Beliefs Culture The 'Splainer The 'Splainer

The Egg-‘Splainer: What is Holy Week and Easter all about?

Decorated Easter eggs.

(RNS) This is Holy Week, the most sacred time of year for Christians. It is the time they mark the betrayal, trial and crucifixion of Jesus, and a week that culminates in Easter Sunday, the day Christians believe Jesus rose from the dead. So what do colored eggs have to do with anything? Let us Egg-‘Splain …

Q: Is Holy Week really a whole week? I only know about Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

A: Holy Week is the entire week between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday. Not a whole lot happens on Monday and Tuesday, but some Christians mark the crucifixion on Wednesday, and some celebrate Maundy Thursday, the day of the Last Supper, Jesus’ final Passover meal with his disciples. It is sometimes celebrated with a foot-washing ceremony, a tradition beloved by Pope Francis, and a “Pascha” or “Paschal” meal, derived from the Jewish Passover Jesus would have known. Then comes Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday. Fun fact: Not all American Christians greet each other with “Happy Easter.” To many evangelicals, the day is “Resurrection Sunday,” in part because they believe the word “Easter” has pagan roots.

Q: What is so “good” about Good Friday, the day Jesus was horribly tortured to death?

A: One strand of thought goes like this: Jesus had to suffer whippings, beatings and a ring of thorns before being nailed to a cross and hung until he died. A bedrock Christian tenet is that Jesus died so horribly so as to save his followers from their own sins. And that’s “good.”

But “Good Friday” may also be an English adaptation of “Gottes Freitag,” German for “God’s Friday,” an older version of the day’s name. Or it may be a version of the German “Gute Freitag,” or “Good Friday.”

(RNS) Followed by more than 1,500 Good Friday worshippers in 2000, Jessie Rodriguez carries a cross that once stood atop Sacred Heart Church in Aurora, Ill. The scene is part of a ``Way of the Cross,'' or Via Crucis, procession that re-enacts and commemorates the march of Jesus to his crucifixion. Religion News Service file photo by Steven Buyansky/The Beacon News.

(RNS) Followed by more than 1,500 Good Friday worshippers in 2000, Jessie Rodriguez carries a cross that once stood atop Sacred Heart Church in Aurora, Ill. The scene is part of a “Way of the Cross,” or Via Crucis, procession that re-enacts and commemorates the march of
Jesus to his crucifixion. Religion News Service file photo by Steven Buyansky/The Beacon News

Christians do not universally call this day “good.” Eastern Orthodox Christians refer to it as “Great and Holy Friday” or just “Great Friday.” In Denmark, the day is referred to as “Long Friday,” which it certainly must have seemed to poor Jesus.

And not all Christians observe Good Friday. Some Baptists, Pentecostals, Seventh-day Adventists and nondenominational Christians mark the death of Jesus on Wednesday of Holy Week,  which would mean he spent three full days dead before rising from the tomb.

Q: I don’t get that. Christian liturgy contains some version of “on the third day he rose again,” but there aren’t three days between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. What’s up with that?

A: Jesus and his disciples were Jews and used the Jewish calendar, in which the day’s start is marked not with the sunrise, but with the sunset. So if Jesus was crucified on Friday, that would be the first day. Sunset on Friday would be the beginning of the second day — Saturday — and sunset Saturday would start the third day — Sunday. Easter Sunday. Three days.

The story of Mary Magdalene offering Tiberius Caesar an egg may be the origin of the Easter egg. This painting was photographed inside Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, Calif. Religion News Service photo by Kimberly Winston

The story of Mary Magdalene offering Tiberius Caesar an egg may be the origin of the Easter egg. This painting was photographed inside Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, Calif. Religion News Service photo by Kimberly Winston

Q: So Happy Easter! Now, why am I eating an egg to celebrate?

