Each year, church pews fill up around three major holidays: Christmas, Mother's Day and Easter. There is just something sacred and necessary about celebrating these special moments in the Christian church that cannot go unnoticed. The birth of Jesus Christ, aka the Messiah, is the reason Christians are called Christians. Mom is the reason most of Christians know Christ. Easter is the reason Christians can rest easy and live life peacefully.
Easter, like most mainstream holidays, has been exploited by mainstream society with decorated eggs, chocolate bunnies, and assorted varieties of jellybeans. Most of the time, if you do not attend church on that early Sunday morning, Easter is just another commercial holiday.
Preparation for the day actually begins with Lent, 40 days prior to the celebration. Though this is part of the traditional Christian's preparation preceding 'the big day,' Catholics predominantly observe Lent.
Forty days before Jesus rose from the dead, it is understood that this was a time Jesus suffered long through prayer, fasting and enduring temptation from Satan.
Today, in honor of Christ's sacrifice and in preparation for Easter Sunday, Christians fast, present alms and practice self-denial.
Lent usually ends on Palm Sunday.
The Sunday before Easter, Palm Sunday, marks the day when Jesus gallantly rode into the city of Jerusalem on a donkey, one of the most meager animals in Biblical times. Residents of the city gleefully welcomed in the prophesied King by lying palm branches and cloaks at His feet.
"If you may turn with me in your Bibles to the book of Zechariah, chapter 9, verses 9-10," as the preacher would say, you will find the prophesy of the Old Testament. God promised to the people of Israel He would send a Messiah to save the world and restore His kingdom.
Zechariah wrote, "O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: He is just, and having salvation; lowly and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass."
Then came the Last Supper, a regularly reprised theme in artistic works, one of those common moments even un-churched folks know about, perhaps not understanding its significance, however. This was the Messiah's last shared moment of communion with His disciples before His death.
At many African American churches, the Last Supper is recognized on the first or last Sunday of the month, when the mother's board wears all white, the deacons wear coordinated ties, and bread and wine are shared among congregants.
Jesus said to His disciples, "Take, eat: This is my body, which is broken for you... This cup is the new testament in my blood" (1 Corinthians 11: 24-25).
On that night of the last supper, Jesus washed the feet of His disciples and shared with them the good news that was to come, His resurrection.
While Roman authorities were hunting for Jesus, Judas, one of the twelve faithful disciples, betrayed the Messiah in exchange for thirty pieces of silver. He kills himself later in the story.
According to Biblical accounts, there was some fighting going on when the soldiers came to take Jesus away, smiting of an ear, probably some yelling. But Jesus, He was cool and told His faithful disciples to simmer down because it was all in God's plan.
If you have ever seen "The Passion of the Christ" (2004), you may recall the gruesome journey Jesus took to Calvary. He endured beating, whipping, yelling, spitting, humiliation, hate and any other nasty imaginative workings you can think of all the way to the top of that ol' hill.
Jesus hung on a cross between two criminals and died. Three days he laid in a stone tomb, until, as promised, he rose from the dead. Thus Easter was established, well not quite, but that is the reason Christians celebrate the holiday.
The purpose of Christ's sacrifice was to atone for the sins of the world and restore the kingdom of God. Christians believe Christ's sacrifice has granted all those who believe Jesus is the risen Son of God have access to everlasting life in heaven, where there is no more suffering or sadness.
Recently, due to the commercialization of the holiday, pious followers of Christ have appropriately renamed it Resurrection Day.
So there you go; the short sweet version of the Easter story. The next time you decide to visit a church on Easter and arrive before the preacher gets to the sermon, you will have a better understanding when the preacher says, "Early, on that Sunday morning..."