A Historical And Biblical Perspective
INTRODUCTION 1. "Easter Sunday" is an annual holiday celebrated by many... a. Millions of people commemorate the resurrection of Jesus on this day b. Many consider it as "the most holy" of religious holidays c. For some, it marks the only time they attend church services (although Christmas runs a close second) 2. But were you aware... a. That the church in the NT did not observe a YEARLY observance of the Lord's resurrection? 1) The word "Easter" is found only once in the KJV Bible - cf. Ac 12:4 2) The word in the Greek is actually "Passover", and so translated elsewhere in the KJV 3) "It is reasonably certain that the NT contains no reference to a YEARLY celebration of the resurrection of Christ" (ISBE) b. That the word "Easter" actually comes from "EASTRE", the Anglo-Saxon name of a Teutonic goddess of spring and fertility? 1) To her was dedicated a month corresponding to our April 2) Her festival was celebrated on the day of vernal equinox c. That many of the customs associated with Easter illustrate this and other pagan connections? 1) "The rabbit was sacred to the Germanic goddess 'Eastre', the goddess of fertility and springtime...And if you stop to think about it, rabbits are an extremely appropriate symbol for springtime, because of what they are famous for--having more rabbits." (William Heim, associate dean of the College of Arts and Letters at USF, Orlando Sentinel, 4/15/87) 2) "It appears there was a custom among ancient Egyptians and Romans to give eggs as presents at this time of year. That was intended to insure that the recipient would have a very fertile or productive year." (Helms, ibid.) 3) Helms went on to say that hunting for Easter eggs may have begun as the search for gifts from the sacred animal, the rabbit, on the morning of the festival. 3. This ought to prompt some questions in the minds of Christians... a. How did the YEARLY observance of Jesus' resurrection get started? b. How did pagan names and traditions become associated with a "Christian" holiday (esp. one considered "the most holy")? c. What bearing should all this have on Christians today? 1) Should the Lord's church involve herself in such a holiday? 2) How about observing certain elements of it as individuals? [Here are the results of my own study on these things. Beginning with...] I. LCOOKING AT EASTER FROM A "HISTORICAL" PERSPECTIVE A. THE YEARLY OBSERVANCE OF CHRIST'S RESURRECTION... 1. The practice began early, in the form of a "Christian" Passover a. The Passover was already an important feast to the Jews 1) Instituted by Moses, commemorating their deliverance from Egypt 2) It was during this feast that Jesus instituted the "Lord's Supper" b. Many Jews continued to keep their Jewish customs and religious festivals after their conversion to Christ 1) Paul was not averse to observing such Jewish customs - Ac 18:18-21; 21:17-26 2) John and Philip were said to observe the Passover every year (cf. Eusebius) -- But the Passover (and other Jewish festivals) was never bound upon the Gentiles (more on this later) c. Shortly after the death of the apostles, some of the "Jewish" festivals began to be observed as "Christian" festivals 1) I.e., the Passover was now observed in memory of Christ's death a) Who died during Passover week b) Who was offered as our Passover lamb for our sins - cf. 1 Co 5:7-8 2) Thus began a YEARLY observance... a) Even though Christ instituted the Lord's Supper as the proper memorial to commemorate His death - cf. Lk 22:14-20; 1 Co 11:23-26 b) Both biblical and historical evidence indicate that this was a WEEKLY observance - cf. Ac 20:7; 1 Co 11: 20-22; 10:16-17 2. The yearly "Christian Passover" soon included other observances as well... a. Palm Sunday, the day Jesus made His triumphant entry into Jerusalem prior to His death b. Good Friday, the day He was crucified c. Resurrection Sunday, the day He arose and which came to be known as "Easter" 3. Celebrating these days was not without controversy... a. In the 2nd and 3rd century there was much dispute over the proper date 1) The churches in Asia Minor followed Jewish chronology a) So they celebrated the Passover when the Jews did, on the 14th of Nisan b) The Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar, which meant the day of the week would vary from year to year c) Thus the day of Passover would vary, and with it the day of celebrating Jesus' resurrection 2) Others observed the events on the day of the week in which they occurred a) So that the "Christian Passover" always fell on a Thursday b) The commemoration of Jesus' death would be on a Friday c) The celebration of the resurrection on a Sunday b. This created quite a stir... 1) While some were sorrowfully commemorating the death of Jesus, others were joyously celebrating His resurrection 2) Churches threatened to "excommunicate" one another c. Even after the Jewish calendar was dropped, and it was agreed to celebrate these holidays on the same days of the week, there was still a problem... 1) There was no agreement on which calendar to use (Gregorian or Julian) 2) Which explains the difference between the observances by the Roman and Greek orthodox churches today -- So the YEARLY observance of the resurrection originated from human tradition, not the Bible itself, and proved to be a source of turmoil among the churches B. THE INTRODUCTION OF PAGAN CUSTOMS... 1. Assimilation of pagan ritual into "Christian" observances was a common practice a. When people took the gospel into a pagan area... 1) Many would not discourage the local residents to discard their pagan rituals 2) Instead, they would attempt to give such customs a "Christian" flavor b. As Helms, quoted earlier, went on to say: 1) "With the advent of Christianity, the egg, still taken as a symbol of life, was simply borrowed to be a symbol of the Christian holiday." 2) "The earliest Easter eggs were dyed red to represent the blood shed by Christ." 3) "Many cultures celebrated the advent of spring down through history. When Christianity came along about 2,000 years ago, there was already a number of pagan celebrations in place." 4) "People rarely discard a holiday. When a new system of beliefs comes along, you simply come up with a new mythic structure to explain why you were celebrating that holiday in the first place." 2. The effect of such assimilation... a. It eventually "neutralized" the pagan rituals 1) Who would have ever thought of "Easter" as the name of a goddess? 2) Without the help of historical research, we would have forgotten the pagan origins b. But it also leaves many people with erroneous conceptions 1) E.g., having people believe that Christians have always observed a yearly regarding the death and resurrection of Jesus 2) E.g., in the case of Christmas, leading people to believe that Jesus was actually born on December 25th, not knowing that it was originally a Roman feast day [But this has been looking at Easter from a "historical" perspective. As disciples of Christ, our primary concern should be the "biblical" perspective...]
