Different denominations, different Easter traditions

Posted: April 14, 2014

Christians celebrate the transfiguration, crucifiction and resurrection of Christ on Easter 

Carrying the beam of the cross, covered in blood and wounds, Jesus’ physical body can no longer handle the weight. He stumbles, falls and attempts to get back up. He has stepped into the shoes, or rather sandals, of mankind; his human body has reached its breaking point. But there is more pain to come. At Golgotha, his wrists and the arches of his feet are pierced through with nails.

This is love.

The New International Version of John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

This verse epitomizes the Easter season. Easter, labeled the most important holiday in the Christian calendar, may be confusing because there are three different events that are celebrated: the crucifixion, the resurrection and the transfiguration. This year, Easter falls April 20, eleven days from now.

Prior to the pain, Jesus dined for the last time with his disciples. Saddened and confused, many disciples claimed they wouldn’t betray him, but their claims meant nothing when it came down to the bigger plan. As the time drew near to his arrest, Jesus was seen in the Garden of Gethsemane praying to God. His prayer was a plea: he wished there was a plan B, but just like his disciples, there was no room for pleading. He is betrayed, arrested, convicted by the Romans and then crucified.

There was no other way.

“I think that is the human side of Jesus [pleading],” said science teacher Nancy Cripe. “Jesus is fully human and fully divine. The fully human part says if there’s another way to accomplish this, bringing salvation to everyone, I’d do it.”

Jesus’ submission to God’s will has resulted in the Easter season and the Holy Week. One part of Holy Week is Good Friday, which represents the crucifixion. Another part of Holy Week is Easter Sunday. Jesus appears to the disciples surrounded in light. He shows them that all will be well. This day combines resurrection and transfiguration. All in all, Easter celebrates the resurrection as well as the crucifixion and transfiguration.

Father Andrew Morbey of St. Mary’s Orthodox Cathedral claims, “The dominant, the most fundamental thing and emphasis [in the Orthodox church] is the Resurrection. Everything liturgically over the course of the year revolves around Pascha (Easter) and every week celebrates Sunday as the Day of Resurrection; our entire hope resides in the Resurrection and all our prayers reference the Resurrection or some aspect of it…”

Lead Pastor of Calvary Evangelical Free Church Kevin Barnhart agrees with Morbey when it comes to the Orthodox denomination, Coming from a protestant church Barnhart sees the focus on the resurrection there. “In the protestant tradition we do focus on the empty tomb,” wrote Barnhart in an email.

Barnhart asks, “If Christ is risen why should we picture him still on the cross?”

The angels who were at the empty tomb already answered to the disciples, “why are you searching for the living among the dead?”

Reverend John Paul Erickson of Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis believes, “Easter is not only the celebration of the memory of Jesus Christ. It is rather an experience of Him and of His saving death and resurrection.”

Bethel Philosophy professor Carrie Peffley has “experienced” each tradition at one point in time. She grew up Protestant and began studying mysticism and transfiguration because of her teaching in medieval philosophy.

Breaking Easter down, Peffley believes the Orthodox tradition focuses on transfiguration, Catholics on the crucifixion, and Protestants on the resurrection.

Her experience in Protestantism has lead her to observe a focus on the resurrection. Her knowledge of the medieval period has “led to an understanding of the Orthodox tradition as one that more easily embraces mysticism.”

When it comes to Catholicism she has seen that there is a “firm focus on doctrine – specifically a theological doctrine of the body, which is seemingly connected to a focus on the Crucifixion.”

Nowadays it seems Easter focuses more on the Easter bunny and colorful eggs. These traditions, though wonderful, are separate from Easter.

“Sometimes if you can get a focus on Easter, it might draw more of the outside people in,” said cross-country and track coach Christian Zimmerman. “Everything has a reason for it. If you get people interested in what Easter is, they might ask more questions. Eggs and rabbits are signs of rebirth, and when you think about the resurrection that is rebirth.”

Zimmerman decided that Jesus’ death would impact his life.

“When I was in college and I realized I wanted to run for Him,” said Zimmerman, “the fact that he gave pain for me, means that I can give that much more pain for Him. The motivational factor for me is that if he stayed on the cross, with nails on his hands and his feet and a crown of thorns, it’s a lot of pain. He’s doing that for me. I can hurt that much more [for him in daily life].”

Senior Joelle Wilson grew up in a non-denominational church. She now attends a Baptist church. The first Easter Wilson remembers is when she was four.

“[After the Easter dinner,] my dad would read the Easter story at the table and that’s actually when I accepted Christ,” said Wilson. “When I was 4 years old, on Easter Sunday. My dad was telling me the story about how Jesus came to earth and he died for our sins so that we could all go to heaven, and I said ‘I want to go to heaven. How do I do that?’ so he prayed with me right there, with everyone.”

This sacrificially-loving God has led Christians to conclude that Easter is all about selflessness.

“It’s not about you. It’s not about what you did, or what you’ve done,” said Wilson. “It’s about what God did for you and the fact that you can have eternal life and that your sins are forgiven if you so desire them to be. The door is open and a lot of people forget that too often.”

Sacred Studies teacher Jeffrey Crafton connects it back to scripture.

“Jesus broke open the doors to heaven – now in this life and beyond,” said Crafton.

Referring to 1 Corinthians 15 he said, “If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then Christianity collapses. Sin and death win.”

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