. and St. John the Baptist, Cranfield at 1 p.m.
The Rev. David O’Connor is pastor of St. Mary Basilica and Assumption church in Natchez. He can be reached at 601 445-5616 or firstname.lastname@example.org.