Easter: Christians rejoice for the Resurrection of Christ

Different colored dyed eggs

Dyed Easter eggs. Photo courtesy of Pixabay

SUNDAY, APRIL 5: Christ has risen! Christians the world over shout in exultation on Easter Sunday, as the faithful celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. (Eastern Orthodox Christians will celebrate Pascha, the Orthodox term for Easter, on April 12, this year.)

The New Testament tells Christians that the Resurrection of Christ is the core of their faith. Around the globe, crowds flow into and out of churches, bells are rung in praise and adherents joyously profess their faith. Dressed in the pastel hues of spring, children search for eggs and baskets, while families and friends gather for the Easter feast.

MARY MAGDALENE
AND THE STORY OF EASTER

Gospel accounts testify that early on the Sunday morning following Jesus’ crucifixion, Mary Magdalene (and, though accounts vary, other women as well) traveled to the tomb of Jesus to anoint his body. Upon reaching the tomb, an earthquake shook the ground; the stone was moved from the tomb, and a holy messenger announced that Jesus had risen from the dead. Though no specific moment of Resurrection is recorded, Mary Magdalene’s encounter has, since the 2nd century, been celebrated as Easter. The Resurrection is described as having occurred c. 30 CE.

CHURCH CUSTOMS

Hand-painted eggs with roses and pastel dot designs

Photo by Barbara B, courtesy of Flickr.

Traditional Eastern and Western Christian services for Easter begin on the night of Holy Saturday with a liturgy that starts in darkness and gives way to light, exuberant singing of the Gloria and Alleluia and proclamation of the Resurrection. Many churches have moved the Easter vigil to Sunday morning in a “sunrise service” to reflect the women’s experience at Jesus’ tomb.

The Easter service differs from that of most Sundays, with its festive atmosphere often accompanied by richly colored banners, bells, brass instruments, fresh flowers and particularly joyous music. (Wikipedia has details.) In many Christian countries, Easter is a public holiday filled with processions and celebration.

The week beginning on Easter Sunday is known as Easter Week, or the Octave of Easter.

Did you know? The earliest Easter eggs were likely dyed red, in memory of the blood shed by Jesus Christ.

NEWS, RESOURCES AND RECIPES

Looking for a great recipe or ideas to spruce up your Easter table?

Start with our own FeedTheSpirit, where Bobbie Lewis has an unusual treat you might want to prepare for your holiday table—vegetarian chopped liver.

Find delicious recipes, from appetizers to brunch to dessert, at Food Network, AllRecipes and Hershey’s.

Give eggs extra style, or try an Easter craft, with ideas from HGTV and Martha Stewart.

Kid-friendly Easter coloring pages, cards, games and more are at the UK’s Activity Village.

Lamb isn’t on everyone’s Easter menu—but it should be, says a food writer from the New York Times who recently penned a story on the small number of Americans who dine on lamb for the spring holiday. Learn cooking tips and all of the reasons why lamb should be making a comeback, in this article.

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Categories: Christian

Hanuman Jayanti: Hindus worship monkey god, Vanara race

Statue of monkey in fancy cloak and attire, holding golden rod

A statue of Hanuman. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SATURDAY, APRIL 4: Elaborate Ramanavami celebrations began eight days ago in most Hindu communities, and today, many will mark the jayanti of an ardent devotee of Rama: Hanuman, the Vanara god known informally as “the monkey god.” On Hanuman Jayanti, Hindus visit temples at dawn—as it’s believed Hanuman was born at sunrise—and worship the deity. (Wikipedia has details.) Though dates for Hanuman Jayanti vary throughout India, most observe his jayanti today.

In Hindu legend, Hanuman is a symbol of strength, courage, self-control and humility. Hanuman is the greatest and most loyal devotee of Lord Rama, and because of this, Hindus believe that he was granted immortality. Hanuman is said to be able to assume any form, and he remains one of the most adored deities in Hinduism. Many fast on Hanuman Jayanti, or the day prior.

Why a monkey god? A few thousand years before Ramayan time—approximately 2 million years ago—Hinduism teaches that several divine souls came to earth and embodied ape-like creatures. The ape-like bodies became vehicles for the divine souls, and this uniquely modified group became known, in Hinduism, as the Vanara race. (Learn more from Hindu-blog.) Hanuman was born into the Vanara community. Today, all Hanuman temples bear the reddish-orange hue distinctive of the ape-like Vanara.

