Easter, the celebration that marks the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead after his crucifixion on the Cross of Calvary and death on Good Friday, is the most important event in Christendom, the principal and greatest feast of the ecclesiastical year. It is the belief of adherents to the Faith that if Jesus had not resurrected on the third day as he promised, may be Christianity itself would have faced a tremendous challenge of credibility.
Easter, also called Pascha or Resurrection Sunday, is a festival and holiday described in the New Testament as having occurred on the third day of his burial after his crucifixion by the Romans at Calvary. It is the culmination of the Passion of Jesus, preceded by Lent, a forty-day period of fasting, prayer, and penance. It is considered the most important date in the Christian calendar as it affirms the foundation of all Christian belief. In Western Christianity, Eastertide, or the Easter Season, begins on Easter Sunday and lasts seven weeks, ending with the Pentecost Sunday, the day the Apostles received the Gift of the Holy Spirit.
The resurrection established Jesus as the powerful Son of God and is cited as proof that God will judge the world in righteousness. For those who trust in Jesus’ death and resurrection, “death is swallowed up in victory.”
Any person who chooses to follow Jesus receives “a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead”. Through faith in the working of God, those who follow Jesus are spiritually resurrected with him so that they may walk in a new way of life and receive eternal salvation.
Easter is linked to the Passover and Exodus from Egypt recorded in the Old Testament through the Last Supper, sufferings and crucifixion of Jesus that preceded the resurrection. One interpretation of the Gospel of John is that Jesus, as the Passover lamb, was crucified at roughly the same time as the Passover lambs were being slain in the temple.
Easter strengthens the average Christian’s belief in life everlasting, in life after death. Its importance can be gleaned from the fact that Christmas, an event that is the first step in the salvation journey, is celebrated only in preparation for Easter. As the centre of the greater part of the ecclesiastical year, the order of other feasts depend on and derive their significance from the Easter date. It is the commemoration of the slaying of the true Lamb of God and the Resurrection of Christ, the corner-stone upon which faith is built, the oldest feast of the Christian Church and the connecting link between the Old and New Testaments.
Preparation for Easter, for a section of the Christian world, begins on Ash Wednesday and goes through 40 days of praying, fasting, abstinence and almsgiving that ends on Good Friday. Within this Easter season is the Holy Week, part of which is the Triduum, three days before Easter: Thursday, Friday and Saturday, the apogee of the whole spiritual exercise during which Jesus instituted the Priestly Order, the Last Supper also known as the Holy Communion or Holy Eucharist and brought to an end His earthly life when He pronounced on the Cross of Calvary that ‘it is finished’ and the beginning of man’s effort to be like the Master. Easter offers believers an opportunity to appreciate the enormity of the contradiction embedded in St Paul’s assertion in his letter to the Philippians that ‘to die is to gain’. That Jesus died and is glorified within the Easter period offers believers a unique time to reflect on the immensity of the mystery of life everlasting.
For us as Nigerians, however, during this particular Easter celebration, it is instructive that we ponder over the challenges we face as a people with a common national heritage. As in the events that culminated in the resurrection: the fear, the anxiety and expectations that the disciples of Jesus went through, Nigerians are beginning to wonder, with apprehension and immeasurable trepidation, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on life and living. This time last year, the celebration was muted. As the apostles of Jesus celebrated His defeat of death as exemplified in the resurrection, so also are Nigerians hoping to rise above the cataclysm that the pandemic rendered to the excitement and a new lease of life in the hope that with the vaccine, life will return to normal. Easter gives the faithful hope in the second coming of the Messiah so also are Nigerians hoping with bated breath for the government to begin the process of rebuilding the nation, the economy and lifestyle almost brought to a halt by the dreaded virus.