The Resurrection of Jesus is the heart of the Christian proclamation.  The complex of events that Easter summarizes (the Passion and Crucifixion; the Resurrection and Ascension) cap all four of the gospels, form the main theme of Saint Paul’s letters, and are the main focus of the speeches in Acts.  Without the Resurrection Christianity is pointless or worse:  

And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins…[and] they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.  If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.  (I Corinthians xiii.17-9)

Paul has it right, and modernist Christians, including the mitered agnostics, who would reduce the Resurrection to an ahistorical metaphor, have it wrong.  It is on the basis of the Resurrection that Christians come to understand Christ’s divinity and the meaning of his human life.  Therefore it is also on the basis of the Resurrection that Christians came to glimpse the Trinity.  The whole of the Christian faith rises or falls with the Easter proclamation: ‘He is risen.’ 

Easter goes by many names, of which our English word and the related German name Ostern, are perhaps the oddest.  According to Saint Bede and many later scholars, ‘Easter’ is derived through a Northumbrian spelling from a Germanic name, Eostre, a goddess whose feast was observed on the spring equinox.  As both the modern English and German words are close to the word ‘east’ (Easter, east; Ostern, Osten), it appears that Eostre was thought to be the goddess of the dawn which rises in the east.  Some of these connections continue in Easter hymnody:

Not one darksome cloud is dimming

Yonder glorious morning ray,

Breaking o’er the purple east,

Symbol of our Easter feast.    (Cecil Frances Alexander)

The Prayer Book is usually careful to give the formal titles of days along with their more common name.  So, for instance, Christmas is ‘The Nativity of our Lord, or the Birthday of Christ, commonly called Christmas Day’; Epiphany is ‘The Epiphany, or the Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles’; Ash Wednesday is ‘The first day of Lent, commonly called Ash Wednesday’.  In the Prayer Book, however, Easter is not called, as one might expect, ‘The Resurrection of our Lord, commonly called Easter Day’, but just ‘Easter Day’.  Please note that there is no such day as ‘Easter Sunday’.  In Prayer Book usage, which is standard English usage, there is ‘Easter’ or ‘Easter Day’, which is always a Sunday, but never ‘Easter Sunday’.  The day of the week is properly only used for the rest of the days in Easter week: Easter Monday, Easter Tuesday, etc.

In most European languages the name for Easter is a word that in English we now usually find only as an adjective, ‘paschal’:  the paschal mysteries, paschaltide, the paschal lamb.  In older English, however, ‘Pasch’ was a fairly common name for Easter, which is why the adjective ‘paschal’ is still common.  In Latin, including the Latin translation of the Prayer Book, the day is Pascha.  Likewise, for the Eastern Orthodox Easter is ‘Holy Pascha’ in the various languages such as Greek (πάσχα) and Russian (Пасхи).  In French it is Pâques (the circumflex accent over the ‘a’ indicating here, as it usually does, an elided ‘s’); in Spanish, Pascua; and similar names exist in the other Romance languages.  (Again, on the matter of ‘Easter Sunday’ – one of my pet peeves, as you will have discerned – Easter day in French is le jour de Pâques, ‘the day of Easter’, not le Dimanche de Pâques, ‘the Sunday of Easter’.)  This name, Pascha, comes ultimately from the Hebrew word for Passover, Pesakh, and indeed in many languages Pascha refers both to Easter and to the Jewish festival.  In French, for instance, the only difference in the words for Passover and Easter is the number and gender:  Pâques, masculine = Easter; la Pâque, feminine and singular = Passover.

Whatever we call it, Easter is the greatest Christian feast and the center of our religion.  The Easter proclamation rings through the forty days:   ‘Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.’   (Orthodox troparion of Holy Pascha)

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