Easter is celebrated all over the world by the believers in Christianity to recognise the raising of Jesus Christ from the dead on the third day after being crucified. This year, like elsewhere in the world, the Christian community in Ladakh celebrated Easter on the 5th of April.
The preparations begin much before Easter. It begins Ash Wednesday onwards, by keeping fast, spending time in prayer and most importantly, purifying oneself spiritually.
Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent in the Western Christian calendar. Occurring 46 days before Easter, it can fall as early as February 4 and as late as March 10. According to the canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the desert, where he endured temptation by Satan. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of this 40-day liturgical period of prayer and fasting. Of the 46 days until Easter, six are Sundays. As the Christian Sabbath, Sundays are therefore not included in the fasting period and are instead considered "feast" days during Lent. This year, Ash Wednesday was observed on February 18. Before Easter Sunday, Christians celebrate Good Friday; the day Jesus Christ was crucified by Roman Governor Pontius Pilate. The Sunday occurring before Easter Sunday is called Palm Sunday and the entire week is called the Holy Week. During this week, reading from the Holy Bible as to what had happened with Jesus a week prior to his arrest, his crucification and finally his resurrection on the third day are read in churches. So is done by the Ladakhi Christian community. Jesus Christ was made to arrest by one of his disciples namely “Judas”, who later committed suicide after realising that he betrayed an innocent man to death.
Good Friday: Jesus stood before the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, who inquired the allegations made by the chief priests and the elders. When Pilate found all the allegations to be false, he said to the chief priests and the elders that he finds the man innocent and that he be set free. But they pressed Pilot for his crusification. A famous festival called “Passover” was very near and on this occasion Roman Governor was in the habit of setting free any one prisoner the crowd asked for. At that time, there was a well-known prisoner named Barabbas. So when the crowd gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to set free for you? Jesus or Barabbas?” Pilate knew very well that Jesus was handed over to him because of jealousy. The chief priest and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask Pilate to set Barabbas free and have Jesus put to death. When Pilate noted that there would be an internal revolt if he set Jesus free, he set Barabbas free and ordered Jesus’ crucification.
Pilate’s soldiers took Jesus under their custody and forced him to carry the cross and took Jesus to a place called “Golgotha”, which means “the place of the skull” and crucified him. Two bandits were also crucified with Jesus. Even when Jesus was on the cross, he prayed to the Almighty God saying that “Father please forgive these people as what they are doing is in ignorance.”
The Death of Jesus: It was about 12 O’clock noon when darkness covered the whole country until 3 O’ clock. The temple’s curtains tore half. Jesus cried out loud, “Father. In your hands I place my spirit,” and died. Body of Jesus was buried by Joseph (a follower of Jesus) of Arimathea - a town in Judaea - in a tomb which he had recently dug out of solid rock, within the vicinity of his own garden after obtaining permission from Pilate. A large stone was covered at the entrance of the tomb. When Jesus was alive, he had predicted his death and resurrection after two days to his disciples and also many others who were gathered to attend his sermon. High priests and elders were aware of the same and Romans soldiers were put to guard the tomb until Sunday. Soldiers sealed the entrance of the tomb and kept guarding.
The Resurrection: Early in the morning, on Sunday, two women followers of Jesus (Mary Magdalene and another Mary) went to the tomb carrying incense. Suddenly there was a violent earthquake; an angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled the stone away, and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid that they trembled and became like dead men. The angel spoke to the women, “I know that you are looking for Jesus”, but he is not here. He has been raised, just as he had said. Go and tell his disciples.” After his resurrection, Jesus met his disciples and was also seen by many people. After 40 days of his resurrection, Jesus was taken up to heaven.
Good Friday and Easter Celebrations in Ladakh: In Ladakh, too, the Christian community celebrates Good Friday and Easter with devotion. During the Holy Week, the story as to what had happened with Jesus during his last days is read in colloquial Ladakahi, along with hymns and prayer sessions.
On Sunday (Easter day), early in the morning people gather at the graveyard with candles, incense sticks, flowers and offer them to the tomb of their deceased dear and near ones. Prayers are offered and greetings are exchanged. At about 10.30 am, devotees gather at the Church for a special Easter service. After the service, decorated eggs are hidden in the Church compound and the young children look forward to finding them. The significance of this is that the Easter eggs symbolise the empty tomb of Jesus. A bird hatches from the egg with life, similarly, the Easter egg for Christians, is a reminder that Jesus rose from the grave, and that those who believe will also experience eternal life.
The Birth of Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection was very much prophesised hundreds of year ago. The message of Jesus’ crucification is that he loved us so much that sacrificed his life to save us from our sins and to give us salvation. Christians believe that there is pardon of sin through Jesus and that we must confess our sins to Him.
Sonam Odpal is a retired Subedar and is presently in charge of the Moravian Church Shey.