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Categories: Faiths of IndiaHindu

Passover: Jews commemorate the Exodus with seders, matzo & prayers

Silver pewter cup with matzo crackers on white cloth with blue letters in Hebrew

A cup of wine and matzo for Passover. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNSET FRIDAY, APRIL 3—Jewish families around the world begin one of the most important holiday periods of the year, recalling the ancient liberation of the Jewish people in the Exodus. After having forced the ancient Israelites into slavery for many years, the Pharaoh of Egypt refused to obey God, and the consequential 10th plague was, quite literally, the occasion of the famous Passover. (The 10th plague killed firstborn children with the exception of the children in Jewish families, whose homes were passed over.)

During the day today, Jewish families may observe the Fast of the Firstborn. Tonight, after sunset, Passover will commence. As Passover begins, seders—ritualistic meals with readings, stories, songs and spirited discussion—are held in Jewish households everywhere. Attending a Passover seder is one of the most universal expressions of Judaism. The Passover period of 2015 ends at sundown on Saturday, April 11.

Want more on Passover food traditions? You’ll enjoy Bobbie Lewis’s FeedTheSpirit column—with a recipe, of course. In a second FeedTheSpirit column, Bobbie describes the fascinating custom of scouring the house to remove every scrap of “chametz” before Passover—and she adds another recipe (and this one is gluten free)!

This year, holidays columnist Stephanie Fenton and Jewish scholar and author Joe Lewis are collaborating on our coverage. Next, here is …

JOE LEWIS ON PASSOVER

Passover is about skipping: “When I see the blood, I will skip over you” (Ex. 12:13). The Hebrew root for the word “skip” is P-S-Ch. It’s used for a limp (Lev. 21:18 and 2 Samuel 4:4), for wavering between two opinions (1 Kings 18:21) and for hip-hop dancing of a pagan sort (1 Kings 18:26; Robert Graves suggests that bird-like strutting was a feature of ancient ritual dance). But as any dancer knows, you have to know what to skip and what to stress.

So don’t skip on the preparations: a zealous spring cleaning to clear leaven from the house, and careful transfer of ownership of remaining leaven to someone who’s not Jewish.

Don’t skip the food: you give up pasta, flour, bread and edible breakfast cereal, but there are lots of ways to prepare matza (or matzah) from matza balls to matza bagels. There must be at least a hundred varieties of matza kugel, and if you only serve 99 at your seder, what’s wrong with you?

Plate with six compartments for egg, lettuce, bones, red sauce and pate

The Seder Plate contains symbolic items at the Passover seder table. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Don’t skip through the Hagadah (some people spell it with two gs or one h): although we’ve been reading the same book for centuries so some of us have it memorized; and although our true obligation is to discuss what it means to be Jewish and what it means to be free, rather than to read our service by rote; and although everybody is hungry before the Seder meal and a little tired and tipsy after it; and although it’s late and the kids will be unmanageable the next day; someone is sure to say—with good reason—“We mustn’t skip this next part.”

Don’t skip services. Every day of Passover is a special day in the synagogue, with extra sections added to the daily morning service, so you wouldn’t want to miss it.

But don’t go overboard! What happens if a little rodent should bring some leaven into the house, our sages asked in the Mishnah, the ancient compilation of Jewish tradition (Pesachim 1:2). Ah, they answer, if you worry about these possibilities that are beyond your control, there’s no end to it.

To Passover there is an end: after nightfall on the eighth day, the festival is over and we resume our usual diet.

STEPHANIE FENTON ON PASSOVER

Our long-time holidays columnist reports on the many ways men, women and children experience these festivals and milestones. This year, she spotted these news items and resources:

A Supreme Court justice recently penned a feminist reading of the Passover story, released by the American Jewish World Service and presented as something that could be used during the Passover seder. (Washington Post reported.) Ruth Bader Ginsburg, one of three women currently sitting on the United States Supreme Court, has more recently become known as the Notorious RBG—though her focus on gender equality is anything but new. The short essay, entitled “The Heroic and Visionary Women of Passover,” highlights five imperative women of the Exodus story, including Moses’ mother, Pharaoh’s daughter and Moses’ sister.

Cook up memories with Australian Jewish Holocaust survivors, as is detailed in this recent story by ABC. After learning the heroic stories of three brave survivors, cook up the recipes—they’re included in the story. Passover cakes and more, along with videos of the inter-generational families, add depth of connection to Passover and the seder.

Looking for interactive resources, stories, recipes and hosting ideas for Passover? Check out Chabad.org, the Jewish Virtual Library, Aish.com, My Jewish Learning and Wikipedia.

PASSOVER AT A GLANCE

Following Moses, the Jewish people left Egypt so quickly that, tradition says, the bread they baked for the journey out of Egypt didn’t have time to rise—so Passover breads are unleavened.

