The Risen Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalen, by Rembrandt (1638)…
But first a word about Rembrandt‘s interpretation of Easter morning, shown above:
Mary Magdalen had just found Jesus’ grave empty, and asks a bystander what has happened. In her confusion she thinks the man is a gardener. Only when he replies with “Mary!” does she realize who she’s talking to. To illustrate Mary’s confusion, Jesus is often depicted as a gardener in this scene.
And then there’s the matter of Easter Sunday as it’s celebrated today, complete with the “Easter Bunny, colorfully decorated Easter eggs, and Easter egg hunts.” (See What is Easter Sunday?)
In the meantime:
When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint Jesus. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb… As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him…
And that of course is a subject people have been discussing – and arguing about – ever since.
But first a note about Easter as a full season, and not just a single Sunday of the year.
Eastertide refers to the 50 days from Easter Sunday to Pentecost. It’s the “festal season in the liturgical year of Christianity that begins on Easter Sunday.” See Eastertide. Each Sunday in the season after Easter (the Day) is treated as a Sunday of Easter. For example: April 12, 2015 is celebrated as the Second Sunday of Easter. And as noted, the Easter Season ends on Pentecost Sunday. (Pentecost – shown at right – means “the 50th day.”)
So how did the “Easter Bunny” get mixed up in all this?
The Easter Bunny (also called the Easter Rabbit or Easter Hare) is a symbol of Easter, depicted as a rabbit bringing Easter eggs. Originating among German Lutherans, the “Easter Hare” originally played the role of a judge, evaluating whether children were good or disobedient… In legend, the creature carries colored eggs in his basket, candy, and sometimes also toys to the homes of children, and as such shows similarities to Santa Claus or the Christkind, as they both bring gifts to children on the night before their respective holidays.
That’s from the Easter Bunny link, connected to the “bunny” postcard image below. The accompanying text said that the Easter Bunny custom was first written about 1682. (On that note see also social control, not unlike that practiced in the season before Christmas.)
The origins of Easter are rooted in European traditions. The name Easter comes from a pagan figure called Eastre (or Eostre) who was celebrated as the goddess of spring by the Saxons of Northern Europe. A festival called Eastre was held during the spring equinox by these people to honor her. The goddess Eastre’s earthly symbol was the rabbit, which was also known as a symbol of fertility… Today, Easter is almost a completely commercialized holiday, with all the focus on Easter eggs and the Easter bunny being remnants of the goddess worship.
For another interesting article, see Ēostre – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. It referred to the “Germanic divinity” who was the “namesake of the festival of Easter.” It noted that the “Ēostre” celebration was mentioned by the Venerable Bede in his “8th-century work The Reckoning of Time.”
Bede (circa 673-735) wrote that in the time before he was born, “pagan Anglo-Saxons held feasts in Eostre’s honor” during the equivalent of today’s month of April. But – he added – the tradition “had died out by his time, replaced by the Christian Paschal month, a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus.”
So it was apparently some time before the 8th century that “Christianity adapted itself to pagan customs” like these, as long as they didn’t “compromise the essential doctrines of the Church. (See Asimov, 932-33.)
And speaking of “The Resurrection by El Greco…“
El Greco‘s interpretation of Easter morning – shown above left – was viewed as “odd at the time,” by his contemporaries. But these days El Greco’s version “stands out as a work ahead of its time.” The painting itself shows Jesus – the Risen Messiah – “in a blaze of glory … holding the white banner of victory over death.”
Which is – after all – what Easter Sunday is really all about.
Isaac Asimov went on to note that many people – even to this day – still don’t believe in all this. That is, they believe that “the tale of the resurrection must be put down to legend.” But Asimov also noted that if the story had ended with the burial of Jesus – standing alone – it was highly likely “that Jesus’ disciples would gradually have forgotten their old teacher.” In turn, few new disciples would have been recruited to gather in His memory, as they did in the years following His death. (As described at length in the Acts of the Apostles – Wikipedia.)
In sum (Asimov noted), the history of the world would be “enormously different:”
However, even if we take the rationalist view that there was no resurrection in reality, it cannot be denied that there was one in the belief of the disciples and, eventually, of hundreds of millions of men – and that made all the difference. (E.A.)
So Asimov’s point seems to be that even though the “rationalists” among us can’t be persuaded by and through any direct evidence of the Resurrection, they can’t deny the circumstantial evidence. (That is, the evidence provided by the millions of lives transformed by their own belief.)
And speaking of such Doubting Thomases: The original, the prototype of such sceptics – as shown in the painting at left (by Schongauer) – is the subject of the Gospel reading for this upcoming Sunday, April 12. See Second Sunday of Easter and/or John 20:19-31, and also Thomas the Apostle – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Then too there’s the fact that this otherwise-obscure former carpenter from Nazareth literally “split time in half.” (A feat that hasn’t been done before or since.)
In the days before Jesus, people told time by whatever king held power in their particular time and place. See Matthew 2:1, “Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod.” See too Jeremiah 1:2, on the Old Testament prophet “to whom the word of the LORD came in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign.”
So if it hadn’t been for Jesus, this post would have been published on April 8, but not 2015. The date would have been “in the days of Barack Obama, president of the United States, in the sixth year of his reign.” The year I was born would be “in the days of Harry Truman, president of the United States, in the sixth year of his reign.” And I would have graduated from high school “in the days of Richard Nixon, president of the United States, in the first year of his reign.” (All of which would have been extremely confusing.)
So that simplicity-of-numbering alone may have been worth the price of admission…
The upper image is courtesy of The Risen Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalen – Art and the Bible.
The small Pentecost image is courtesy of www.catholic.org/clife/lent/pentecost.php.
The larger middle image is courtesy of The Resurrection by GRECO, El – Web Gallery of Art:
Christ is shown in a blaze of glory, striding through the air and holding the white banner of victory over death. The soldiers who had been placed at the tomb to guard it scatter convulsively. Two of them cover their eyes, shielding themselves from the radiance, and two others raise one hand in a gesture of acknowledgement of the supernatural importance of the event… By excluding any visual reference to the tomb or to landscape, El Greco … articulated its universal significance through the dynamism of nine figures that make up the composition [in] one of the greatest interpretations of the subject in art.
See also Resurrection, 1584-94 by El Greco, and El Greco’s Resurrection: Ahead of its Time: “El Greco considered spiritual expression to be more important than public opinion and it was in this way that he developed a unique style … as one of the great geniuses of Western art.”
The lower image is courtesy of Easter – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Re: Isaac Asimov. The quotes – including the summary of the Gospel of Matthew – are from Asimov’s Guide to the Bible (Two Volumes in One), Avenel Books (1981), at pages 896-97 and 932-33.
Asimov (1920-1992) was “an American author and professor of biochemistry at Boston University, best known for his works of science fiction and for his popular science books. Asimov was one of the most prolific writers of all time, having written or edited more than 500 books and an estimated 90,000 letters and postcards.” His list of books included those on “astronomy, mathematics, the Bible, William Shakespeare’s writing, and chemistry.” He was a long-time member of Mensa, “albeit reluctantly; he described some members of that organization as ‘brain-proud and aggressive about their IQs.’” See Isaac Asimov – Wikipedia.