This Sunday we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ in what has become the holiday known as Resurrection Sunday or Easter. In hopes that we might enjoy some additional meaning and perspective, let’s take a look at some lesser-known facts about this foundational holiday in our Christian faith along with some information regarding its origin and the events that actually took place in the life of Jesus in the days leading up to it. To do so, I will repost findings from several articles by Christian authors I found interesting. As always, I welcome your feedback, ideas and other thoughts here. In the meantime, I continue to give thanks for your partnership in our ministry and for God’s amazing gifts of salvation and eternal life for which words will never be enough.
Celebrating with you,
In an article republished in a 2017 edition of U.S. News & World Report, Bible scholar Brent Landau points out that the date on which we celebrate Easter changes from year to year. But Easter always falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the spring equinox. Easter is quite similar to other major holidays like Christmas and Halloween, which have evolved over the last 200 years or so. In all of these holidays, Christian and non-Christian (pagan) elements have continued to blend together.
Easter as a Rite of Spring
Most major holidays have some connection to the changing of seasons. This is especially true in the case of Christmas. The New Testament gives no information about what time of year Jesus was born. Many scholars believe, however, that the main reason Jesus’ birth came to be celebrated on December 25 is because that was the date of the winter solstice according to the Roman calendar.
Since the days following the winter solstice gradually become longer and less dark, it was ideal symbolism for the birth of “the light of the world” as stated in the New Testament’s Gospel of John.
Similar was the case with Easter, which falls in close proximity to another key point in the solar year: the vernal equinox (around March 20), when there are equal periods of light and darkness. For those in northern latitudes, the coming of spring is often met with excitement, as it means an end to the cold days of winter.
Spring also means the coming back to life of plants and trees that have been dormant for winter, as well as the birth of new life in the animal world. Given the symbolism of new life and rebirth, it was only natural to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus at this time of the year.
The Connection with Jewish Passover
It is important to point out that while the name “Easter” is used in the English-speaking world, many more cultures refer to it by terms best translated as “Passover” (for instance, “Pascha” in Greek) – a reference to the Jewish festival of Passover.
In the Hebrew Bible, Passover is a festival that commemorates the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt, as narrated in the Book of Exodus. It was and continues to be the most important Jewish seasonal festival, celebrated on the first full moon after the vernal equinox.
At the time of Jesus, Passover had special significance, as the Jewish people were again under the dominance of foreign powers (namely, the Romans). Jewish pilgrims streamed into Jerusalem every year in the hope that God’s chosen people (as they believed themselves to be) would soon be liberated once more.
On one Passover, Jesus traveled to Jerusalem with his disciples to celebrate the festival. He entered Jerusalem in a triumphal procession and created a disturbance in the Jerusalem Temple. It seems that both of these actions attracted the attention of the Romans, and that as a result, Jesus was executed in proximity to the celebration of Passover around the year A.D. 30.
When some of Jesus’ followers declared they saw him alive after his death, this gave birth to the Christian religion. As Jesus died during the Passover festival and his followers believed he was resurrected from the dead three days later, it was logical to commemorate these events in close proximity.
What Is Holy Week?
By Meg Bucher as published on crosswalk.com, February 8, 2021
Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday and ends with Easter Sunday. During this one week, many biblical prophesies were fulfilled. Jesus came to earth to save humanity by dying on the cross on Good Friday and resurrecting on Easter Sunday. By enduring and defeating death sacrificially for us, He swung open the gates of heaven making a way for our sin to be forgiven and usher us into the presence of God.
Due to the sinful nature of humanity as a result of Adam and Eve’s fall in the garden of Eden, it’s impossible for us to be “good enough” to be in the presence of God and forgiven for our sins. Jesus died to make the way for salvation. The Old Testament Law offered many sacrifices to God, but Jesus was the perfect atoning sacrifice once and for all. He endured the cross out of His great love for us. Holy Week is a sacred opportunity to study the foundation of Christianity. Our God is not one of coincidence. Every step toward the cross was intentional, every lesson laced with His personal love for all of us.
What Happened on Palm Sunday?
Jesus rode into Jerusalem on what we now call Palm Sunday; palm branches, which symbolize triumph or victory, were strewn in Jesus’ path, as He rode into the city. He rode into town on a humble donkey, fulfilling the prophecy in Zechariah 9:9: “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your kings comes to you, righteous and victorious, low and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” The people welcomed Him, echoing the words of Psalm 118:25-26: “Lord, save us! Lord, grant us success!” more popularly recognizes as “Hosanna! Hosanna!”
The word hosanna originated from the word save. The meaning of the word eventually shifted to express gratitude for salvation, and is used in the New Testament initially in Matthew 21:9: “The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’ ‘Blessed is he who comes the name of the Lord!’ ‘Hosanna in the highest heaven!’” This is a pivotal moment in the history of humanity, as the long-awaited new covenant God promised to His people would produce new salvation through Jesus’ death on the cross.
