Extending the Easter season

Do you ever cry the day you take the Christmas tree down? I do!  I have also felt the same sadness when Easter ends. My deep love of Easter came after reading, “A Christ-centered Easter” by Joe and Janet Hales.   Its premise is compelling.  The Hales suggest shifting secular Easter activities (e.g., the “Easter Bunny,”) to earlier in the season (e.g., the “Spring Bunny,)” so the family can focus on the significant events of the Savior’s final days of mortality during Easter week. These meaningful traditions during Holy Week became ones my children looked forward to.  The Savior was actually central to our family’s Easter season and His Spirit was felt more abundantly in our home.

But one particular year when life seemed extra crazy we didn’t do all I hoped to do in the days and weeks leading up to Easter.  Easter Sunday came to a close and I experienced a mix of sadness and regret because this holy time was over and I felt like I had shortchanged my family.  As I turned to the scriptures for solace, hope filled my heart. Clearly earthly experiences with the resurrected Lord were not limited to one day, so our celebrations and teachings need not be limited to one day.  What great news!

We rightly focus on Mary Magdalene as the first witness to Christ’s resurrection early Sunday morning; the Lord also appearing to his disciples that evening.  But Jesus also appeared to his disciples a week later in Jerusalem, then again in Galilee (at least a week later) and on further occasions until his ascension into heaven 40 days later.  FORTY days later!!! Strangely, we often neglect this time period of the Lord’s ministry.

Thankfully, I realized we could focus on these post-resurrection scriptural accounts during family time on Sundays following Easter.  Of course our thoughts, especially on the Sabbath, should always focus on the Savior; however the timeline after the Resurrection provides simple direction for discussions.  Specific methods for celebrating post-Resurrection events will vary, but if your overall goal is to allow the joy of the Savior’s resurrection to permeate your home for weeks on end, you can’t go wrong.

The ideas below are not meant to be mandatory or prescriptive—they are merely suggestions. Seven Sundays are outlined; however combining weeks has worked best for our family.  On the other hand, you may choose to implement a family home evening that integrates them all.  I have found extending Easter celebrations even a week or two increases scriptural literacy and testimony.  What will best suit your family? I hope that in whatever way you decide to continue celebrating might keep you from crying at the close of Easter Sunday. 

Seven Sundays Following Easter

A week after Easter Sunday -The Savior appeared again to his disciples!  This time Thomas was there! John 20:25 says, “And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst and said, Peace be unto you.”          

  • Invite your family to pretend they are in the room when Jesus appears again. Ask them to make the facial expression they would have made. Have everyone share how they would feel if they were Thomas. If they were one of the other disciples who had seen him the previous Sunday?
  • Read John 20:26-31 and consider how we can believe in the Savior even though we have not seen him in this life.

The second Sunday after Easter-Feed my Sheep. Discuss the account in John 21:1 which states, “after these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias.” This is the setting in which Jesus gives his disciples the command to “feed my lambs” and “feed my sheep.”  The sermon in John 21 deserves at least annual reflection.

  • For young children you may choose to incorporate the sheep theme with a craft or treat to add creative fun. Cotton balls, cauliflower, or simple coloring pages may be in order.
  • Talk about: Who are the sheep? Who are the lambs? Where do we get the food to feed them? Which lambs hard to find? How do we feed them?
  • For older children read and discuss Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s insights from his talk featuring this event (see “The First Great Commandment” Ensign, Nov 2012). Set a goal of something you can do this Sabbath day to show the Lord you do love him and you will feed his sheep. Then go and do it today!

The third Sunday after EasterGo ye into all the world. Only a few commandments the Savior gave post-Resurrection are recorded. One of these was, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15).

  • Display a map of the world or print world maps as coloring pages for young children as you discuss this teaching of Jesus. If your map is laminated, you may choose to write names of relatives over the country in which they served missions or simply point out places family members or ancestors have served.
  • Reflect on the joy missionary work has brought you and your family. Share recent missionary experiences you have had as a family or individuals. Talk about how your family can better fulfill this commandment.

The fourth and fifth Sundays after EasterHundreds of witnesses.

It is hard to find art that shows “500 men at once” but hopefully this can give the feel of many witnesses.
  • Read 1 Corinthians 15:4-8, which describes several eye-witnesses of Christ’s resurrection we don’t often discuss. Talk about what it means to be a witness and why the Savior would choose to show himself to certain people. Why did He need witnesses then? Why does He need witnesses today? How can each of us be a witness of the Savior?
  • Sing Hymn 137 “Testimony” looking for phrases that stand out. Remind family members when we partake of the Sacrament we promise to witness of the Savior. Invite those who desire to “bear witness” or in other words bear testimony.

