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The Resurrection: Matthew chp 28 vss 1-10, Mark chp 16 vss 1-8 Luke chp 24 vss 1-11 John chp 20 vss .1-9
The Sabbath, our Saturday, ended at sunset, so at first light on Sunday morning the women came to the tomb to wash and anoint the body in accordance with their custom. When they arrived the tomb was empty. In Mark a young man told them Jesus had risen, in Matthew it was an angel, in Luke two men in dazzling garments and in John two angels in white. Something had happened which the Gospel writers found difficult to put into human language, and those first disciples found hard to believe.
The Resurrection Appearances
All the Gospels contain accounts of Jesus being seen alive by his followers over the next few weeks, and Paul adds to these accounts his evidence in I Corinthians 15. During this time the disciples became convinced that Jesus had risen from the dead and was not a ghost. They saw him eat, (Luke chp 24 vss 42-43) and they were able to touch him (John chp 20 vs 27). His presence with them was as real as it had ever been. It enabled them to fully understand what he had said during his ministry, and he was able to explain to them the significance of the events which had taken place, so that when he finally left them they were able to set about their task of preaching the Gospel to all the nations with the fullest confidence. Whatever actually happened in the literal historical sense, something changed this group of frightened individuals, who ran away and hid when Jesus was arrested, to the men who stood up and proclaimed the Gospel regardless of their own safety; and who were prepared to suffer and die for the Gospel's sake.
EASTER SATURDAY marks the end of Lent, the final day of preparation for Easter itself. The secular world calls this day Easter Saturday, but for Christians it is a holy day, when Christ lay in the tomb.
THE EASTER VIGIL In some churches there is a service which starts very late on Easter eve to coincide with the timing of the resurrection early on Easter morning. The service, known as the Easter Vigil, lasts for some hours and includes three elements:The lighting of the Easter fire and candle Blessing of Baptism water and a communion service. In the dark outside the church, the people gather around the making of a fire. With a spark from a flint the tinder is lit and the flames throw back the darkness. The spark from the flint is important in that the light and life of the flames emerge from the apparent deadness of the stone. For Christians this becomes a symbol of the resurrection.
The Easter, or Paschal, candle is prepared. The priest traces a cross in the wax of a tall thick candle. Above the cross he traces the Greek letter alpha and below the letter omega. In the squares formed by the arm of the cross, he places the number of the year. He then places in the wax five small round cups each containing a grain of incense.
The candle is lit from the fire. It has now become the symbol of the risen Christ and will have a place of honour near the altar during the Easter season, after which it is kept near the font and lit on the occasion of baptisms.
The following are the meaning of the symbols:
- Alpha and omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet and are the sign that Christians believe the risen Christ to be Lord of everything in the universe.
- The numbers of the year show him to be beyond time and yet Lord of time.
- The five grains of incense are signs of the wounds of the crucifixion - hands, feet and side, and indicate that the candle represents Christ.
The lighted candle precedes the people each carrying their own candle into the church. it is raised three times so that all can see it whilst the priest announces "Christ is Risen!" On each occasion, sections of the people light their candle from the Easter candle until the darkened church is filled with lights. This symbolism is meant to convey that all Christians live with the new life of Christ and that their lives should be light gleaming in the darkness. The, with everyone standing before the candle, a very ancient hymn full of praise and joy, called the Exultet (rejoice) is sung.
A long series of Bible readings, many on the theme of water, follows: the Creation story; Noah; the passage of the Jews through the Red Sea etc. They emphasise the power of water to refresh, cleanse, give beauty, but in particular its capacity to give life and destroy it. They prepare for the blessing of the Baptismal waters which forms the next part of the ceremony. Christians believe that these waters destroy the old way of life and link the baptised with the new life of the risen Christ. When the water is blessed the people are sprinkled with it' and, holding their lighted candles, they renew the promises they made at their own baptism.
A Eucharist or communion service follows. Its dominant theme is joy. White or gold vestments are worn. The bells are rung and the organ roars into new life. Again and again the word Alleluia is sounded - a word that carries in itself all the joy and hope Christians find in Easter and which is the perfect summary of their Easter experience:
All the churches have special and joyful services throughout Easter day. The church : building will be decorated with spring flowers, and especially the large white Easter lily. Many churches will have an Easter garden a replica of a garden full of flowers, with a rock tomb, its stone rolled away, and an empty cross on a hill in the background.
and then there are Easter eggs...These are of course the symbols associated with Easter. The origins of the custom go back to times before Christianity. The emergence of the vulnerable new life from the hard, inert shell has always been a wonder and a fitting symbol of the new life that sprang from the rock tomb. In the past it was the custom to dye and decorate the egg shell with bright vivid colours and eat them hard boiled for breakfast on Easter Sunday. They were called Pace eggs from the word for passover (pesach). In recent years the chocolate egg has largely replaced the custom, but coloured foil wrappings and the breaking of the shell to reveal still more goodies within retain some of the resonances of the original beliefs. Various games involving eggs grew up over the centuries, some of which still take place. The most obvious of these is the custom of rolling the eggs, sometimes in competition with others, sometimes just to see if your egg could reachthe bottom_ of_ a hill without breaking, which would foretell good luck in the coming year.