“Palm Sunday reminds us that the reign of Christ is far greater than any the mind of man could ever conceive or plan. Man looked for someone to fight their battles in the present-day world. Yet God had the ultimate plan of sending His Son to fight the final battle over death. This is the greatness of why we celebrate this week. Because of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice, we can be set free of death.” – Debbie McDaniel
What Happened on the Monday before Easter?
On the way back into the city from Bethany, where Jesus and the twelve spent the night, Jesus became hungry. Seeing a fig tree with no fruit on it, though it was full of leaves and thus should have been full of fruit, Jesus spoke a curse on the tree.
Jesus went to the temple on Monday and confronted those making a profit off of the people coming to worship there.
“Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money-changers and the benches of those selling doves. ‘It is written,’ he said to them, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it a den of robbers.’” -Matthew 21:12-13
Those who heard and witnessed Jesus’ miraculous healings that day sang praises to Him, which caused authorities to begin looking for a way to kill him. The Gospel of Luke says that “they could not find any way to do it, because all the people hung on his words.” -Luke 19:48
What Happened on the Tuesday before Easter?
The next day, Peter noticed the fully withered fig tree Jesus had cursed, to which Jesus admonished a lesson to have faith and recognize the power of forgiveness:
“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not count in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” –Mark 11:22-26
Holy Tuesday was a day of avoiding traps and for teaching. The priests set four traps for Jesus, the first questioning His authority, to which He answered with a question and then taught three parables: The Parable of the Two Sons, The Parable of the Tenants, and The Parable of the Wedding Banquet. The second trap challenged Jesus’ allegiance, the third trap attempted to ridicule Jesus’ belief in resurrection, and the fourth Jesus answered by claiming God’s greatest command to be “Love.”
“This is the real, historical Jesus: fully in control as he responds with grace and truth to traps on all sides. He knows what he is doing. And he knows what is coming.” –Andreas Kostenberger and Justin Taylor, “The Escalating Conflict.”
Stopping at the Mount of Olives to rest on the way back to Bethany to spend the night, Jesus spoke to His disciples about the upcoming trials for His followers.
What Happened on the Wednesday before Easter?
Though the Gospel of Luke states, “every day he was teaching in the temple,” Holy Wednesday is also widely known throughout the church as “Spy Wednesday,” a time when Judas agrees to betray Jesus and the plot of the high priest and the authorities to kill Jesus is in full swing.
Finding an open opportunity in the greed of Judas, Satan entered him. Judas went to the chief priests and authorities, “and from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.” He would soon betray Jesus for the price of a slave, and the twelve would scatter. None of the twelve will be left at the foot of the cross as Jesus dies but John.
“Judas betrayed the very man who he followed for years. But because of Spy Wednesday, we see yet another prophecy fulfilled from the Old Testament. Judas’ role fulfills words declared hundreds of years before and further proves the validity of the Bible and Christianity.” – Hope Bolinger
What Happened on Maundy Thursday?
On Holy or Maundy, Thursday, in an upper room, Jesus and His disciples shared the Last Supper. On this day, Jesus washed the feet of His disciples and broke break with them for the last time. Still celebrated today as a part of many congregational traditions, the bread broken and the wine shared represented the body and blood of Christ, to be broken and shed for the disciples, and all of us. During the meal, Jesus predicted His betrayal by one of them and Peter’s denial.
After the meal, the disciples accompanied Jesus to the Garden at Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed in agony. “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel came to strengthen Jesus in the garden. There, He taught His disciples, and us, what to do when we come to the end of our own strength and need God to help us press on.
Maundy, from the Latin root madam, means “commandment” or “mandate.” On that Thursday Jesus gave His disciples a new commandment, which is why we use the term Maundy today. The word in this context is used by Jesus after He washes the feet of His friends.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another.” –John 13:34
No one knew love like the sacrificial and selfless love of Jesus before the cross. Thus, a new commandment to love sacrificially and selflessly.
What Happened on Good Friday?
Good Friday was the last day of Jesus’ life on earth before His resurrection. He was betrayed by Judas and denied by Peter, as predicted. His disciples scattered. He was arrested and was placed on trial falsely. He was condemned, beaten, mocked, and required to carry His own cross to the place where He was crucified and died. “The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head.” Though he was offered something to dull the physical pain, Jesus refused. He chose to face the pain of death head-on. They stripped Him of His clothes and cast lots for them, fulfilling another prophecy.
Two prisoners were crucified alongside Jesus. One mocked Him, but the other said, “‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise’” (Luke 23:39-43). Amidst the most cruel, unfair, unjust, and painful death a human body could endure, Jesus chose to respond in grace to the criminal beside Him and care for His mother and best friend. “When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, ‘Woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother’” (John 19:25-27). At noon, Jesus cried out “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit,” and died.
“It was at about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.” –Luke 23:44-46
Jesus was taken down from the cross, wrapped in linens, and placed in a tomb.
Why Is it Called Good Friday?