The sixth Sunday after Easter– The Ascension. Even though Acts 1:3 states the Savior was seen of his apostles “for forty days,” because of the symbolic meaning of forty days it may not be exactly that time period. Nevertheless many Christian calendars mark the Day of Ascension 39 days after Easter, making it fall on a Thursday; celebrations can occur the following Sunday.

  • Review and act out the account in Acts 1:1-11.
  • Search in the Topical Guide for “Signs of the Second Coming.” Sing the Primary song “I Wonder When He Comes Again.”
  • Make a piece of art- draw, paint, use clay or a musical instrument- to represent feelings about the Savior’s return to earth.

The seventh Sunday after EasterThe Day of Pentecost. Celebrated 7 Sundays after Easter Sunday, Pentecost commemorates the account in Acts 2.

  • Study the account in Acts chapter 2; review the miracles and conversions which occurred. Discuss how the Holy Ghost can be felt in both powerful and quiet ways.  Eat special or favorite fruit while you discuss the fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23).
  • Sing the primary song “The Holy Ghost” or Hymn 143 “Let the Holy Spirit Guide” both of which list roles of the Holy Ghost. Have all who desire share experiences of feeling the Holy Ghost in a variety of its capacities: comforts, testifies, teaches, warns, inspires, instructs, and provides peace and assurance.

Since life doesn’t seem to slow down during the Easter season I particularly love the flexibility allowed in these post-resurrection events. Only the first, sixth and seventh weeks have an actual date attached.  Also, when it seems that memories of Easter have faded, the significant commemorations of Ascension and Pentecost are just around the corner.  By extending our Easter celebrations, we can better keep the Savior’s command to always remember him.

More on this and similar topics can be found in the book “Celebrate Sunday: 52 Ideas to help your family delight in the Sabbath.”

The Women of Holy Week

Women as witnesses, mourners, helpers, and disciples. Women with tender feelings, bold actions and powerful testimonies.

While people often comment on the lack of women in scripture, the reality is many many women are not only mentioned but play pivotal roles. This is especially true during Holy Week.

Scriptural accounts clearly record women are involved in key events of the last week of the Savior’s life. Women were with Jesus on the six day journey from Galilee to Jerusalem. They welcomed him in Bethpage and Bethany. A woman anointed Jesus with costly ointment as a token for his burial. A maid by the fire and Pilate’s wife are witness to some of the events surrounding the trial.   Many women stand by the cross witnessing his suffering and Jesus specifically addresses his mother.  When Jesus’ body is removed from the cross women follow to see where he was buried. Women were the first to arrive at  the tomb Easter morning to discover it was empty!  On that glorious occasion they saw angels and were the first to hear the joyful words, “He is not here, for he is risen as he said.” They were charged to be the first to proclaim the good news and a few of them were the first physical witnesses of the Jesus’ resurrection!

During the last week of his life women sought to care for Him and be close to Him. Similarly, many women today choose to witness of Him and support His work.  Millions of modern Christian women preach of Christ and follow Christ.  We can find strength in each other as fellow followers of Jesus as we do our part to spread His gospel.

Women of Holy Week in roughly chronological order:

Women on the journey from Galilee and before entering Jerusalem

Women follow Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem.  (Luke 23:49) They were women which “ministered to unto him of their substance” (Luke 8:3).

Mourning Martha and Mary declare their faith at Lazarus’ tomb in Bethany before Jesus enters Jerusalem (John 11:17-46). Martha testifies that Jesus is the Son of God.  They rejoice when Jesus miraculously raises their brother Lazarus from the dead, after he had been dead for four days!

At least five women depicted at Lazarus’ tomb, likely the case. From scripture we know there were at least two.

Women on Palm Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday

Just days (likely two) prior to the Passover, fulfilling prophecy, a woman anoints Jesus’ head with expensive ointment as a token of  his burial.  Jesus declares that wherever the gospel is preached what this woman did should be told as well  (Matthew 26: 6-13).  

Mark 14:9 Jesus declares, “Wheresoever the gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her.”

Although, Palm Sunday  with Jesus’  Triumphal entry, Monday when Jesus cleanses the temple, Wednesday when Jesus teaches through parables, and Thursday’s last supper meal don’t particularly mention women, it is almost certain they were there. Not only were they at least present, but likely helping, witnessing, praising, and remembering the doctrine taught.   A few of the parables and teachings this week highlight women. For example, the parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25); the signs of the second coming that “two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one taken and the other left;” and teachings on marriage (Matthew 22).

