There are many festivals and seasons in the church year. A number of these revolve around the celebration of Easter. While some days, like Christmas, hold the same date each year, others move around. As the date of Easter moves around each year, so to do many of the related festivals who have their dates fixed in relation to Easter.
Lent is the period of forty days which comes before Easter in the Christian calendar.
It is traditionally a season of fasting, reflection and preparation before the celebrations of Easter. Lent recalls the events leading up to and including Jesus’ crucifixion. It is an old English word meaning ‘lengthen’. Lent is observed in spring, when the days begin to get longer.
In the Western church, Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent. Its name comes from the practice of placing ashes in the symbol of a cross on the foreheads of worshipers to symbolize death and sorrow for sin.
Holy Week is the week leading up to Easter. It is the most solemn week of the Christian year and is the week in which Christians remember and show respect for the last week of Jesus’ life.
Holy week begins on Palm Sunday. Traditional Church services are held for Christians on Palm Sunday throughout Australia. Palm Sunday commemorates Jesus Christ’s triumphant arrival in Jerusalem.
Holy Thursday or Maundy Thursday as it is known in many parts of the world is the Thursday before Easter. Christians remember it as the day of the Last Supper. On this day, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples and established the ceremony known as Eucharist. It was on this night that Jesus was betrayed by Judas in the Garden of Gethsemane.
The Holy week also includes Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Sunday and Easter Monday.
Good Friday is the Friday before Easter. The day commemorates the execution of Jesus Christ by crucifixion. Good Friday is a day of mourning in the Church. While the Bible quotes seven last sentences that were spoken by Jesus on the cross, two of the most noted ones are:
• Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing. Luke 23:34
• Father, into your hands I commend my spirit. Luke 23:46
Both of these lines are often used and remembered in church services on Good Friday. These services are often held between 12:00 midday and 3:00pm and include short sermons, hymns and prayers.
During special Good Friday services, Christians will meditate on Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross, and what this means for their faith.
Holy Saturday is the day after Good Friday and the day before Easter Sunday in the christian calendar. It is often wrongly called Easter Saturday.
The first Easter service is called the Easter vigil service and takes place on the night of Holy Saturday. For most Christians, the idea behind the service is to wait and watch, hopeful that Jesus Christ will return at midnight.
The exact date of Easter each year is difficult to work out. In Australia, Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the full moon which happens on or after 21 March, the Spring Equinox.
For many, Easter is the most important Christian festival. It celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ three days after his death on the cross.