The date of Easter is one of those perennially
difficult things to work out, and the formula,
worked out by the council of Nicea in AD 324 is
difficult to remember: It is the first Sunday
after the first full moon following the 21st of
March. In the orthodox church it follows a
40-day period of prayer and fasting known as Lent, and starts
with Ash Wednesday, ends on Holy Saturday, the
day before Easter Sunday.
Often there is a sun rise ceremony to celebrate the rising of the sun (a throw back to pagan sun worship) and the start of spring. There is a custom of giving Easter Eggs, which are now made from chocolate and come in all sizes. Formerly these were hens' eggs, dyed and decorated with colour - and symbolised life, practices and customs which stem from Persian and Egyptian paganism. Some of the symbols included:
The sun = good fortune
A rooster = fulfilment of wishes
A deer = good health
Flowers = love and charity
Of course orthodox Christianity has changed the tradition of egg-rolling to instead be equated with the symbolism of the rolling away of the stone at the grave of Jesus. Thus, especially in America, there is the tradition of the Easter Bunny; this is associated with the festival of Eastre or Eostre - the Anglo-Saxon goddess of love whose symbol was a rabbit.
Later a lamb was included, symbolising Jesus, the lamb of God. We often see chicks on Easter adverts and posters, again a symbol of new life, re-birth and resurrection. The Anglo-Saxon ate Hot-Cross Buns as part of the celebration of the coming of Spring. The early Christian missionaries tried to stop the habit, but when they failed they instead put crosses on the buns to identify them with the Christian symbol.
The word Easter only occurs once in the Bible:
"Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church. And he killed James the brother of John with the sword. And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread.) And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people." (Acts 12:1-4)
However, the word translated as Easter in verse four is the word "pascha" in the Greek and is usually translated as "passover", e.g. Matthew 26:2. Note the end of verse 3 in the Acts passage above, where reference is made to the days of unleavened bread, a further link to the Passover. Unleavened bread, and the Passover, commemorate the affliction that took place as the children of Israel prepared to escape from Egypt.
How did the word "Easter" come to be associated with the festival of the Passover?
The word "Easter" more immediately relates to Eostre or Estera, a Teutonic pagan goddess worshipped in April, so the festival was conveniently transferred to the Jewish/Christian festival of Passover, which was also the anniversary of Christ's death and resurrection.
Eostre is also known as Ashtoreth, or Astarte or Ishtar. The name and the cult of this goddes was derived from Babylon, where Ishtar represented the evening and morning stars. She is identified with the male god Chemosh, and she is also know as Aphrodite in Cyprus and Greece, and Venus to the Romans. She was the goddess of love and war, and her husband was Tammuz (See Ezekiel 8:14 ). Tammuz is also known as Adonis. His death was commemorated on the second day of the fourth month. She was the personification of the productive principle in nature, and especially the creatress of mankind. Prostitution was practised in her name, along with many immoral rites. She was the moon-goddess, and consort of Baal, the sun god. In Egypt they were known as Osiris and Isis.
The death and resurrection of Jesus should of course be celebrated, but perhaps it should be done without the trappings of pagan idolatry and immoral associations. It is not just at "Easter" however that we should do this. Jesus instructed:
"...this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come." (1 Corinthians 11:25,26)
Of all the Christian festivals, this is the one we should identify with, but it is vital that we have the correct understanding of the effects of Christ's death and resurrection. Let's look at a few passages and note how often joy and rejoicing is associated with the message of the resurrection.
1 Corinthians 15 talks of the power of the resurrection - read the chapter and let the resurrection be a power in your life too!
Philippians 3:10 speaks of the importance of knowing Jesus, and the power of his resurrection, the fellowship of his sufferings, and the importance of being made "conformable unto his death", so that we might attain to the resurrection.
In John 16:16-22 Jesus tells his disciples to rejoice because of his resurrection. Peter in Acts 2:26 quotes Psalm 16, where King David rejoiced in the prospect of his greater Son's resurrection, because it would ultimately mean resurrection for him too!
You can read in 1 Peter 1:3-9 what resurrection can do for you - the resurrection of Jesus has given, to those who become "conformable to his death", "a lively hope", "an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, that fadeth not away... kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. Wherein ye greatly rejoice..." Lay hold on joy for yourself by becoming associated with the death and resurrection of Jesus - and it will be like celebrating Easter every day, every week!
The best way to learn more about becoming associated with the death and resurrection of Jesus, is to read the Bible. We have a FREE Learn to Read the Bible Effectively course which we hope will help you to read and understand your Bible.
Please click here for an article about Lent.