A: For that you can thank Mary Magdalene, one of the few named women in Jesus’ circle and one to whom he first appeared as the risen Christ, according to the New Testament. There is a traditional story from the Orthodox tradition about Mary Magdalene trying to convert the Roman Emperor Tiberius Caesar with an egg, a symbol of the stone rolled away from Jesus’ tomb. She handed Tiberius the egg with the greeting, “Christ is risen.” Tiberius is supposed to have answered, “It is as possible for someone to rise from the dead as it is for that white egg to turn red.” And then the egg turned bright red right there in the Magdalene’s hand. Today, Orthodox Christians mark Easter Sunday with the greeting “Christ is risen” and the giving of red-painted eggs.

YS/MG END WINSTON

About the author

Kimberly Winston

Kimberly Winston is a freelance religion reporter based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

14 Comments

Click here to post a comment

  • Passover not easter.

    Neither Jesus, nor any Apostle, ever celebrated eggs, bunnies and consumer-based capitalism in place of truth and prophecy.

  • So many stories … so little time 🙂
    I do like the ikon of Mary Magdala—poignant in pose.

    Symbolically, Mary of Magdala represents the TOWER of the Eucharist (thanksgiving), which is our pinnacle (wing), and she stood as one of three (Mary/Miriam).

    Peace

  • “for that you can thank Mary Magdalene”….

    What? No mention of the real reason – according to both historians and the Christians mentioned earlier in the same article – that this is a carry over from Pagan traditions. Historians agree that the Mary story is a much later, made up story to account for the Pagan eggs. shouldn’t ‘Splainers actually include real ‘Splainations? Oh yeah, I forgot about Christian privilege, which means that historical inaccuracy by journalists is OK if it is done to cover up history that Christians don’t like, but not OK otherwise.

  • the 3 days by Jewish sunset days still doesn’t work. Jesus is supposed to have died on friday (though this is different in the different Gospels – notice that “last supper” is a passover Seder in Mk, Mt and Lk, but explicity NOT the Seder in Jn. And when did he die? Mark says Jesus was crucified at 9 am (3rd hour) and died at 3 pm (9th hour), yet John has Jesus still before Herod at noon, which would put his death even later. Since corpses were left on crosses for a while after death, and since ritual prep takes a while, burial was likely after dark or the next day, So a Jewish day starting at sunset, still has, at most, a few hours, then a full day, then a few hours – hardly 3 days. Plus, in Mt 12:40, Jesus himself makes it clear by saying “three days and three nights”. Why is none of this mentioned? Oh yeah, Christian privilege requires that Gospel contradictions can’t be mentioned. Maybe mention them and add that some Christian have ways they explain them away?

  • “shouldn’t ‘Splainers actually include real ‘Splainations?”

    🙂 after reading about the attack in Kenya, I needed a smile. Thank you, Jon.

  • Clear thinking! Those “days” and “numbers”— are all symbolic (3rd hour/9th hr).

    This is what is needed in exploring the stories/illustrations of Scriptural verse.

  • Actually @Atheist Whacks, I’m going to assume you are some kind of bible-worshiping, myopic evangelical and just point out that the earliest Christians developed a number of ways of litrugically and symbolically celebrating the resurrection.

  • Yes, a symbolic reading works. That’s pretty clearly the intent in John, after all (having Jesus die the same time the sacrificial lambs die – since the lambs are killed to be eaten at the Seder, the crucifixion has to be before the last supper). Good point – and a point that helps in many other places in scripture too. Thanks.

  • @Jon I think you completely misunderstand the idea of “Christian Privilege.” This is not a case of that. A good example of Christian Privilege is that public schools include Christian holidays as days off from class. That is an established norm in our society and because of that it is an example of systemic privilege.

  • Yes, that’s a good example. It’s also an established norm in our society that journalists can report on Gospel stuff and keep contradictions hush-hush, while if they did the same thing on something else, (say they were reporting on a nuclear treaty that contained clear contradictions on the part they were reporting on), they would be called on their hiding of the contradictions. Established norms are privilege, no?

ADVERTISEMENTs