Easter origins - What are they? Should we even be celebrating Easter?
Easter is the Christian celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is observed on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. The origin of Easter is the day Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus was a Jew born around 6-4 BC. When He was about thirty, He began His ministry, traveling around the area of modern-day Israel, healing people, and teaching others how to follow God. His teachings disturbed the leaders of the area. The religious leaders, the Pharisees, understood that through His usage of historical Jewish terms, Jesus was claiming to be God and the Son of God. They considered this blasphemy, despite the many prophecies Jesus' life fulfilled which identified Him as the foretold Messiah. The political leaders also understood through His teaching that Jesus claimed to be King of the Jews. At the time, Israel was under the control of Rome. To claim to be king was to threaten the power of Caesar and invite a military response.
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By working together, the religious and political leaders managed to convict Jesus of enough offences to bring Him to court. No ruler could find enough to convict Jesus, but the prefect, Pontius Pilate, feared a political uprising so much that he agreed to the demands to have Jesus crucified. Jesus was hanged on a cross until He died and then placed inside of a tomb. But when the tomb was opened three days later, Jesus' body was gone. His followers and many others saw Him over a period of forty days until He ascended into heaven, thus proving He is God and the Son of God.
Throughout His ministry, Jesus tried to make people understand that as both the Son of God and Son of Man, He is the only sinless human. His death was the sacrifice God used to take away the sins of the world. His resurrection is a sign that God accepted His sacrifice and recognized His sinlessness. Easter is a celebration of His resurrection from the tomb.
The origin of Easter customs is muddy. We know that Jesus was crucified and resurrected in the spring because it was the time of the Jewish Passover. But the early church combined the celebration of Jesus' resurrection with events from the pagan celebrations of spring. Hares were a common symbol among fertility goddesses. The parades of Mardi Gras resemble the Greco-Roman bacchanalia festivals held in mid-March. Even the idea of celebrating an event in Jesus' life could be said to have pagan influences. Jesus told us to observe Communion, but nothing in the Bible directs us to celebrate Jesus' resurrection.
"Easter" is not even the original word used to identify the day we celebrate the resurrection of Christ. The original word used was "Pascha," the Greek version of the Aramaic word for Passover. Easter was taken from the Germanic goddess of the spring, Ostara or Eostre. As the goddess of fertility her symbols were hares and eggs. When Christianity moved into the region, the people kept the cultural traditions of hares and eggs, as well as the name Eostre, but switched the emphasis of the season from healthy crops to Christ's crucifixion and resurrection.
Should Christians celebrate Easter then? If so, how? These are matters of personal conviction. There is nothing demonic about hardboiled eggs and chocolate rabbits. Whether there is anything edifying in them depends on how they are used. The traditional Easter basket can be used to teach children to value the day before they fully comprehend its meaning. Of course, Easter baskets can also be used to distract us from the true meaning of the celebration. As was mentioned, the Bible does not tell us to take a day to contemplate Jesus' resurrection, but it does not discourage us from doing so, either. And setting aside a single day a year gives us the opportunity to celebrate, worship, and thank Him corporately.
The origins of Easter are in the early church's desire to celebrate Jesus' resurrection corporately. Throughout the years, that celebration has taken on and discarded various pagan and cultural springtime rituals. For the believer, celebrating Easter is fine, but not mandatory. As Romans 14:5 says, "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."
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