The noun “Easter” has somewhat mysterious, imprecise origins, traceable to early Germanic roots bearing on the arrival of springtime, early first-fruits harvest and promise of later abundance.
In contrast, the adjective “Paschal,” in common use in other linguistic communities, is decidedly traceable to the Hebrew “Pesach” bearing on the ancient experience of Passover: God’s historic deliverance of God’s people from slavery in northeast Africa — what we commonly refer to as Salvation.
This exquisite, incomparable point of reference at Easter — bearing on the miracle-filled life, death and life again of one exemplary human — adds glorious luster to the Salvation experienced by God’s people from one end to the other of Holy Scripture, which I long ago concluded is all about Salvation.
In our Western Church, Easter Day is always the first Sunday after the full moon that falls on or after March 21 (the date of the spring equinox). Accordingly, Easter cannot occur before March 22 or after April 25.
It is not correct to assert that the crucified Jesus lay three days in the bonds of death, or that Jesus’s Resurrection came about three days after his Crucifixion. The Scriptural pronouncement is that Jesus was raised from the dead “early in the morning of the third day of his death by Crucifixion.” The difference is between “three days’ time after,” or 72 hours after, on the one hand … and on the other hand, “on the third day” (as recounted in the Gospel accounts), or, hypothetically, approximately 3 o’clock in the Friday afternoon of Jesus’s Crucifixion until 3 o’clock in the Sunday morning of the third day — that’s nine hours on Friday, then 24 hours on Saturday, and then three hours early Sunday for a total of 36 hours: a day and a half of expired time.
The themes that run through the events associated with Easter that together, when applied to our daily lives, constitute the “meaning” of Easter include joy of perennial creation and re-creation — mammalian, avian, plantlike and even cellular “fecundity” — and greater light and warmth as we now progress to and past another seasonal midpoint, the summer solstice. With that light and warmth are the common themes of faith and hope, and of God’s “efficacious grace” and mercy, deliverance, overcoming and salvation And consider, too, the other themes of the stamping down villainy, harm, defeat, disease and even dreaded death.
Current events like the ferocious fire in Paris that partly destroyed so much of the great cultural, national and religious icon and shrine, the Cathedral of Our Lady of Paris (Notre Dame de Paris will in restoration constitute even more: a living structural promise of unfailing Divine regeneration that both characterizes and also helps define Easter.
— The Rev. Dr. Wesley S. Williams Jr., K.St.J., is Washington National Cathedral Priest Scholar and Chaplain and member of the Dean’s Council and service rotas; he previously served as Bishop’s Dean/Sub-Dean for St. Thomas and St. John and vicar and assistant priest for congregations in the Episcopal Diocese of the Virgin Islands (U.S. and U.K.)