Fanuel Kangondo Deputy Lifestyle Editor
Over the years Easter has evolved into possibly the most important Christian festival. Unlike Christmas which has been taken over by retail mania and secular traditions, Easter remains fully focused on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, a central figure in Christian belief with encouragement for the individual to introspect.
Of course all Christian holidays have roots in pagan holidays and Easter is no different. Its timing and some of the non-biblical traditions associated with the four-day festival are distinctly pre-Christian and have no biblical reference whatsoever. The Easter Bunny and the Easter eggs predate the history of Christianity and are linked to fertility festivals for ancient deities.
Some scholars even argue that the word Easter itself comes from the goddess Astarte who was honoured at the same time as Christians celebrate the festival today. Some Christian denominations do not observe the festival.
Whatever its roots, there is no denial that Easter has become a key time in Christianity. In Zimbabwe and many other countries the Easter holiday is distinctively different from the other ones such as the Christmas break which tends to bring the extended family together and the Heroes’ holidays when traditional rites are conducted. It appears that this is a time for the core family.
Many middle class families take the time out for holidays at the many resorts that the country has to offer. For the lower classes some Easter eggs and hot cross buns do the trick. No other special foods have come to be distinctly associated with the holiday for the majority of the population. It seems that attending church services is the one tradition that has gained ground over the past century and remains strong.
From the orthodox Christian religion, the Pentecostal churches, Vapostori, Islamic and Jewish followers, all devote attention to the significance of the rising of Christ from the dead as a symbol of what God has done in the past and what He will do in the future.
Easter is widely believed to be at the heart of Christianity and the story begins on Good Friday when Jesus Christ was executed by crucifixion. His body was taken down from the cross, and buried in a cave.
Jehovah’s Witnesses however, hold their own view and do not celebrate Easter. According to their website jw.org , the religion does not believe that the origins of Easter customs are based on the Bible: “Jesus commanded that we commemorate his death, not his resurrection. We observe this Memorial each year on the anniversary of his death according to the Bible’s lunar calendar,” a proclamation on the website says.
But other churches see things differently. In his Easter message the head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis explains why the resurrection should be prioritised.
“This event is the basis of our faith and our hope. If Christ were not raised, Christianity would lose its very meaning; the whole mission of the church would lose its impulse, for this is the point from which it first set out and continues to set out ever anew. The message which Christians bring to the world is this: Jesus, love incarnate, died on the cross for our sins, but God the Father raised him and made him the Lord of life and death. In Jesus, love has triumphed over hatred, mercy over sinfulness, goodness over evil, truth over falsehood, life over death.”
The Bible says that although the tomb of Jesus was guarded and an enormous stone was put over the entrance so that no-one could steal the body, when some women visited the grave the following Sunday they found that the stone had been moved, and that the tomb was empty.
Jesus himself was seen that day, and for days afterwards by many people. His followers realised that God had raised Jesus from the dead. The death of Jesus Christ is widely viewed as the atonement of sins committed by man on earth for all who have accepted him, according to biblical scriptures.
In the countdown to Easter over the past few weeks various Christian activities ranging from Ash Wednesday, Lent and Palm Sunday were held as many major branches of the Christian faith put in their effort to focus on the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Reverend Johannes Ndanga of the African Christian Council of Zimbabwe, which incorporates nearly 800 Apostolic and Pentecostal churches, said the celebration of Easter knows no boundaries and was observed across all denominations. He said that even before the time of Jesus Christ, the Abibi Festival was celebrated in April as the Israelites reflected on their journey from slavery in Egypt.
“Everyone, even non-Christians should celebrate Easter. Our doctrines may differ but we all believe in a saviour. As Apostolic faith followers we may do it differently from others but during this period we will be holding our assemblies in various places around the country. We may have different doctrines or philosophies but Easter is a festival that brings us together,” Rev Ndanga said.
Easter is celebrated to varying degrees in the Islamic world, ranging from outright illegal and furtive events in Saudi Arabia to being openly celebrated in some of the Gulf States and the Far East.
According to the Holy Quran, Jesus was neither killed nor crucified, but was raised to heaven. To them, Easter has no direct analogue in Islam since it is the celebration of his resurrection.
Under Jewish tradition, Passover celebrates Israel’s exodus from Egypt.
“God told the Israelites to celebrate the Feast of Passover every year. Passover was a reminder of what God had done in the past and what God was going to do in the future. The Passover lamb symbolised the need for a sacrifice to protect the people from death. It was given as a sign of an event that would happen later in time,” a Jewish priest said.
Easter remains a very significant festival that has successfully brought together people of different religions for a common cause that is peacefully embraced across the globe.