Triumphal entry on Palm Sunday. Notice the women depicted on both sides of Jesus.

Women at the Last Supper

See this post for scriptural evidence of why it is possible women were at the Last Supper.

Women At the Time of the Trial

Pilates’ wife tried to intervene.

After having a dream about Jesus, Pilates’ wife plead with Pilate to not have anything to do with him. (Matthew 27:19)

A woman stood near Peter outside the palace where Jesus was tried.

“At the palace of the high priest  a maid beheld him as he sat by the fire, and earnestly looked upon him and said, This man also was with him. And he denied saying Women I know him not.”  (Luke 22:56-57)

Women Before, During and After the Crucifixion

As Jesus carried the cross to Calvary women followed him lamenting him and Jesus turned and spoke to them warning them of the hard times ahead (Luke 23:27-31). (The artwork of this event is pictured at the beginning of this post.)

Four  women at the cross are mentioned in John: “Now there stood by the cross  of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene” (John 19:25). Mark adds one additional named women and writes of many other women beholding the death of Jesus:  “There were also women looking on afar off: among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the less and Joses, and Salome; who also when he was in Galilee, followed him, and ministered unto him; and many other women which came up with him unto Jerusalem.” (Mark 15: 40-41) While it is impossible to know what number “many” implies, it certainly isn’t a couple (two) or a few (three).  Interestingly, much of the artwork of these events, illustrate “many” as between eight and eleven, however it could have been more.

Jesus looks to the needs of his mother, in his final hour on the cross. (John 19:26-27)

Women were there when Jesus’ body was taken off the cross and laid in the sepulchre.  “And the women also, which came from Galilee, followed after, and beheld the sepulchre, and how his body was laid. And they returned,  and prepared  spices  and ointments; and rested on the Sabbath day according to the commandment” (Luke 23:55-56). Look at how many women are in the following art!

At least five women depicted here at the burial, easily identified because their heads are covered.

Beholding the burial six women’s faces are shown plus about five more but we just see the tops of their head coverings. This piece is a part of a large mosaic mural in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.

At least five women depicted here inside the tomb.

Women Easter Sunday Morning

Very early Sunday morning women run to the tomb. Three women discover the empty tomb in Mark (Mark 16:1), two women in Matthew (Matthew 28:1), a large group of women–more than 5–in Luke (Luke 24:10) and one woman in John (John 20:1).

Easter morning the women came to the sepulchre, found it empty and saw and heard angels declaring Christ was risen. They returned to tell the disciples. Specific women mentioned are Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them. (Luke 24: 1-11) Salome is also mentioned in Mark (Mark 16:1).

In Matthew’s account both Mary Magdalene and the other Mary see Jesus as they left the tomb. “And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, “Jesus met them, saying All hail. And they came and held him by the feet and worshiped him. Then said Jesus unto them, Be not afraid: Go tell thy brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me.”  (Matthew 28:8-10)

In the gospel of John, Mary is the first to the empty tomb.   After returning with Peter to the empty tomb she lingers and sees the angels and then the resurrected Jesus (John 20: 11-19).

Can Knowing about the Women of Holy Week help us Today?

Women today can remember Jesus more as they focus on the events of Holy Week and the women in those events. Like these ancient women, we can be women who want to be where Christ is, who witness miracles, are a part of miracles and who raise our voices in joyful praise and testimony of the Savior of the World.  What would happen if we spoke of these scriptural women of Holy Week more? Would we appreciate their discipleship, sacrifice and dedication more? Would reflecting on their faith increase our own? Let us recognize the good they did, the vital role they played, the love and compassion they possessed, the work, thought and effort they engaged in, the fearless faith they fostered, the tenderness they exhibited, the joy they experienced, and then let us go and do likewise. 

Especially during Holy Week and as we extend the Easter season we can follow the example of the women of Holy Week, by  giving glory to Jesus, remembering Him and finding  joy and peace in His glorious gospel.  His gospel truly is the good news.  I know He is the Son of God, and the Savior of the World. I have felt His power and love in my life and I have seen His power and love change other’s lives. More times than I can count I have felt the witness of the Spirit clearly say Jesus is who He says He is. He is the Resurrection and the Life. His way is the path of happiness and peace.

Thank you women of Holy Week and the Christian women of today who proclaim this good news! He is risen! Indeed He is!