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Earthquakes, sandstorms, and missing pieces of wood…it must be Easter.
My typical way of identifying upcoming holidays was using the holiday display at the local grocery store. My cheat system has come to a halt since I have discovered Fred Meyer’s grocery delivery system, and I haven’t walked into a grocery store in months. I have not had cable in 6 years, so I don’t see the commercials for new holiday clothing on sale at Wal-Mart. Since my youngest went into middle school- there is no more art project to hang on the fridge to warn of upcoming important dates. So I missed the memo on Sunday being Easter. It seems a little early this year. Doesn’t it seem a little early to you?
My family and I use to celebrate Easter: however, not in a traditional way. I think it was seven years ago- I had forgotten Easter (again) and was scrambling to find something to do for the kids. On the radio was a commercial for Easter brunch at a hotel in Alexandar Bay, New York. I quickly called, and just like that- I was covered for Easter. It was a brunch! I remember brunches; I miss brunches! The endless dessert bar that no one feels bad about eating because you always got one piece of fruit to balance it all out. Perfect! We continued that tradition for the years to come. It is a family joke that we celebrate Easter in the most traditional way ever, always ignoring the fact that I would wait until the last minute to make the reservations. They always applauded me for my genius- I love my family.
My Easter looks different this year. It feels different. Years ago, I would laugh off that I forgot about Easter. Wal-Mart would be my first stop on my way home on Friday to pick up eggs and egg-dying kits and present it like I was Susy-homemaker. Saturday night, when the kids were sleeping, we would be sneaking out of the house to get the stuff to make Easter baskets. Our Easter baskets were always slightly different from traditional ones; we bought the kids’ rifles one year. I think another year, the theme was fancy personal hygiene kits. I know one year was all about books; they didn’t really like that year. There is no theme this year. It is the first year that I shouldn’t feel like I failed my family, but I feel like I did. My mother would have sent a box filled with fancy candy, candles, books, and socks; I am Cash-App’ing my kids’ money. My mother would have invited family and friends over for dinner; I am thinking of sending my favorite grocery delivery person a gift certificate.
To make myself feel better, I decided to research Easter traditions. It’s been a while since I got to explore a holiday- a total of 17 days. (See, Easter came early this year. It’s only been two and half weeks since Saint Patrick Day!)
Did you know that Easter is the most popular ‘church day’ of the year? That makes sense; over 65% of Americans classify themselves as Christians. Because of this, I don’t believe that you can start any research into Easter unless you spend a few moments on the day’s religious background. However, on that note, my research is not on religious studies- but rather what historically has happened to propel this event into a holiday. For this blog, I have decided to focus on what traditionally is the most common feature of Easter- the Cross.
In case you are wondering when the did Jesus’s crucifixion happen, there might be an answer. In 2012, the International Geology Review reported that April 3, 33A.D was the most likely day that the event occurred. This information base on a geologist analysis of earthquake activity in the area by Jefferson Williams that started in 1999. By studying three cores taken from the Ein Gedi Spa Beach, the geologists confirmed that two major earthquakes hit the area around where Jesus’ crucifixion is said to have happened. One of the earthquakes, believed to have occurred between 26 BCE and 36 C.E, could have potentially caused a massive sandstorm attributing to the darkness that the Bible mentions and would have been powerful enough to break apart the sediments of the local rock and land. I include the link to Jefferson Williams’s research below; I invite you to check it out regardless of whether you are religious or not. It is fascinating what geologists can do in time coding past historical moments.
Side Note: According to the Gregorian Calendar, the next time Easter will fall on April 3, it will not be until 2067. And it is not like you can plan on Easter during the in-between years- the holiday has 35 possible dates. The cycle repeats itself once every 5.7 million years. So please pay attention to those Wal-Mart displays as they will give you the heads up.
In 1870, a French architect, Charles Rohault de Fleury, determined that Jesus’s Cross would have weighed 165lbs. I found his determination to be a bit interesting, so I dug a little deeper and was genuinely amused by how he came up with the answer:
To estimate the weight of the Cross Jesus bore, de Fleury drew upon studies of how much weight strong men in strenuous professions could carry: A robust porter, such as we see carrying the heavy baggage in old safari movies, could carry 200 pounds a distance of three miles in about an hour before needing a rest, while a brawny carpenter could carry 220 pounds of lumber on his shoulder 150 feet before stopping to unburden himself and rest. De Fleury calculated that the Cross probably weighed about 220 pounds, but considering that Jesus dragged it rather than lifted and carried it, the weight to Our Lord would have felt like 55 pounds. Nonetheless, in his weakened condition after the scourging, even this modest weight was too much for Jesus, and so the Roman guards compelled Simon of Cyrene to help carry the Cross.Memoire Sure Les Instruments De La Passion De N.-S J.-C
Other sources claim that the Cross would have weighed about 300 pounds, with the crossbar weighing about 80 to 110 pounds.