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” -Romans 8:28
This doesn’t mean we are protected from all things that are bad. Jesus’ death was awful. The most painful thing, physically, mentally, and spiritually, that any human could have to endure. Why would Jesus choose to obey His Father’s will? And why was His will for His only Son to suffer? God’s ways are truly above our ways, but the good that came out of Jesus’ death saved our souls for eternity.
“It’s called Good Friday because, by Jesus’ death, he became the final, complete sacrifice for our sins. We couldn’t have erased our sins. Our hands would have been forever stained with every single sin for a lifetime. But Jesus broke the bonds of death and sin!” – Hope Bolinger
What Happened on Black (or Holy) Saturday?
Jesus’ body rested in the tomb on Holy Saturday; it was a rich man’s tomb, fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah 53:9. Preparations were made for Jesus’ body and placement in the tomb until 6pm, when preparations for the Sabbath began.
“The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.” –Luke 23:55-56
“Holy Saturday is a time for us to lean into being present in the Lord, placing our own agendas at the door, and coming before Him to simply be with Him. The Lord desires a relationship with us, and a requirement of a relationship is time together. Holy Saturday is a great day not to ask for anything, but to simply spend time within the Spirit of the Lord.” – Cally Logan
There are varying theories as to where Jesus’ soul was in between His death on the cross and His resurrection. The Bible doesn’t fully reveal this to us. From His statement to the criminal on the cross, “you will be with me today in paradise,” however, we might rightly believe that He was in the presence of His Father in heaven on Holy Saturday.
What Happened on Easter Sunday (Resurrection Day)?
“He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.” -Matthew 28:6
On Easter Sunday, Jesus rose from the dead, fulfilling the prophecy. Early in the morning, the women who had prepared the spices before the Sabbath returned to Jesus’ tomb to find it empty. Mary Magdalene arrived first.
“Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.” -John 20:1
Two men, angels, appear to the women to tell them Jesus has risen (Matthew 28:2-7; Mark 16:4-7; Luke 24:2-7). The women, both afraid and joyful, remained first silent, and then quickly finding the eleven disciples. Mary ran ahead to tell Peter and John, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him” (John 20:2). Jesus met the other women on their way!
“And behold, Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshipped him.” -Matthew 28:9-10
After all eleven have been informed, they rush to the empty tomb. Jesus appeared to Cleopus and another on the road to Emmaus, and to Peter. That evening, He entered a room with locked doors to greet the other ten disciples. “Peace to you!” (Luke 24:36-43; John 20:19-23) In, “Ten Ways Easter Changes Everything,” Matthew Harmon observes, “It can seem like to claim that the resurrection changes everything is an example of hype, but as you read the Bible and you understand all that flows out of Jesus’ resurrection, it is no exaggeration to say that Jesus rising from the dead literally changes everything.”
Why Christians Should Observe Holy Week
Holy Week shouldn’t be observed out of religious obligation but out of hearts seeking the opportunity to journey with Jesus in the closeness the events of this week bring to all who believe in the sacrificial salvation He died to give us. For those curious about Jesus, observing Holy Week is a good opportunity to ask questions and seek answers about who He is, what His sacrifice means, and how His gift affects humanity. When Christians observe Holy Week, we set ourselves apart for Him and dedicate our time to Him. Our observation gives Him the glory and honor that He deserves, for the gift of life we get to live.
Before Holy Week, it is reported that Jesus spent Friday, one week before His crucifixion, having dinner with Mary, Martha and Lazarus (John 12:1) at the home of Simon the leper. It is also here that Mary is said to have anointed Jesus head with about a pint of pure nard; a very expensive perfume and wiped his feet with her hair. Jesus presumably then observed the Sabbath on Saturday with His friends. In other words, He rested in the company of friends before He began His final steps to journey to the cross. Imagine the anticipation He felt, knowing that in less than one week’s time, everything would change. Our God is not a God of coincidence. The entire Bible tells the story of our Savior, and Holy Week is the centerpiece.
A Short Prayer for Holy Week
Father, Holy Week reminds us how intentional You are about loving us. You came to save the lost, You sent Your only Son to be sacrificed so we could be in Your presence. Jesus, thank You for making a way for us. May we come to know fully and never forget the lengths You went to save us. Bring the story of each day to life for us as we walk through this week. Move our hearts closer to You, and direct our lives to bring honor to You. Jesus, help us to follow Your new command of love. Help us to understand and receive Your love, and teach us how to love the people in our lives well. Bless this week, Father, and may many new souls come to receive Your grace. In Jesus’ Holy Name, Amen.
Meg writes about everyday life within the love of Christ as an author, freelance writer, and blogger at Sunny&80. Her first book, “Friends with Everyone,” is available on amazon.com. She earned a Marketing/PR degree from Ashland University but stepped out of the business world to stay at home and raise her two daughters. Besides writing, she leads a Bible Study for Women and serves as a Youth Ministry leader in her community. She lives in Northern Ohio with her husband, Jim, and two daughters.