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The meaning of Easter, and an Easter dream

Pastor Colin Phillips
Trinity United Methodist Church, Emmitsburg

Greetings to you, and to your families.

As I set down these thoughts, we are approaching Easter 2016. Christians remember at Easter the Last Supper, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection of Jesus the Christ, the Son of God. "Christ", from the Greek word "Christos", means anointed one or chosen one. Jesus was arrested, tried and crucified in Jerusalem between Thursday and Friday, during the Jewish Passover week. On Friday he died. On Sunday, after his burial in a donated tomb, his body was gone, and was never found. Angels present at the tomb declared that God had raised him from the dead. Later, he appeared over a period of forty days to his disciples and to many followers before ascending into Heaven. They could touch and see his real, spiritual body. These events are described in the New Testament. The Easter events are the core of Christian faith.

"Easter" occurs from March 22 to April 25. This year, Easter is early. The dating of Easter comes from the first Council of Nicaea, held in the year 325 A.D. in a region of what today is Turkey. Easter is celebrated each year on the first Sunday following the new full moon which occurs on or immediately following the Spring equinox.

What is the origin of the term "Easter"? In the New Testament, the Greek word "pascha" is used for the Aramaic form of the Hebrew word "pesach", which means "Passover." Remember, Jesus actually died during the Jewish Passover week, on Friday, on the Cross. Over the first five centuries of the Christian Church it gradually came to mean Easter, and then the actual word "Easter" appeared in English during the eighth century. This word may have originated in the name "Eoster", the name for the pagan goddess of the Spring, or in a German word for "dawn." But the Christian festival of Easter is unique and has its roots firmly in the eye-witness accounts of the appearances by the resurrected Jesus Christ, the origin of Christian faith.

Many people attend worship services on Easter Day, including persons who do not regularly go to Christian worship services, but Easter is not actually celebrated by all Christians on the same date, despite the complicated formula from the Council of Nicaea explained above. The Eastern Orthodox and Russian Orthodox churches base their Easter on the Julian calendar rather than the Western Gregorian calendar. The Orthodox Easter this year 2016 will be on May 1st.

Many years ago I was present in Athens, Greece on Easter Day, and I worshipped at the Greek Orthodox cathedral. I couldn’t speak the language and the church was packed beyond imagining – hundreds of persons jammed shoulder to shoulder. I have never forgotten that experience. I was overwhelmed by a sense of mystery, and this informed the growth of my own Christian faith. The object of our faith – the Risen Jesus Christ – is essentially mysterious. He is beyond words.

There are no words to describe what actually occurred on the first Easter. We are left with the powerful witness of the women and others who went to the tomb that morning. They didn’t understand what happened, and neither do we. What we believe however, and affirm in our worship, in our prayers, in our faith, is that God raised Jesus from the dead. Now he reigns in eternal glory. This is the testimony provided by the Bible, especially the Book of Revelation, where we receive descriptions of the heavenly city and of Christ on his throne.

The message of Easter still thrills me, overcomes me. Since I became a United Methodist pastor in 1977 I have worshipped the Risen Christ at each Easter dawn, all except one. Almost every Easter dawn since 1978 in Maryland has been a breathtaking experience, sometimes with geese flying overhead and singing wildly to salute the Risen Christ. Again this year, God Willing, I will be worshipping at 6.30am, amongst the still, early morning orchards in Carroll County.

But one year I was not worshipping at Easter sunrise. I was born and raised in England, to where I return almost every year during my travels. In 2003 my mother was dying of cancer, so I went home to Bristol in South West England at Easter. It was the last time I saw my mother alive. She was frail and fragile, God bless her, but we went to church on Easter day, she and my dad and brother and I. The next day I said goodbye, knowing I would never see her again in this life. It was the most terrifying moment of my life. I wept and was filled with guilt, because I had to return to America.

What I didn’t understand fully at the time was how God works within our souls, within our innermost being, to accomplish his goals. I have never stopped missing my mother, but she appeared in a dream some weeks after her death, which was in July. In my dream I entered a bare room and my mother was in there, with her back to me, playing her beloved piano. The music was joyous.

It is a central teaching of the Apostle Paul, to whom the Risen Christ appeared on the road to Damascus after the Ascension into Heaven, that we remain united through Christ with our loved ones who died in the faith. Jesus Christ is the Lord of both the living and the dead who died in faith. By Christ the bonds of death have been shattered. What does that mean?

Easter every year celebrates not only the Resurrection, that mystery beyond all mysteries, that great truth before which we bow in faith and hope and trust, but also all our relationships which appeared torn apart by death, but which in actual fact remain real and eternal. Those of us who have faith in the Risen Christ can never be torn apart, not even when death occurs. My mother and me are united.

To learn more about Trinity United Methodist Church, visit them online at or better yet, join them for Sunday service at 9 am, 313 W Main Street, Emmitsburg