By Jay Searcy
Special to The Review
What comes to your mind when you think of Easter?
Like most celebrations in western culture Easter, the most sacred date on the Christian calendar, has been transformed into a high calorie, high fashion spending frenzy. In our post-modern, post-Christian culture there are many whose concept of Easter revolves around Peter Cottontail and not a resurrected Savior.
What is Easter all about anyway?
Let’s begin with the word Easter.
Would you believe that the term Easter is never actually mentioned in the Bible? According to St. Bede, an English historian of the eighteenth century, the word Easter was originally derived from the ancient Greek goddess of spring, Eostre. The Greeks believed that each year after the cold, lifeless winter, Eostre returned to Earth bringing with her the warmth and light of spring.
In an effort to please Eostre, lavish festivals and banquets were held giving thanks to the goddess for bringing with her warm sunshine, budding trees and flowers, chirping birds and the feeling of rebirth inherent to spring. The celebration of Eostre’s return to earth coincided with the Vernal equinox (the day when the sun is directly over the equator giving us almost equal amounts of light and darkness), usually March 21.
With this knowledge one can easily see how many of the items symbolic of Easter have come to be. Little chicks, bunnies, eggs and flowers all represent the new life that accompanies spring. Commercial entities have capitalized on this by producing edible representations of spring that have become an inseparable part of the Easter celebration.
So, is Easter a spring celebration meant to appease a Greek goddess or is it a Christian celebration?
To answer this question one must time-travel to Egypt circa 1490 B.C. and the story of Moses and the children of Israel. For some 400 years the Hebrew people were enslaved in Egypt. God sent Moses to free His people from slavery; however, the Pharaoh did not want to release his free labor.
God demonstrated His power to the Pharaoh through many miracles, but he still refused to release the Israelites. God’s final judgment (the 10th plague) was to take the life of every first born in the land unless their door was marked with the blood of a lamb. Those houses marked with the blood of a lamb would be “passed over.”
This in fact did transpire, the Pharaoh relented, and the Hebrew nation fled Egypt. The Jews were commanded to remember God’s great work each year on the 14th day of Nissan (Jewish calendar), which happens to occur in the spring about the time of the Vernal equinox.
Now, to understand the true story of Christianity one must fast-forward to the life of Jesus Christ (A.D. 33). Keeping the story of the Passover in mind, consider the words of John the Baptist when he first met Jesus, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).
Surely, John was looking forward to the moment when Jesus Christ would die on the cross for the sins of the world. On the 14th day of Nissan in A.D. 33 Jesus’ blood was shed on a cross like that of the Passover lamb, providing deliverance from spiritual death to all who believe. The celebration of Passover was ultimately fulfilled by Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 5:7).
But the story does not end there.
On the third day after His death Jesus was resurrected to eternal life giving all who would follow Him the same hope, which is what we celebrate each Easter.
Easter is simply a term Christianity borrowed to identify the yearly spring celebration that is central to our faith. We celebrate Easter in the Spring near the Vernal equinox because that is when “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).
(Jay Searcy is the Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Hamtramck.)
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