II. COOKING AT EASTER FROM A "BIBLICAL" PERSPECTIVE A. PAUL GAVE WARNINGS REGARDING FEAST DAYS... 1. Paul expressed his concern for the churches in Galatia - Ga 4:8-11 a. He does not say that their practice was wrong per se, only that he is concerned b. From the context, his concern pertained to "why" they were doing these things 1) If they believed it was necessary to be saved, then Paul's labor among them was in danger of being in vain 2) For seeking justification through the Law, religious feast days, etc., causes one to fall from grace and become estranged from Christ! - cf. Ga 5:4 2. Paul admonished the Colossians not to let anyone "judge" them - Co 2:16-17 a. Some were seeking to bind the Law upon the Gentile believers - e.g., Ac 15:1,5 b. Gentile Christians were told not to let any one judge (condemn) them, for salvation is in Christ, not in the keeping of the religious feast days of the Law 3. But as we noted before, Paul was not averse to observing certain feast days himself a. He did not hesitate to keep Jewish customs when expedient - 1 Co 9:19-20 1) He had Timothy circumcised - Ac 16:1-3 2) He took a vow - Ac 18:18 3) He sought to keep a Jewish feast in Jerusalem - Ac 18: 19-21 4) He participated in purification ceremonies, which included animal sacrifices - Ac 21:17-26; Num 6:13-20 b. However, in his teaching it was made clear: 1) It should be kept on an individual basis - cf. Ro 14:5-6 2) It should not be bound on others - cf. Ga 2:3-5 3) It had nothing to do with our justification in Christ - cf. Ga 5:4-6 -- Where Paul drew the line was in making such matters church doctrine or practice, where people were compelled to do them
B. JESUS WARNED OF THE DANGER OF HUMAN TRADITIONS... 1. He rebuked the scribes Pharisees for their use of traditions - Mk 7:1-13 a. They made their traditions necessary for all to observe - Mk 7:7 b. In keeping their traditions, they laid aside the commands of God - Mk 7:8-9 2. Traditions of men are wrong, then, when they: a. Become matters of doctrine or required practice, bound upon all b. Displace the commands of God by the very keeping of the traditions -- Traditions are therefore like the feast days; in certain situations they can be matters of expediency, but if we are not careful they can become a stumbling block to us!
C. MAKING APPLICATION IN REGARDS TO EASTER... 1. The Bible is silent regarding any YEARLY observance of Christ's resurrection a. God and Jesus evidently did not deem it necessary for the church b. Any yearly observance is based upon human tradition, not God's Word 2. As a human tradition, we must be very careful - cf. Mk 7:7-9 a. It cannot become a matter of doctrine, which is bound upon others b. It cannot displace the keeping of God's commandments (do those who come only on Easter believe that it renders the command in He 10:25 of no effect?) 3. An annual observance by the church is unwise, if not wrong a. It intertwines human traditions with God's commands for His church b. It forces people to observe what is a human tradition 4. On an individual basis, however, if one wishes to esteem one day above another: a. It is between him and the Lord - Ro 14:5-6 b. Be careful not to condemn those who differ - Ro 14:4,10-12 c. Be sensitive to the convictions of others - Ro 14:13-19 5. As for the pagan elements... a. Again, perhaps this is best left on an individual basis b. My own understanding is that we are free in Christ to change what may have been a religious practice at one time for personal use as an expediency 1) E.g., using circumcision for personal hygiene 2) E.g., using colored eggs and hiding them for family entertainment
CONCLUSION 1. My view of Easter is similar to how I view Thanksgiving... a. I know that the idea of an annual observance is foreign to the Scriptures b. As Christians we should give thanks and celebrate Christ's resurrection year around c. But seeking to "continue steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine" (Ac 2:42), the Lord's church should refrain from adding human traditions to its work and worship d. Yet I am grateful that I live in a country where at least once a year people think about God's blessings, especially in the gift of His Dear Son 2. My prayer is that people will do more than think about God's Son once a year... a. That we be thankful in every thing and on every day b. That we live in the power of the resurrected Life which is in Christ Jesus our Lord 1) Which comes by being in Christ 2) Which comes by living daily in service to Him who died for us, and rose again! "For though He was crucified in weakness, yet He lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, but we shall live with Him by the power of God toward you." - 2 Cor 13:4 "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me." - Gal 2:20 "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." - Phil 4:13 Are you living daily for Christ, serving Him by the power of His resurrected life? "THE CELEBRATION OF EASTER"