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In a secret location, somewhere in or near the outskirts of Jerusalem in the early part of the first-century CE, several distraught men, women, and perhaps even a few children, were huddled together, taking solace in their prayers and performing mundane activities as they mourned the sudden shocking and devastating events that had led to the arrest and crucifixion of their beloved Teacher, their Master, their proclaimed Lord—Yeshua... The individual we know today as Jesus, the Christ.
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Only a week ago, even as their Roman overlords looked on in great consternation, the Jewish faction living in the City of David had welcomed Yeshua (Jesus’ name in his native Aramaic tongue) and his disciples into their midst. That Sunday, there had been grand parade with crowds of hopeful people singing praises of “Hosanna!” and “Alleluia!” and spreading palm fronds beneath the hooves of the little white donkey passing through the gate as he carried his famed rider into their midst. The sense of elation that had overtaken Yeshua’s followers had lasted right up until late Thursday evening.
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After gathering for a small and intimate banquet with his closest disciples—the ones who traveled with him always, Yeshua beckoned four from among his Apostles—his closest friends, Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John—to accompany him to a secluded grove on on the Mount of Olives where they could be alone to talk and pray. That was when everything changed... And no matter how much they all wished or begged the Most High to go back in time to set things right, or to provide an explanation as to why the things that occurred that night happened the way they did, or to give them a sign that everything would be as Yeshua had proclaimed, their prayers remained unanswered.
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Most of the disciples now gathered in the shuttered room wondered aloud what was to become of them now... How would they survive without their Teacher? Where should they go once they could make their escape from the city? Could the men even leave their hiding place without getting arrested? Roman patrols and men hired by the Jewish authorities were everywhere, searching the city alleyways, and on the lookout to round up each and every one of Yeshua’s followers.
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Because of their current circumstances, only the women dared to venture out into public. They were well equipped to dress incognito, and with veils to shroud their faces, they could blend into crowds of shoppers with little attention brought upon themselves and no questions asked. As a result, the women of their group were the ones who obtained food and water for the male disciples while they remained safely hidden in their secret location. Thus, the women ran all the necessary errands and were entrusted with warning any of Yeshua’s outside followers to either remain hidden here in the city, or—if there was any safe chance—to try to escape Jerusalem and head north to Galilee.
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As Saturday came and went, the disciples sat together, ate together, prayed together, and mourned the loss of their beloved rabbi together. Everyone dreaded Sunday, for on that day, Miriamne, the magdal eder—which, in Aramaic means the tower of the flock—would go to the burial chamber on the outskirts in the city to prepare Yeshua’s body for internment. At the time of Yeshua’s death, his body could not be properly cleansed since it had been removed from the cross much too close to sunset on Friday, and the law forbade any type of work on the Sabbath.
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Miriamne’s ministrations on Sunday morning would ensure Yeshua’s body was set for the coming year. Only then would the Master’s bare bones be carefully collected and lovingly placed into a stone ossuary—a decorated burial box—for permanent internment in the new crypt that Joseph of Aramathea had so generously provided as Yeshua’s final resting place. So shocked at the turn of events that led to Yeshua’s execution and despondent over his death were the disciples that no one recalled his promise to return to them that very day. After all, that was impossible...
Wasn’t it? Preposterous! No one had ever risen from the dead... Still... A very few, who were closest to Yeshua, kept hope that somehow... someway... He would find his way back to his lost sheep.
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Even as Miriamne approached the crypt, she knew something was terribly wrong. The huge round stone that should have been blocking the entrance was rolled away, and even though Pilate, the Roman Prefect, had ordered several sentries to be stationed there, not a single one was in sight.
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Clutching her box of unguents, herbs, and oils to her breast, and summoning her courage, Miriamne slowly approached the tomb. She paused just outside the entry to listen for any voices that might reveal the location of the wayward guards. But, the tomb seemed eerily dark and silent. Cautiously, Miriamne set foot inside the crypt...
The sight that met her eyes was unimaginable! The space, which was about the size of a small room with a long center stone upon which the body of Yeshua had been lain, was completely bare! Except for the blood-stained ecru burial cloths lying neatly on the center of the placement stone and some flowers strewn about on the ground, there was nothing left at all to indicate a body had ever occupied the newly hewn, pristine tomb.
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Fear welled up in Miriamne’s heart as she tried to make sense of her surroundings. Her eyes went wide as a single thought came to mind... Someone has taken him... Someone has stolen Yeshua’s body! As quickly as her feet could carry her, Miriamne raced out of the burial chamber. In her panic, she tripped on a rock and fumbled the box of precious herbs and spices. As she stooped down to collect the contents, she began to sob in frustration, for she was now shaking so hard, her hands were useless and she could not pick up a single item without dropping it back down into the dirt.
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In her despair, Miriamne cried out loudly, “Where have they taken him?” A strong but gentle voice responded, “Who is it you seek?” Miriamne jumped in fright and shot up straight when the voice of who she assumed was a gardener startled her. With his back to the East, and the sun in her eyes, she could hardly make out his features.