Prior to the start of Passover, all chametz (leavened grain) is removed from the house. The removal of chametz can be an intensive and precise ritual—and it’s a lot of fun if parents involve young children in the final hunt for chametz. Matzah (unleavened bread) is eaten at the Passover seder and throughout the holiday period, and in more traditionally observant households, the dishes and baking tools used for the Passover seder are reserved only for this time and have never come into contact with chametz. The Passover seder is an extended meal that often lasts several hours, and is filled with ceremonial prayers, rituals, specific foods and drinks and careful table settings. During the seder, the story of the Exodus is recalled through a recitation of the Haggadah.

Passover lasts for seven days in Israel, and eight days outside of Israel. During Passover, the Torah obligation of the Counting of the Omer begins. The omer, a unit of measure, is used to count the days from Passover to Shavuot.

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Categories: Jewish

Lord’s Evening Meal: Jehovah’s Witnesses hold Memorial meal

Painting of man holding cup before long angled table of men sitting

Communion of the Apostles, by Fra Angelico, c. 1440-41. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNSET FRIDAY, APRIL 3: As Passover begins for Jews around the globe, Jehovah’s Witnesses commemorate an event believed to have occurred on the first night of Passover in approximately 33 CE—the Last Supper, known as the Lord’s Evening Meal to Witnesses.

According to this Christian tradition: Jesus celebrated Passover together with his closest followers in the upper room of the home owned by John and his mother in Jerusalem. Hours before his crucifixion, Jesus instituted a special meal that would become memorialized in the Christian Church. After saying a special blessing over the unleavened bread and wine, and passing them around the table, Jesus announced: “Keep doing this in remembrance of me.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses hold the bread and the wine of the Last Supper as symbolic of Christ’s body. (Learn more from JW.org.) The wine, the representation of Jesus’ blood, made valid a new covenant and ushered in a new practice for all future Christians. Jesus explained that his blood would be poured out for the forgiveness of sins.

Jehovah’s Witnesses point to accounts in Genesis, Jeremiah, Peter and Revelation that describe 144,000 faithful Christians who will go to heaven and serve as kings and priests for all mankind. (Read more from the Watchtower Online Library.) Each year, only a few thousand persons worldwide partake in the annual Memorial meal; all other Jehovah’s Witnesses attend the event but do not partake. Since Passover is only commemorated once per year, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the anniversary of the Last Supper and Jesus’ death should, too, be marked only once per year.

 

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Categories: Jehovah's Witness

Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday: Christians mourn, prepare

THURSDAY, APRIL 2 and FRIDAY, APRIL 3 and SATURDAY, APRIL 4: Holy Week for the world’s 2 billion Christians began several days ago with Palm Sunday, but the week’s events culminate with the start of Maundy Thursday. For three days, Christians will perform centuries-old rituals and review the final events in the life of Jesus. From foot washing to the Stations of the Cross, Christians lament the tragic events of Jesus’ final days. With prayer and fasting, the faithful prepare for the most joyous holiday of the year: Easter, the Resurrection of Christ.

Women smiling, one holding painting of Pope Francis in crowd

This Holy Week, St. Francis encourages humility. Photo of women at a prayer vigil, courtesy of Catholic Church England and Wales via Flickr

News on Pope Francis and Holy Week: Following on his two-year anniversary as pope, Francis remains phenomenally popular in the Catholic Church. The most recent Pew Forum poll ranked his approval rating among American Catholics at 90 percent, and this Holy Week, Pope Francis will not disappoint: He will begin the Easter Triduum by traveling to a prison in Rome to wash the feet of 12 inmates.

On Palm Sunday, Pope Francis declared to the thousands present at St. Peter’s Square that Holy Week is about humility—and that the humility of Jesus is what makes Holy Week so holy. (Read the story at Catholic News Agency.) Further, Pope Francis encouraged crowds to mimic this attitude of humility throughout the week, as “Only this way will this week be holy for us, too!” Pope Francis also gave examples of modern Christians who give selflessly and refuse to deny Jesus.

This week, Pope Francis will conduct a Chrism Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica on Holy Thursday; visit a Roman prison for foot-washing Thursday evening; head a service for the Passion of Our Lord at St. Peter’s Basilica on Good Friday, and lead thousands in the Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum; conduct the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday; and celebrate the Mass of Our Lord’s Resurrection on Easter.

Note: For Eastern Orthodox Christians following the Julian calendar, Palm Sunday 2015 will take place on Friday, April 5, and Holy Week will commence that week. Pascha (Easter) will fall on Sunday, April 12.