All this is just guesswork as we are not sure what the Cross was made of. One story that I found was that it had been designed using cypress and that after the death of Jesus, God ordered that no cypress would ever be used again to make a cross, which is why the tree branches are limp. In England, it is said that builders made the Cross from Mistletoe, which was at one time a tree. However, since that day, it has been considered a parasite. Another story that I found stated that it was constructed out of Aspen, and that is what the Aspen leaf trembles now. And finally, there is a legend that states that the Cross was made of ‘Palm of Victory,’ ‘Cedar of Incorruption,’ and ‘Live for Royal and Priestly Unction.’
According to The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI), this is all very interesting because they completed a 2-year long survey in 2013 and identified that the most common trees in Isreal were the Jerusalem Pine, Mediterranean Cypress, Olive Tree, and Red River Gum. No Aspen or Mistletoe was found in the area. However, if you look at the Mediterranean Cypress, the branches do look a little weak.
I had always imagined Jesus walking miles to the hill. A long walk that was all uphill. However, the total distance believed that the Cross would have been carried by any person put to death in this manner would have been about 650 yards or 1950 feet, which is approximately 0.36 miles.
What happened to the Cross? Ancient tradition says that in the year 327 A.D, Constantine, the first Christian emperor of Rome, sent his mother Helena to oversee the destruction of the Temple of Venus that stood on the site of Calvary. Excavators found three crosses, but nothing that would distinguish the Cross of Jesus from the other two. Helena had a dying woman carried to the site and had her touch all three crosses. The first two did nothing, but when she touched the third- she was healed.
Helena takes a piece of the Cross back with her to Rome, and it was enshrined in her Chapel and now resides at the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem. Interestingly, this is not located in Jerusalem but is one of the Seven Pilgrim Churches of Rome. According to tradition, it was consecrated in 325 A.D. to house the Passion of Jesus Christ’s relics that were brought to Rome from Jerusalem by Helena. I have included a link below to ‘virtually’ visit the site- it is truly amazing.
20 years later, the Bishop of Jerusalem, St. Cyril, refers to the relics of the True Cross that Helena uncovered in a sermon:
The whole world has since been filled with pieces of the wood of the cross.”
Most tend to believe that this means that the Cross was divided up and sent out to the whole world. However, that is where we run into some issues. Many people and places are claiming to hold a ‘true’ piece of the Cross. This is not just a modern-day problem; in the 16th century, a Dutch Humanist by the name of Erasmus wrote:
So they say of the cross of Our Lord, which is shown publicly and privately in so many places, that, if all the fragments were collected together, they would appear to form a fair cargo for a merchant ship.
One last thing that needs to be discussed, the difference between a Cross and a Crucifix. I did not know that there was a difference but have been told otherwise. The difference is that the crucifix is that we remember Christ crucified when we look upon the crucifix, and Christ has risen when we look upon a plain cross.
Remember, my friends, my research only scratches the surface of a topic. I went into this particular blog thinking that I would talk about Easter as a whole, and I have that it is just not possible. So I narrowed it down to the Cross because it is such a fundamental focal point of Easter and its meaning. I will, however, talk more about the ‘traditional’ Easter celebrations a little later, such as Egg hunts, Sunday Best clothing, and why we serve Ham for dinner. But until then, I invite you to explore the links I provided below and do your own research into this topic!
And as always…Be Great at what your Good At!
The Basilica of the Holy Cross In Jerusalem:
Eyewitness to Crucifixion: The Romans, the Cross, and the Sacrifice of Jesus by Stephen M. Miller
Research on the earthquake:
» 01 Was there a Crucifixion Quake ? Dead Sea Quake.info
What’s ‘true’ about Jesus’ Cross? – CNN
A piece of Jesus’ Cross? Relics unearthed in Turkey (nbcnews.com)
Frequency of Occurrences of the Date of Easter over one Complete Gregorian Easter Cycle (uu.nl)
Taking the Measure of Relics of the True Cross (catholiceducation.org)
The Origin of the Wood of the Cross (catholicexchange.com)
Jerusalem Tree Survey Completed | SPNI (natureisrael.org)
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