Easter in Writing
Bible Study #10
Common Bible Phrases #7
Easter is the most important celebration in the Christian calendar. The English word for Easter is not followed in other languages, where they take their word for Easter (for example in Spanish: Pascua) from the Jewish festival of Passover.
The name “Easter” likely came from Eostre (or Ostara), the name of an ancient goddess, from which also comes the name for the female hormone estrogen, among many other fertility related nouns.
In Ancient Rome Eostre’s feast day was held on the first full moon following the vernal equinox, a similar calculation is used for Easter among Western Christian Churches.
At the time the word Easter was adopted as the name for the Christian festival in the English language, the Eostre festival had ceased to be celebrated. Because the former festival of Oestre happened at the same time of year as the Christian celebration of Christ’s Resurrection, the name was adopted and used as the English title for this important festival.
Two of Eostre’s most important symbols were the hare and the egg. The hare, or wild rabbit, because of its fertility and that ancient people saw the image of a hare in the full moon. And the egg, which symbolized the growing possibility of new life. Each of these symbols continues to play an important role in modern celebrations of Easter.
In many western cultures, Christians and non-Christians alike celebrate Easter in decidedly non-Christian ways: with Easter candy, Easter eggs, Easter egg hunts, the Easter bunny, and so forth. Many cultural references to Easter include these elements, nearly all of which are pagan in origin, not directly connected to the Christian festival and all of which have become quite commercialized and used to promote business as opposed to the genuine Christian message of God’s love, mercy and hope in Christ Jesus.
The true meaning of Easter can be found in the history of the Jewish festival of the Passover. Just before the Hebrew people were freed from slavery in Egypt, by an act of obedience to Moses’ instructions, they placed the blood of a lamb on the door posts of their houses, and they therefore escaped the judgment that came down on the Egyptians, when the life of all first-born in the land was forfeit to God and they died. Just as the Egyptians, through Pharoah, had taken the lives of the Hebrew first born.
To us hearing this account it probably sounds terrible. How could God take all those lives? If, however, we dig into the history around this, we discover that ancient Hebrew people understood and generally accepted that, since God is the creator of all things, the first part of the harvest belonged to God, and as a very real token of gratitude that first part was given back to him. All the first produce was given as an offering to God. If we look at a famous account from the life of Abraham, we can see this clearly.
God had promised Abraham a heritage, children that would come after him. Abraham didn’t have any children until he was a hundred years old. When his son Isaac, was still a boy, God told Abraham to take the boy to a certain mountain and offer him as a sacrifice. Abraham, although extremely sad, did not question what God had said. He understood that the first fruits and first born belong to God.
The happy end of that account is that although God was testing Abraham’s obedience, a substitute offering had already been prepared by God, a scapegoat, so that Isaac did not die but lived.
This was a symbol, a token, of the future payment for all wrong doing that Jesus, the only born Son of God, would later make by dying on the cross at Easter. Jesus died at the same time that the Passover lambs were being killed in the Jewish temple at Jerusalem in their yearly remembrance of the first Passover in Egypt.
Then, 3 days after his crucifixion, as the first-fruit of a completely new kind of human being, Jesus Christ arose from death, the first Resurrection, with a transformed body over which death had no more power. His resurrection gave us the assurance of a living hope that, as Jesus was resurrected from death, so will we be resurrected after our death, at the Second coming of Jesus. (See Revelations 1:5, 18; 2:8)
That living hope is the reason for the Christian celebration, not that Spring has come and new life is appearing, but that those who have received and believed the message of Jesus’ resurrection shall inherit eternal life.
The day of Jesus’ resurrection is known as Easter Sunday. This year (2022) that day is celebrated on Sunday, April 17. Around the world there are many varieties of ‘Easter’ celebration, from those who roll Easter eggs for fun, to those who understand and celebrate the full importance of Easter’s message the Gospel of Jesus Christ