HOLY (MAUNDY) THURSDAY:
THE LAST SUPPER

Painting of  people gathered around table in structure with rock walls, man at center standing and lit, holding cup

An artist’s depiction of the Last Supper. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Easter Triduum is initiated with Maundy Thursday, the fifth day of Holy Week. Alternatively known as Holy Thursday or Covenant Thursday, this day commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus with the Apostles. As Jewish days begin at sunset, most Maundy Thursday services take place in the evening. Some scholars believe that the name “Maundy Thursday” derived from the Latin mandatum, the first word of the phrase stated by Jesus to describe the purpose for his washing their feet. (“A new commandment I give to unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you.”) In some churches, to this day, clergy ceremonially wash the feet of 12 persons as part of Maundy Thursday services. (Wikipedia has details.) Following the Maundy Thursday service, the altar is “stripped” in solemn fashion in preparation for Good Friday.

Did you know? On Holy Thursday, the Catholic Chrism Mass is celebrated in each diocese, during which holy oils are blessed. The blessed oils are used on Holy Saturday, at the Easter Vigil and for baptisms and confirmations.

Today, even outside of the church building, global traditions for Maundy Thursday are varied and colorful. In the United Kingdom, the Monarch offers Maundy money to worthy elders; in Malta, seven churches are visited on this single day; in Bulgaria, Easter eggs are colored and homes are prepared for the upcoming holy days. Holy Thursday is a public holiday in many Christian countries, including Costa Rica, Denmark, Iceland, Mexico, the Philippines, Spain and Venezuela. (Fish Eaters has information on popular customs and more.) At the conclusion of Maundy Thursday services, the attitude in the Church becomes somber, dark and mournful. Church bells fall silent until Easter.

GOOD FRIDAY:
THE WAY OF THE CROSS

Man dressed as Jesus with red cloak, men dressed as Roman soldiers, imitating carrying of cross down busy modern street with crowds watching

A Good Friday procession in Germany. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

While in the Garden of Gesthemane on Thursday night, Christian tradition says that Jesus was located by the Romans—led by Judas Iscariot—and arrested. This led to interrogation, torture and eventually to Jesus’ death by the horrific Roman method of crucifixion.

Did you know? Abraham Lincoln was fatally shot by John Wilkes Booth on Good Friday of 1865.

In the Catholic Church, Good Friday is a fast day of the deepest solemnity. The altar is bare, vestments are red or black and the cross is venerated. (Readings for the day are available from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.)

The Way of the Cross takes place at the Colosseum in Rome and in many other places around the world. In many parishes, the Stations of the Cross recount Jesus’ journey to the site of the crucifixion. In countries such as Malta, Italy, the Philippines and Spain, processions carry statues of the Passion of Christ. In Britain, Australia and Canada, hot cross buns are traditionally consumed on Good Friday.

HOLY SATURDAY:
DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL

Congregation praying with priest sprinkling water over line of Easter baskets on center table

The Holy Saturday Blessing of Easter Baskets in Sanok, Poland. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Holy Saturday, or Black Saturday, ushers in with the darkness of Good Friday, commemorating the day that Jesus’ body lay in the tomb. The altar remains bare, or is draped in a simple black cloth. In Catholic parishes, the administration of sacraments is limited. Holy Saturday is a time of suspense, quiet and solemnity, as Christians continue to mourn the death of Jesus Christ. (Wikipedia has details.) In Catholic tradition, the Blessed Virgin Mary as Our Lady of Sorrows is given the title Our Lady of Solitude, for her grief at the earthly absence of her son, Jesus.

At approximately 6 p.m. on Holy Saturday, the Easter Vigil begins. A service that begins in darkness is illuminated, in Christian tradition, with the Light of Christ—the Paschal candle. After prayers, chants and biblical readings, “Gloria” is sung for the first time since Maundy Thursday. The church is flooded with light, statues covered during Passiontide are unveiled and the joy of the Resurrection begins. (For families with children too young to attend a late Saturday Mass, Women for Faith and Family suggests at-home activities.) The Paschal candle, the largest and most exquisite candle in the church, is lit each day throughout the Paschal season.

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Categories: Christian

Mahavir Jayanti: Jains honor the life of Mahavir and promote non-violence

Elaborate white temple with several pillars on street in India

The Shri Mahavirji Temple of Karauli, Rajasthan, in India, devoted to Mahavira. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

THURSDAY, APRIL 2: The most significant holiday of the year arrives for Jains with Mahavir Jayanti, the birth anniversary of the final Tirthankar, Mahavira. (In the Jain religion, each cycle of time, according to the laws of nature, gives birth to 24 Tirthanars. Though not an incarnation of God, a Tirthankar is a soul that has attained ultimate purity and possesses divine power.)

