Yesterday began the celebration leading up to Easter. For many churches, Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the celebration of Easter. This year has already been a rough time for many churches who have remained closed or have had to adjust to worship services due to the coronavirus. Many of our churches are putting together the special services for the events leading up to Easter Sunday, April 4th. If your church is planning special services, try to get the dates in the newspapers so folks know the dates and times of your services. I know that Chapel Hill UMC had a drive thru yesterday for Ash Wednesday. Chapel Hill will be open for 10:30 worship on February 21st. Chapel Hill will also be live streamed on You Tube at the same time. Pastor Paul Rebelo of Chapel Hill will also be sharing a Lenten Study on Tuesdays based on Psalm 22 ; beginning on Tuesday Feb. 23 at 2:22 in the afternoon. You may watch this on You Tube as well as Pastor Paul’s morning prayers Mon – Thurs at 8:30.
Many churches begin the Easter Celebration with Shrove Tuesday which precedes the observance of the Lenten Fast. The word “Shrove” gets the name from the Christian traditions known as Shriven before Lent. Shrove Tuesday officially marks the start of using up all the rich foods such as eggs, milk and sugar before the 40 days of fasting which is the beginning of the Christian Calendar of Easter. Many churches celebrate Shrove Tuesday with pancakes which includes the four ingredients that Christians believe represents the pillars of faith. Pancakes are made from eggs for creation, flour being the stuff of life, milk for purity and salt for wholesomeness. Many Christians begin fasting the next day which is titled Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is soul cleansing for many Christians who begin the 40 days of Lent by refraining from using rich food, only drinking water and eating a very strict diet. Many churches have special Ash Wednesday services where each person comes to the alter and will be marked with ashes in the sign of the cross on their foreheads. These ashes are a symbol of being repentant for sins. Many services include the ashes made from the previous Easter palm branches representing Jesus’ entry into the city of Jerusalem riding on a donkey with people waving palm branches as he moves along. The next 40 days prior to Easter is a time to pray, study the Bible and to use the time to focus on self-development. Each Sunday of Lent is also a time to focus on the leading up to the Resurrection of Christ.
As Easter approaches there is the Holy Week which commemorates Judas Iscariot’s betrayal of Jesus. Many churches will have a special setting where Jesus washes the feet of the disciples showing them that we are to be servants to others. Another setting will showcase the Lord’s Last Supper where Jesus eats with the disciples in the Upper Room. The last days are shared of Jesus being arrested, the beating He had to endure, the nailing of Jesus to the cross and His labor carrying the cross up the hill where He was to be crucified. Jesus did all of this for us!
Various church denominations have different days during Holy Week such as Maundy Thursday which celebrates the Last Supper and Good Friday which shares the story of Jesus being crucified and buried in the tomb. Of course, Easter Sunday is the day Jesus came back to life. Some churches have a sunrise service to celebrate Jesus coming back to life. Most churches have a later worship service which is to celebrate the risen Savior of the world.
Why is Easter not celebrated each year on the same Sunday? In 325CE, the Council of Nacala established Easter would be held on the first Sunday after the first full moon occurring on or after the vernal equinox. Easter is movable depending on the moon. Easter can be anywhere between March 22 and April 25. The date is decided by the complex set of calculations based on the observations of the moon. In Western Christianity, Easter Sunday must always follow the first moon after the spring equinox. Easter celebrates the death and resurrection of Jesus. The ‘paschal’ full moon is the one that falls on or after the Spring equinox on March 21. Easter day is the first Sunday after the paschal full moon so if the full moon is on Sunday, Easter will be one week later. Therefore, the earliest Easter can be is March 22 and the latest is April 25. Easter will not fall in March again until 2024. Easter will fall on April 4th this year of 2021.
Be sure and announce your church services and the special presentations of Easter that folks will want to attend. If you cannot attend church, find out which churches will be live streaming on You Tube and watch. Hopefully, our churches will be filled once this pandemic is not an issue. We the people need to be back in our churches. We need to be praying for our families, those families who have suffered the virus and lost family members, and we need to be praying for America. Prayer can make a huge difference in our lives and the lives of those we pray for. When we think of our Heavenly Father’s love in sending His only Son to die on the cross to save the world; we need to reflect on Jesus who came to this earth and sacrificed His life on the cross for us to be forgiven of our sins. We need to pray a prayer of thankfulness and to make the decision to accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior knowing that because of his sacrifice we can be saved.
I found this fasting by Pope Francis that can be used during the Lenten Season. These thoughts can be fasted at any time.
Fast from hurting words and say kind words….Fast from sadness and be filled with gratitude..…Fast from anger and be filled with patience….Fast from pessimism and be filled with hope….Fast from worries and have trust in God…..Fast from complaints and contemplate simplicity…….Fast from pressures and be prayerful….Fast from bitterness and fill our heart with joy…..Fast from selfishness and be compassionate….Fast from grudges and be reconciled to others….Fast from words and be silent so you can listen. – In the words of Pope Francis
In my next column, I will share some reasons why we use various flowers and other items to help us celebrate Easter. Why do we use eggs? Why do we celebrate bunnies? What does the dogwood tree have that is special for Easter? What does the butterfly have to do with Easter? Of course, the most important symbol of Easter is the cross. Easter is a time of hope and a time to share God’s love with others. Easter is a time of reflection on our lives. Jesus is love and He loved us so much that He died for each one of us to be sin free. His desire is for us to love Him enough to accept Him as our Savior. That is Powerful!
I leave you with thought from Mother Teresa - - God speaks in the silence of the heart. Listening is the beginning of prayer.