I want to talk about Easter! I realize the optimal time to have written this blog probably would have been a few days ago, but that didn’t happen over the crazy weekend with three kiddos and a sick hubby. Let’s just say I’m uber prepared for next Easter. Let’s call it planning ahead <wink, wink>. Two days ago I saw what I needed to see, and heard what I needed to hear, to formulate a few opinions on the topic of Easter. Some of you know, and some of you may not know, that there is a lot of controversy around this holiday. It divides Christians. Some observe Lent, some observe Passover, some observe Easter according to the Julian calendar and some according to the Gregorian calendar, and some call it a pagan holiday that they will not celebrate. The goal of this blog is to inform you of the different beliefs so that you don’t sound like an idiot when an unbeliever, atheist, or even a “smarter than you” Christian mentions some of the “issues.” I also want to give you my humble opinion on how believers should approach the holiday.
I mentioned different beliefs, so let’s approach those first by giving a little bit of a historical context. I realize there are some historians that would go WAY into detail on this, and I’ve read their writings, but I want to sum it up as this isn’t the primary point of my blog post. The earliest Jews and Christians celebrated the “Pascha or Pasch” which means Passover (http://www.history.com/topics/holidays/history-of-easter). To the Israelites this Passover commemorated the exodus from Egypt and it was held on the “14th day of the Jewish month of Nissan.” “Nissan is The first month of the Jewish year, occurring in March/April.” (http://www.jewfaq.org/holidaya.htm). There is argument/controversy on this as to whether it was really Nissan 14 or 15, or late hours of Nissan 14 into the day on Nissan 15. Truly it makes your head spin when you start reading all the arguments for and against different dates of celebration. There actually was not a celebration of the resurrection, but only this celebration of the Passover for the Jews. It isn’t 100% known when the resurrection celebration began, but we can trace it back to about AD 150 thanks to letter from Polycarp who was a Disciple of John (http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/2011/04/12/easter-date-pagan). The fast of the Passover would be broken on Sunday because this is the day Christ raised from the dead. There was contention over the date that the resurrection should be celebrated, so in 325 AD the Council of Nicea met to tackle the issue (http://www.gotquestions.org/council-of-Nicea.html). At this council Constantine met with church leaders to give some uniformity to the “Christian” religion. In a nutshell they also determined a date to celebrate the resurrected Christ. This Sunday would be “the Sunday immediately following that full moon which came after the vernal equinox” (http://www.cogwriter.com/easter.htm). Needless to say many in the church didn’t agree with this decree and continued to celebrate the Passover on Nissan 14 (or 15), but not celebrate the resurrection on the following Sunday. This divided the church even more instead of unifying it as Constantine had sought out to do. The majority of churches however celebrated it on the date set forth by the counsel, but even more division came about when the Julian calendar was replaced in 1582 by the Gregorian Calendar (http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/2011/04/12/easter-date-pagan). Whew all this history is a mouth full! Even to this day you will find controversial posts online about which day Passover should be celebrated on. Some Christians celebrate Easter (Resurrection Day) while others do not, and the West celebrates it at a different time than the East. As I researched these issues more, the more I was bothered. Some of these divisive people even claim that if you are not celebrating Passover on the correct day your eternal soul is in jeopardy! Paul’s words come to mind at this point, “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor or the Lord.” Romans 14:5-6
I ended the previous paragraph with a quote from Paul in his letter to the Romans because I feel it is necessary for Christians to realize that ANY day that a person, or a whole church body of persons, choose to celebrate, and worship, the Lord is in honor of the Lord. As I was researching this topic I read many blogs strongly suggesting, if not straight out saying, that if you do not observe the Passover on THE correct day your very soul is in jeopardy. These blog posts are absolutely ridiculous in that our salvation is not due to an observance of law, or ceremonial feasts, but in our faith in Jesus Christ, his death, and his resurrection after three days (1 Corinthians 15). I actually worry more for those who hold the strong belief that they must observe all of the Jewish feasts and “ceremonial laws” than the ones who could care less about the actual day they worship God. Why? Because these ceremonial rituals were a part of the Mosaic covenant and not of the new covenant. Colossians 2:16-17 says, “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” With these scriptures in mind it bothers me that Christians divide themselves to this day over these issues. The problem with these quarrels is that “a house divided upon itself cannot stand” as Jesus pointed out in Mark 3:25. All of this bickering about dates, claiming those who do not observe the “proper” day of Passover aren’t saved, and division over “Easter” or “Resurrection Day” is dividing the church, when the real conversation should be in the unity of the body of Christ (His church).
