Easter marks culmination of Christian faith

Resurrection: Area churches look forward to Sunday's celebratory message.

March 29, 2002|By Donna W. Payne | Donna W. Payne,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

"God has raised this Jesus to life," asserted the apostle Peter in an early sermon that is recorded in the New Testament book of Acts, "and we are all witnesses of the fact."

This Easter Sunday, Christians around the world and throughout Howard County will also testify to that event - the resurrection of Jesus Christ from death by crucifixion. The Easter celebration commemorates this core belief of Christendom, area clergy say.

"The whole church year points to Easter," said the Rev. Jack Fitzgerald, senior pastor of Columbia's Alberta Gary Memorial United Methodist Church. " ... Unless we have the hope of Easter and the resurrection, then we're serving a God who's dead."

The Easter or Lenten season for Western Christians (Roman Catholics and Protestants) began on Ash Wednesday - Feb. 13 this year - and concludes Sunday, often called Resurrection Sunday.

The Lenten season is a "time of preparation and expectancy and a time of penitence in anticipation of Good Friday and Easter," Fitzgerald said.

Eastern or Orthodox Christians use a different liturgical calendar, said the Rev. Raymond Velencia, rector of the Orthodox Church of St. Matthew in Columbia. Lent began March 18 for Orthodox Christians, he said, and Easter will be celebrated in five weeks, on May 5. Last year, for the first time in 11 years, the calendars for the Western and Eastern churches coincided, and both branches of Christianity celebrated Easter the same day.

But regardless of the date of Easter, the symbol of the cross is the central focus of the holy season for all Christians.

"Without the cross, without the crucifixion, we couldn't have the resurrection. Without the resurrection, we don't have eternal life," said Jean Miller, a member of Alberta Gary Memorial United Methodist Church for 65 years.

Miller's husband, Charles Miller Sr., and their oldest son, Charles "Chuck" Miller Jr., built the 12-foot-high cross that stands in front of their small church. The church is one of the oldest in the county and features an old-fashioned bell tower and a bell that was donated long ago by a local farm.

The Millers installed the cross early last month to replace one that had been knocked over by construction equipment during church renovations.

The elder Miller said they had used a tree from their property in Clarksville to build the first cross. That wood rotted, he said. So they built the new cross with thick, treated lumber and buried it deep into the ground.

"We wanted the cross there on the hill to show the world that we're a church that serves a living savior," Jean Miller said.

As is the custom for some other county churches, the cross at Alberta Gary Memorial was draped with a long, purple cloth on Ash Wednesday. The purple "signifies the kingship of Christ," Fitzgerald said. Black linen replaces the purple today, Good Friday, the day of solemn remembrance of Christ's crucifixion.

Fitzgerald said that on Easter morning, the cross will be draped in white, a color that "represents the resurrection of our Lord."

Churches have held various Holy Week services and events - Palm Sunday last Sunday to recall Christ's triumphant entry into Jerusalem, Maundy Thursday services yesterday to remember the Last Supper of Christ and his disciples, and Good Friday services today.

The Rev. Francis Ernst, associate pastor of St. Augustine Roman Catholic Church in Elkridge, said 15 adults will be baptized tomorrow. Baptism of adult converts on the day before Easter is an ancient church custom.

The youths and choir of Bethel Baptist Church in Columbia will present a musical drama tomorrow evening and Sunday morning. The Rev. Bruce Ramoser, senior pastor, said the program dramatizes the fundamental message of Easter. "Easter Sunday," he said, "is the culmination of God's plan for the redemption of mankind."

Said Velencia: "[Jesus] encountered death and overcame it. It changed everything. It changed the whole world."

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