Christians everywhere set aside Easter Sunday as the holy day on which they believe Jesus Christ rose from the dead three days after his crucifixion and entombment.
The cross is one of several symbols that hold significance in the Christian faith and convey powerful messages of hope and love commemorating the resurrection of Christ more than 2,000 years ago.
“The cross symbolizes the fact that God does all the work for us, as far as salvation is concerned,” said the Rev. Henry Murdaugh, pastor of St. Dorcas Baptist Church in North and Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Ulmer. “He paid a debt that we could not pay, and that’s the focus of our faith and should be the focus of our pride.”
Murdaugh said the configuration of the cross also holds significance, in that the vertical bar symbolizes divine activity and divine thought in the life of man — man’s striving toward the divine example of Christ. The horizontal bar symbolizes man’s limitations and his preoccupation with matters on the material plane.
“The place where the horizontal and vertical bars meet is the place where the physical meets the spiritual, and that is where man is made whole,” he said.
The Rev. Larry McCutcheon, pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church in Orangeburg, said, “The cross is the symbol that all Christians should affirm as they work toward building relationships with their fellow man. As they do that, they certainly develop a greater relationship with our lord and savior Jesus Christ.”
The cross not only speaks of a cruel death, but a new life that came through Jesus’ eventual victory over death, said the Rev. Judd Jordan, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Orangeburg.
“Forgiveness, mercy and grace came through the death of Jesus Christ,” he said. “The cross is the tangible, visible reminder of what Jesus has done for us, but it has also come to symbolize the new life that we have in the resurrection. It’s a new saving life that we receive in him.”
The 2004 feature film “The Passion of the Christ” depicted the pain and suffering Christ endured during the last 12 hours of his life, but ended with the hope that he rose again in triumph over sin and death. The crown of thorns was one of the instruments of the Passion and placed on Jesus Christ before his crucifixion, a symbol of pain and mockery for the true king of kings, said Father James Dubrouillet, pastor of Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Orangeburg.
“The Jews were saying, ‘We have no king but Caesar,’ so they were rejecting their own hereditary kinship,” he said. “They were making him wear the crown of thorns and mocking Jesus about this, yet he is really the king. There’s many parts of the Passion that point out just incredible irony, and that’s one of them.”
The Rev. Dr. Frank Larisey, rector of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Orangeburg, said, “It was indeed a crown, but not a crown that we would call glorious. It was an instrument of torture, but a crown nonetheless. It belonged to one who — because of how he suffered and died and is now a savior — is the king of kings and lord of lords. He’s in charge.”
The purple and white cloths placed on the crosses erected in many area church yards also carry a meaning of their own.
“In the Catholic and Episcopal churches, purple is the symbol of royalty,” said the Rev. Garry White, pastor of Orangeburg Lutheran Church. “It’s also a symbol of bruising and suffering. That is the color that is used during the season of Lent. In the week immediately prior to Easter on Good Friday, a lot of churches will take the purple cloth down and put up a black cloth as a more stark reminder of Jesus’ death.”
The placement of a white cloth on the cross on Easter Sunday represents the purity and wholeness demonstrated through Christ’s resurrection, White said.
“In a lot of ways, it is a reminder of celebration, too,” White said. “I love to drive around Orangeburg on Easter Sunday and see all the white cloths on the crosses. Regardless of your particular tradition, it’s neat to just be aware of the many families of Christians, and how we’re all connected in what we do, say and believe. All of that hinges on the resurrection itself.”
Lilies have also come to symbolize purity and new life through the resurrection of Christ in many churches.
“The Easter lily has been associated with the resurrection of our Lord because it is one of the showiest and earliest-blooming flowers of the Easter season,” Larisey said. “And it looks like a trumpet, as of the trumpeting of the resurrection.”
The Easter bunny, eggs and hot cross buns are other, more secular symbols of the season. According to the University of Florida’s Center for Children’s Literature and Culture, the origin of the celebration — and the Easter bunny — can be traced back to the 13th century in pre-Christian Germany, when people worshipped several gods and goddesses. Eostra was the goddess of spring and fertility, and feasts were held in her honor. Her symbol was the rabbit because of its high reproduction rate.
“The Easter bunny is purely pagan,” Larisey said. “The word Easter is the English transliteration for Eostra, which is a pagan goddess of new birth. We would rather use the term resurrection of our lord, or the season of the resurrection.
“Eggs can be seen as pagan, but Easter eggs have taken on more of a Christian theme, especially for Orthodox Christians. A new life comes out of an egg, and so, in that sense, there is a theme of resurrection.”
The hot cross bun is a slightly sweet, yeast-leavened spice bun marked with an cross of icing on the top. It is traditionally served on Good Friday, with the cross symbolizing the crucifixion.
“My German grandmother used to make them, and they were so good,” Dubrouillet said. “They are not an Easter food. They’re a Good Friday food for Catholics” following a period of fasting during the Lenten season.
“You generally eat them fresh baked,” he said. “That’s what made them hot, and the cross was to remind us it was Good Friday. My mom remembers them from when she was a kid.”
Nelson Hochstetler, owner of Nelson’s Wee Bake bakery in Denmark, said while he has been baking hot cross buns for the past six years, the demand for the buns has decreased.
“When we first started six years ago, we did very many of them,” he said. “It’s been going down every year, but then we don’t sell nearly as many cakes like we used to, either.”
Sweets and symbols aside, pastors in The T&D Region said the overriding Easter message is one of hope and new life in Christ.
“Jesus has been raised to new life for us, and we have that new life through him,” Jordan said. “We have the forgiveness of sin. We have freedom.”
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