On Mahavir Jayanti, Jains visit elaborately decorated temples for religious rituals, prayer, and ceremonial baths of Mahavira statues. Many Jains spend this holiday meditating on the path of virtue defined by Jain teachings, and live out that path by acting in charity. (Learn more about Jain doctrine at JainWorld.com.) In India, Mahavir Jayanti is a national holiday.

BIRTH LEGEND AND LIFE OF MAHAVIRA

Jain belief holds that Mahavira was born the son of King Siddhartha and Queen Trishala, in 599 BCE. While pregnant, Queen Trishala experienced a series of dreams about her unborn child, and astrologers revealed that she would give birth to either an emperor or a Tirthankar.

While young, Mahavira developed an interest in Jainism and began meditating. By age 30, he was an ascetic who spent more than a decade seeking spiritual truth. Mahavira spent the remainder of his life preaching non-violence and righteousness. (Wikipedia has details.) Mahavira spoke widely of the importance of karma, indicating that an accumulation of bad karma leads to suffering, confusion and continued cycles of life and death.

IN THE NEWS:
HOLIDAYS IN INDIA & A VEGAN YOUTH RALLY

Christians worldwide are gearing up for the Easter Triduum and Easter, but in India, a jam-packed week of holidays is also on the agenda. Experts are voicing fears for potential disruptions in stock market transactions, exports and shipments, as banks close for 7.5 of 9 days. (Business Standard reported.) This week in India brings the national observances of Ramanavami, Mahavir Jayanti, Good Friday and two annual days of closing, along with the regular closing on Sundays.

In Jaipur, a Jain youth organization will hold a rally promoting vegetarianism on April 2, as part of the week-long Mahavir Jayanti festival. The purpose of the rally is to raise awareness of eating ethically and non-violently. Devout Jains follow a vegan diet without root vegetables—so as not to kill the insects and bacteria living on the roots—and some eat before sunset, to avoid harming any insects that might be attracted to artificial light after dark.

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Categories: Jain

Palm Sunday: Holy Week begins with Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem

Children walking down aisle, palm fronds held by church members, bishop in background

Palm Sunday 2014 at Westminster Cathedral. Photo by Catholic Church England and Wales, courtesy of Flickr

SUNDAY, MARCH 29: With Easter just one week away, Western Christians (Catholic and Protestant) begin preparations for the pivotal week to come. The liturgical calendar for Eastern Orthodox Christians is a week later for this season.

Holy Week commences with Palm Sunday, the feast commemorating Jesus’ ceremonial entry into Jerusalem. (Eastern Christians mark Palm Sunday on April 5, this year.) According to all four canonical Gospels, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. In joyful exultation, the crowds that had gathered in Jerusalem laid down clothing and small branches in his path. (Learn more from Catholic Culture.)

THE PALM BRANCH: YESTERDAY AND TODAY

Thousands of years ago, palm branches symbolized integrity and triumph. The palm-branche symbol sometimes showed up on coins and decorated important buildings and temples. In Roman Catholic, Anglican and many Protestant congregations, palm fronds are blessed and distributed on Palm Sunday. Though local species of branches may be substituted where palm fronds are unavailable—for example, box, yew, willow and olive branches are also used, among others—the branch most widely distributed is the palm. (Wikipedia has details.) In some parishes, a procession also occurs on this Sunday. The blessed palms, regarded as sacred objects in the Catholic Church, are often kept behind household crucifixes or holy pictures and, tradition says, these fronds could be burned at next year’s Ash Wednesday services.

PALM BRAIDING

Palms waving on Palm SundayEvery  year our readers ask for tips on palm braiding, so here are this year’s best tips: Watch tutorials on palm braiding, or use step-by-step instructions, with help from U.S. Catholic.org, YouTube, Catholic Inspired and Fish Eaters.

In countries where palm fronds are widely available, such as Spain and Mexico, the weaving of intricate designs and figures is common practice on Palm Sunday. In Latvia, pussy willows are blessed and, traditionally, used to swat children awake on the morning of Palm Sunday. In Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria, Palm Sunday is an occasion for family and is extremely popular, complete with palm weaving, processions and a splashing of holy water. In the Philippines, Jesus’ entry in Jerusalem is reenacted.

Did you know? Aside from palm braiding, Palm Sunday is sometimes considered a customary time to eat figs, in light of Jesus’s interaction with a fig tree after his entry into Jerusalem. In addition, Palm Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday are considered the ideal time to thoroughly clean the home, so that Thursday, Friday and Saturday may be set aside to focus on Christ’s passion and the home may be spotless for Easter.

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Categories: Christian