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Easter and Holy Week – it all starts with a palm

Palm Sunday, when many churches begin their Easter celebrations in earnest. Photo: Brady Leavell

Easter is a celebration of love and life. God loves us so much that he sent his son Jesus into the world to give meaning and purpose to our lives.

“For here is the way God loved the world – he gave his only, unique son as a gift. So now everyone who believes in him will never perish but experience everlasting life” (John chapter 3, verse 16).

Every year, Easter has two significant celebrations – Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Unlike Christmas, these dates change from year to year based on the lunar calendar.

In 2023, Easter will be celebrated on Good Friday 7 April, and Easter Sunday 9 April.

Many churches, however, start Easter celebrations today – Palm Sunday – which leads to the term ‘Holy Week’. Holy Week refers to the days and events leading up to Easter Sunday.

It starts with Palm Sunday, when Jesus was celebrated as King and Saviour by large crowds as he came into Jerusalem, before his betrayal by a close friend, his last meal with his followers, a night of sorrowful prayer and then Good Friday – when Jesus died on the cross.

Crucified on a cross

Good Friday is significant because it was the first step in reconciling the world and humanity to our creator God. While on Earth, Jesus experienced life as a human.

Throughout his life, he knew what it was like to be hungry, tired, alone and grieving. Then, on Good Friday he was betrayed, rejected and crucified.

After he died, Jesus was taken down from the cross, and his body was placed in a dark tomb, sealed and guarded from the outside with a heavy stone. On Saturday, Jesus’ followers felt devastated, afraid, disappointed, uncertain and hopeless. But on Sunday, a miracle happened.

Risen from the dead

The Bible says in the first light of day, some women went to Jesus’ tomb, expecting to anoint his dead body, as per their custom. But instead of finding Jesus’ body, they saw angels, who said, “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead!” (Luke chapter 24, verses 5-6).

In the days that followed, Jesus appeared to his disciples many times, showing them that he indeed was alive. Jesus’ resurrection is the reason for Easter Sunday celebrations, as it gives Christians hope and joy.

Holy Week is full of contrasts. There is honour and praise followed by a day of deep, dark sadness, followed by joy, hope and light.

Despite hot cross buns and Easter eggs appearing on store shelves from early January, it can be a little complicated to understand why Good Friday is ‘good’, why Easter is celebrated or how the meaning of Easter relates to our lives today.

The essence of Easter

Jesus says, “I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance” (John chapter 10, verse 10b). This is the essence of Easter. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection are for all our sakes so we can have life in all its fullness – now and in the future.

When the world offers us stress about the cost of living and interest rate rises, Jesus offers us peace. When the world seems full of hate and devastation, Jesus extends love and wholeness.

Many of the emotions that were there on Good Friday are similar to those we may be experiencing today. Friends who betray and reject us. Fear and anxiety over financial insecurity and sickness. Pain and heartache for loved ones. Confusion and hopelessness about the future. Grief, despair, loneliness. Jesus understands it all.

He took all this upon himself – our shame, brokenness and mistakes. He put them to death on the cross where he died so we could be free of it all.

The significance of Good Friday lies in the fact that Jesus loves us so much he gave up everything so that we could experience true and everlasting life. Jesus’ death was a sacrifice for everyone so we could have a close relationship with God. It was an overwhelmingly great act of love!

Easter at the Salvos

Easter is a significant event on the Christian calendar, and, as part of the Christian church, The Salvation Army will host faith gatherings across the weekend. Each gathering will be different, as the Salvos respond to the needs of the community in which they are based.

On Good Friday – to reflect on the death of Jesus – some Salvos will host contemplative church services, decorate their halls with candles and crosses for quiet prayer services, provide hot cross bun morning teas or walk through the streets with a cross.

On Easter Sunday – to celebrate Jesus’ coming back to life – churches, including the Salvos, will host upbeat, celebratory services, dawn services in outdoor settings, or Easter egg hunts.

The Salvos welcome people from all backgrounds to come and celebrate Easter with us. Whether you grew up in a Christian environment or not, your local Salvos would love to see you at Easter or throughout the year at various informal gatherings, including playgroups, women’s outings, seniors’ groups, small group spiritual chats and more.

This Easter, we pray that you discover what it means to become truly alive in and through God’s love.

For more information on Easter, click here

Julia Hosking is a communications content specialist for The Salvation Army Australia.


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