Easter season is fast approaching, and in 2020, it is remarkably unique because most Christian church attendees will be celebrating Jesus' resurrection from home. Family brunch might be a less exciting toaster waffle with your immediate family if you have been affected by strick lockdown rules. But how should we, as Christians, respond in this unprecedented time? Should we ignore safety protocols and gather chocolate eggs anyway? Should we obey the ordinances with a scowl on our faces and defiant bitterness in our hearts? Maybe this year, we should take the time to consider what Easter is all about. What is the truth behind the Easter story?
What is the original meaning of Easter?
What is the true origin of Easter? Most often, when people refer to Easter, they are speaking about the day Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ (also known as Resurrection Sunday) that occurred 3 days after his crucifixion. The centrality of Easter is Jesus Christ's triumph over death. His resurrection symbolizes the eternal life that is given to all who trust in Him. The reason for Easter likewise signifies the full affirmation of all that Jesus instructed and lectured during His three-year mission. Had he not resurrected, He would have been thought simply to be just another educator or prophet. His revival gives lasting and unquestionable confirmation that He is actually the Son of God and that He has beaten death for the last time for all who believe.
Aside from being one of the greatest Christian traditions, some people just see Easter as a day for Easter parades and egg decorating instead of being a holy day. There is potentially a Pagan origin of Easter as well, filled with rabbits and eggs. It was theorized by a Catholic monk, Venerable Bede, that the Saxons, an ancient Germanic tribe that originally occupied the region which today is the North Sea coast of the Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark, held an annual festival celebrating springtime (renewal and birth) by praising the Anglo-Saxon goddess of Eastre, goddess of spring, (similar to the Teutonic deity Eostra or Ostare, a goddess of fertility, who the Teutons, honored on the Vernal Equinox centuries before, symbolized by rabbits and eggs).
Another possible option for the believed pagan roots of Easter is simply the name and likelihood of a spring feast. The name “Easter” may have been taken from the spring month of Eostremonath on the ancient German calendar. Eventually, Eostremonath evolved into the English “Easter” when it was brought to England by the ancient Germans (Saxons). The nickname “Easter” was then used as the word to indicate the time of year when Christians celebrated the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ because it occurred in the spring.
Either way, it has been recorded that early Christian missionaries converted the Saxons to Christianity and combined the supposed spring holiday with their own celebration of Easter because it occurred in the same season. They included “easter eggs” in the celebration as the symbolism of new life. Once Roman Catholicism became the dominant religion in Germany in the 15th century they merged with already occurring spring festivals.
What is the date of Jesus’ crucifixion?
It is believed that the date of Jesus’ crucifixion can be traced back to April 3, 33 A.D. With these clues in Scripture:
The four gospels agree that the crucifixion occurred when Pontius Pilate was procurator of Judea from 26-36 AD. The four gospels say the crucifixion occurred on a Friday. The four gospels agree that Jesus died a few hours before the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath (nightfall on a Friday). The synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) indicate that Jesus died before nightfall on the 14th day of Nisan (Hebrew month) right before the start of the Passover meal. Matthew 27:51-53 speaks of an earthquake that “shook the earth, split rocks and broke tombs open.” Combined with the known location, researchers were able to study annual layers of deposition in the sediments near the Red Sea to see if they could get an accurate time-line for the death and resurrection of the Son of God based on the earthquake recorded in Matthew 27. I’m not even going to pretend I know the science behind recognizing past earthquakes in sediment, but geologist Jefferson Williams of Supersonic Geophysical speaks of a large earthquake in 31 B.C. and a seismic event that happened sometime between the years 26 and 36. Jefferson William states:
The day and date of the crucifixion (Good Friday) are known with a fair degree of precision. With all of the data collected from Scripture, the historical records, sedimentary studies, the Jewish calendar, and astronomical calculations, the most likely match is Friday, April 3, 33. Is it imperative that we know the date of Jesus’ crucifixion? No. But it does bring to mind some questions like: Why is Easter a movable feast and not a fixed date like Christmas?
Why does the date for Easter change every year?
To answer this question, we need to reach back through time and culture. The calendar we know today is not the same calendar that people in Bible times used. The Gregorian calendar (preceded by the Julian calendar created under the authority of Julius Caesar in 46 BC) is a solar calendar and the one currently used as the worldwide “standard”. The Jewish or Hebrew calendar is a lunar calendar where the months correspond with the cycles of the moon and each month is either 29 or 30 days long. For example, the first of every Jewish month (known as Rosh Chodesh) falls on or very close to a new moon, and the 15th falls on or near a full moon. Additionally, the Jewish calendar somewhat syncs up to the solar calendar because the Passover must occur in spring. On average, there are 354 days in the lunar 12-month calendar and 365 days in a complete solar cycle. In order to make up the 11-day difference in time, every 7 out of 19 years a leap month is added. Much like the Gregorian calendar that has a leap year (one day added) every 4 years to make up the time difference.
Since Jesus was a Jew and that time period and culture used the Hebrew lunar calendar and he was crucified during Jewish Passover week, Easter follows more closely with the lunar calendar method of timekeeping and will always fall on a Sunday between March 22 and April 25.
In 325 CE, the Council of Nicaea decided that there should be a more organized way to decide when Easter would be celebrated. They decided that the holiday would be held the first Sunday after the first full moon (Paschal full moon) occurring on or after the spring equinox, which occurs on March 21st every year. The date of Easter Sunday changes, because the Paschal full moon can fall on various days in different time zones. That’s also why certain Christian holidays leading up to that day, such as Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday and Good Friday, are referred to as “moveable feasts.”
What was accomplished through Jesus’ death and resurrection?
There exists a problem, a holy paradox, that could only be resolved through the atoning sacrifice of a perfect human.
The Problem: Genesis 1 describes the creation of the universe, our world, every living thing, and humans. God made it all good. But the good didn’t last because behind the scenes, Satan and one-third of the angels chose to defy God and were cast out of Heaven. But Satan in his arrogance, refused to go down without a fight, even though he would lose. He chose to come after God’s beloved creation, humans, God made to live in communion with Him forever. God, in His perfect love and knowledge, knows that love must be a choice, so He gave us the power to choose. Satan, in his bitter deceit, took advantage of that loving decision and brought temptation and lies to our first parents, Adam and Eve. They fell and thus, every one of us has been born into sin since, severing the pure relationship between God and man. Satan knew that because of God’s perfection, He could not commune with the evil we now were. Evil must be punished. Evil must die. Justice must be served. God cannot contradict Himself and remain holy.
The Perfect Solution: Our all-knowing God knew what would happen before it even happened, yet He created us anyway because He had a solution from the start. Perfection must die in our place to cover our sins, so we can once again be made holy in the sight of God. The atoning sacrifice must be fully God and fully man in order for it to work. Jesus is that perfection. Thousands of years ago, Jesus gave up His life to conquer death for those who believe so we can once again be in communion with our Heavenly Father. Because He died, we are free.
This is the reason for the Easter celebration. Some Christians may be concerned by the pagan background of “Easter” and the idolatry of eggs, bunnies, and candy. Many are upset by the closing of churches this year due to the coronavirus outbreak. But I would implore you, take the opportunity we have been given this year to thank God for what he has accomplished for us without all the distractions of brunches, dresses, easter bunnies, decorating eggs, and Easter egg hunts. His love is the whole reason for the Christian celebration anyway. Who cares what the world is doing?! No one can keep us from praising the King of Heaven. He cares more about the hearts of His people than the number of butts in a pew. Not to say that we should follow the traditions of this world blindly, but that we should take every opportunity that we possibly can to worship our Lord and Savior.