So what of this day we call Easter? We’ve talked about the divisions it causes. I wanted to talk a little about the unity it “could” bring. You have this day of the year that everyone knows the meaning of. Atheist, non religious, and those who claim the title of Christian all alike know that “Easter” is the day in which followers of Christ celebrate their Lord. The Lord who was crucified on a cross and who raised from the dead after three days. Every year it pricks the hearts and minds of all people, and they make a conscious effort to ignore this truth, visit a church, or deny the existence of God. Another cool part about this holiday is that every year new people (new as in those who don’t typically go to church on Sunday) go in droves to church! Some people make fun of this fact that churches are full on Easter Sunday and empty the next. Frankly I’m not sure why this is surprising since Christ had MANY followers until He told them what it would cost to follow Him, then they all “peaced out.” The point is that it isn’t up to you to prick the hearts of people and change their eternal dwelling place. That duty was left up to the Holy Spirit. Christians, pastors, and elders are only called to preach the “good news” of the gospel. This is why I find it silly for some pastors to not use this calendar holiday to preach the good news to everyone and anyone new who comes through their doors! It isn’t up to you to prick their hearts, it’s up to you to preach the gospel to anyone who will hear it. Why not use this opportunity? It’s like free advertising! You don’t have to do anything, you just know on this particular Sunday people are going to come in! So you may say, “well they hear the message every year on Easter.” To that I say, “and?” Who are you to determine which time God will open their ears and it will be as if they were hearing it for the very first time? Why quarrel over the calendar when you have a chance to preach the gospel to new people? I don’t quite understand that. It seems like a missed opportunity to me.
To those who say, “it’s a pagan holiday, you shouldn’t celebrate it” I have to ask if the churches they visit worship a goddess or the resurrected Christ? All of the churches I’ve visited on Easter have worshipped the resurrected Christ. This just flies in the face of the “your worshipping a goddess” outcry. To that I say, “who?” Why do you even give this “goddess” credibility by speaking her name? Not to mention, this goddess seems to be yet another attack on a Christian holiday. There are different explanations as to where we got the word, “Easter.” Some say it comes from the pagan goddess name, “Eoster” but this explanation is indeed only a theory and is even a possible creation of an author named, “Bede” in his written work, “The Reckoning of Time” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ēostre) . Upon more research of the subject another origin of the name is more plausible. The German word, “Ostern” was chosen by Martin Luther when he translated the Bible into German. Then in 1525 William Tyndale translated the Bible into English and used the word, “Ester” for the passover (http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/2011/04/19/name-easter-pagan). If you are interested in knowing more about the transliterations please read on here, but I don’t want to keep on with this point because it is honestly very boring to me. I just wanted to bring it up to say, don’t always believe the first thing you hear. But let’s just assume for a moment that the name did stem from pagan roots, if you aren’t celebrating the pagan goddess does it matter? If you own a cross it isn’t a graven image unless you worship it. So don’t worship a pagan goddess and I believe you are in the clear! Since the real origins are unknown I won’t let this theory derail my belief that any day set aside can honor God, and I will continue to celebrate “Resurrection Day” with my family on the first Sunday on (or after) the first full moon of the Spring following the March equinox. Or until I wrote this blog, when the calendar told me it was Easter Sunday ;). Call that stupid, but I’ll refer back to Colossians 2.
I want to conclude by begging the body of Christ to stop forming divisions amongst yourselves/ourselves for petty reasons. I believe God is happy with any day we set aside to honor Him. Let our focus be on worshipping and serving Him and not quarreling with one another and causing division. We certainly don’t want to give any credence to some “goddess.” Let us also not make it a point to say you aren’t a believer because you do not follow Jewish tradition “by the book.” Jesus Christ was our Passover Lamb, He fulfilled the ceremonial laws, and He is plenty reason to celebrate on whatever day you, or the body of Christ, chooses. Keep in mind that a “house divided cannot stand,” and take every opportunity to preach the good news to anybody and everybody!