Redeeming Easter - What's In A Name?

Easter has its origins as a pagan holiday of the Germanic goddess of fertility, Eostre. Notice the similarities in the names Eostre and Easter. The bunny and the eggs celebrated fertility and the season of rebirth that occurs during spring as life begins to flourish around us. Some Christians become upset “that paganism has infiltrated the contemporary ‘Christian’ churches” (from the tract The Pagan Origin of Easter by David Meyer). If anyone has a right to get upset it would be the pagans. Christians have stolen a perfectly depraved and reprobate holiday and have redeemed it.

Jesus is in the redemption business. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, redemption is “the restoration of man from the bondage of sin to the liberty of the children of God through the satisfactions and merits of Christ.” In normal terms, that just means that we have been made right with God through the death of Jesus on the cross so that we may live in freedom from sin.

As Christians, we should not be ashamed that Easter had pagan origins. We should celebrate that Easter, like us, has been redeemed. What once was pagan is now redeemed.

When I was in high school, I remember wearing a shirt that said “god is dead” on it, and I loved the song the shirt corresponded with. I was a pagan, and I was glad to sing along with Trent Reznor, "Your god is dead and no one cares. If there is a hell, I'll see you there."  But then the craziest thing happened. God reached down and touched my life through the loving actions of people who follow Him. Not the kind of people who have the right belief statements, go to the “true” church, participate in the necessary rituals, and rely solely on those things. These were people that had been redeemed and were living their life for Jesus among the lost. They were full of love for a lost, pagan sinner like me.

All of the work of redemption has already been paid upon the cross nearly 2,000 years ago. All I had to do was surrender to Him, and I became free. I, who was formerly a pagan, was redeemed and is now used by God, as much as my faulty self can be used, to bring about God’s will here on earth. And this story repeats itself every day. Maybe it has in you, or maybe it needs to begin in you. That’s what Easter is about.

Historically, the fight over Easter culminated in 325 A.D. at the First Council of Nicaea. This council separated the celebration of Easter from its connection to the Jewish Passover. This separation is somewhat ironic because Jesus is our Passover lamb (John 1:28, 1 Corinthians 5:7, and 1 Peter 1:18-21) and the Lord’s Supper is a remembrance of the Passover meal that Jesus shared with his disciples (1 Corinthians 11:23-26 and Matthew 26:26-29). The change instituted by this council allowed Easter to always fall on a Sunday. Unfortunately, it also created one of the earliest significant divisions in the Church. A division that eventually culminated in the split of the eastern and western churches. A division that we still see manifested when people argue over Easter.

All too often Christians want to be known by our stances against things like Easter or some other immorality rather than being known for the thing that Jesus wants us to be known for. Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” [John 13:34-35 (ESV)]. Jesus said that people will know that we are His followers by the love we have for one another. And love, when linked to the power and sacrifice of Jesus, redeems.

We can choose whether we will just sit around and study the Bible, experience God, isolate ourselves from the world, and refuse to join Jesus in the world’s redemption. Many Christians have chosen that path because they view the world as inherently evil and without hope. Or we can be used by God as his redemption tool by loving one another and the people in the world around us. Our neighbors, our co-workers, and our family need to know Jesus’ love through our lives of love to them. My life and the lives of those also touched by Jesus through the love of his faithful followers are evidence that people willing to be in the world but not of the world are wonderful and blessed.

At this time of year, we can choose to get hung up on the name we use for this holiday, Easter or Resurrection Sunday, but we might forget its purpose amidst all the vitriol exchanged back and forth. With Easter, let’s not focus on bringing back the original meaning of the holiday. That would mean us dancing around Ishtar poles and participating in other pagan rituals.

The purpose of this holiday, regardless of its origin, is to celebrate the redemption that we have through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. The new life that we see spring up all around us at this time of the year is a great reminder of the new life we can have in Jesus. From the death of last fall springs life. From our collective death in the fall of humanity, we can have a new life. It’s Easter. It’s a celebration of life. It’s the day of our Lord’s resurrection!