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The stranger leaned heavily on his staff as he kept his back to the rising sun and asked again, “Who is it you seek?” Miriamne drew in a quick breath and blinked back her tears as she regarded the man. He did not appear to be a threat... Only a concerned gardener. “I have come to minister to my...” As a tiny pebble fell from the ledge behind her, Miriamne paused mid-sentence. She suddenly recalled being warned by James and John that the authorities were actively looking to arrest any and all of Yeshua’s disciples. Was she in any danger now? Would they take a woman in for questioning? Could she trust a Jewish gardener not to betray her?
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Before Miriamne could decide whether or not to respond, the Gardener suddenly leaned forward on his staff. As his face suddenly came into view, the radiant rays of the sun were blocked out and the light from behind framed him like a halo. Smiling wide, he asked, “Miri, do you not recognize me?” Instantly, Miriamne fell to her knees sobbing as she cried out to the heavens, “Rabboni! My Rabboni!”
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Christians around the world are quite familiar with the story of the first Easter as it is recorded in the Synoptic Gospel accounts of the New Testament.
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According to believers, Jesus walked the Earth as God made incarnate. His mission was to be sacrificed on the cross to absolve humankind of all sin and to open the doors to life everlasting in his Father’s Kingdom.
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For historians who rely on concrete evidence, however, the proper physical evidence supporting the existence of an historical Jesus remains elusive... undiscovered. And biblical scholars and historians alike will debate the question of Jesus’ existence and his place in history until that proof is found. But, no one can say for certain that Jesus (Yeshua in his native tongue) never existed. The only truth we have at this time is that there are well over 2-billion Christians who believe in Jesus Christ and follow his teachings more than 2,000-years after he chose to walk this way with us.
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Since the earliest days of Christianity, Easter has been revered as the oldest and greatest feast day. For Catholics, Easter is usually celebrated on the Sunday following the first full moon between March 21 and April 25. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, which adheres to the Julian calendar, Easter falls on a Sunday between April 4th and May 8th each year. Some denominations of Protestant Christianity celebrate Easter Sunday at the beginning of Eastertide (aka the Easter Season) which ends on the 50th day after Pentecost. Meanwhile, in Eastern Orthodox branches of Christianity, Easter Sunday serves as the start of the season called Pascha (which is Greek for “Easter”). Pascha ends 40 days later with the Feast of the Ascension.
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For all Christians, Easter symbolizes a new beginning—A new life through the risen Christ. His Passion and resurrection represent God’s willingness to forgive all sin and fulfill His promise of eternal life after mortal death. Many of the traditions associated with Easter date back to pre-Christian times and actually have roots in pagan celebrations such as the Jewish holiday of Passover, and in the ancient festivals celebrating the pagan goddess Eostre (aka Ostara)—the Germanic goddess of Spring. In modern times, Easter has evolved into a more generic, non-religious holiday that is celebrated all over the globe. But, each and every tradition we uphold today in celebration of Easter still commemorates the theme of life, death, and renewal. Today, Easter is one of the world’s most beloved holidays, and families across the globe look forward to gathering together to share a grand meal, have fun with their children, and exchange small gifts.
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Tulips and white lilies, flowers born of bulbs, seemingly dead but bursting with life, are present at most Easter functions—including celebratory masses. These symbols of life after death are given to loved ones as gifts, either as potted plants or beautiful bouquets, on Easter Day.
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Eggs, a symbol of fertility and new life in the ancient world, are colorfully decorated and gifted as tokens of friendship and love for family and close friends.
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Of course, fun is a major part of the day’s celebrations with the Easter Bunny making his traditional appearance at most Easter Egg Hunts after dropping off Easter baskets filled with chocolate eggs, jellybeans, marshmallow Peeps, and toys for lucky boys and girls who might be roused awake by the peeping of tiny fuzzy chicks or the wakening nuzzle of a new baby bunny, kitten, or puppy on Easter morn!
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Sharing a special meal has always been a central part of any holiday, and Easter is no exception. Lamb, representing both the sacrifice of Christ on the cross and the Spring birthing-season, is the most traditional Easter meal served around the world. Spring vegetables like peas, asparagus, and new potatoes are also a big part of the Easter meal. Even coconut cake, which reminds us of birds’ nests, is served as traditional Easter dessert around the world! Nowadays, Baked Ham has become the most popular Easter entree in the United States. But, what does a pig have to do with Easter?!
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In the days before refrigeration, hogs were brought to slaughter and cured during the fall months. Six months later, Americans could rest assured that a luscious ham would be ready to grace their table just in time for the Easter holiday!
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As time moves forward and the World changes, it’s easy to speculate that just like the other big holidays, more traditions will be tacked on to Easter celebrations. But globally, whether one truly believes in the risen Christ or not, Easter has become for all of us a symbol of birth and renewal that brings family and friends together, blessing us all!
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From my family to yours, may the true message of Easter always hold a special place in your hearts! JB Richards
Don’t forget to read my accompanying guest blog to this article, “Good Friday: Finding the Way Home”, on Mary Anne Yarde’s Myths, Legends, Books, and Coffee Pots Blog here!
Note: For those of you who still have questions about the historical Jesus, there is a new article published in ASOR—“Jesus in Non-Christian Sources” by Lester L. Grabbe—that shines a light on the current historical evidence of Jesus’ life. Read the article, and more importantly, Grabbe’s conclusions here.
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