Diversity Matters: Easter
Last month, readers learned about Lent, a 40-day period of reflection and penance for those who practice Christianity.
Lent comes to an end this Saturday. It’s the following day, however — Easter Sunday — that is widely seen as the most significant holiday on the Christian calendar.
“Easter is not all about chocolate eggs and bunnies, which is what many people associate culturally with the holiday,” said Rev. Lindsay Bona of Michigan Medicine’s Spiritual Care Department. “In fact, it’s the holiest day of the year for Christians — the day we commemorate the resurrection of Jesus Christ and his ascension into heaven.”
To better support those who observe Easter, here’s what you may not know about the holiday:
A ‘moveable feast’
Easter Sunday is known as a moveable feast because it does not fall on a fixed date every year (as opposed to another important Christian holiday, Christmas). Indeed, it falls on the Sunday following the first full moon of the vernal equinox, which this year is April 1.
Easter Sunday immediately follows Holy Week, which commemorates Christ’s last week on Earth and includes Good Friday (the day he is believed to have been crucified) and Holy Saturday (the final day of Lent).
On Easter, Christians typically spend the first part of their day at church.
“A sunrise or early morning service is popular in many Christian faiths,” Bona said. “During the service, we offer our thanks that Jesus was resurrected and give thanks that those who believe in Jesus will be given eternal life.”
At Michigan Medicine, a Roman Catholic service will be held at 11 a.m. on Sunday in the University Hospital Chapel, room 2A215. It is open to all patients, families and staff members.
With Easter also marking the end of Lent — and with it, the end of a period of fasting — the holiday is often celebrated with a large feast among family and friends.
A symbolic day
Much of Easter is marked by symbols. At churches, lilies and other flowers are laid out, representing life. Those who observe the holiday also tend to wear new clothes, symbolic of a fresh beginning. And eggs have permeated much of modern culture when it comes to Easter — both real and made up of delicious varieties of chocolate.
“The egg is a symbol of rebirth and new life, so kids often eat chocolate eggs on Easter, search for Easter eggs in the yard and hard-boiled eggs sometimes have a prominent place on the dinner table,” Bona said. “In their most traditional form, eggs are dyed red to symbolize the blood of Christ.”
Perhaps the most powerful symbol of Easter, however, is the lamb. It represents the sacrifice that Christ made — and the fact that he was rewarded for such sacrifice.
Often, lamb is the centerpiece of Easter dinner, though feasts also may have cookies, butter and other pastries in the shape of a lamb as a substitute for the actual meat.
The mystery of the Easter Bunny
So what about the Easter Bunny? And how does its presence fit in with the holiday?
“The bible makes no reference to rabbits or bunnies on Easter,” Bona said. “However, bunnies were important symbols of life and fertility in the ancient world, and due to the timing of Easter (traditionally in the spring a time when fertility and new life is celebrated), they have been adopted by some cultures as a symbol of Easter.”
In the end, Easter is a day of celebration, so it is common to wish someone who is observing “a blessed and meaningful day.”
As Bona said: “Easter is such a significant holiday — a festive holiday for those of us who celebrate.”