Easter, the Pagan Holiday-NOT!

Christian believers around the world will gather this weekend or next, depending on which calendar they use, to commemorate Easter.  The story surrounding the historic events of the unjust trial of Jesus, his crucifixion and eventual glorious resurrection is the cornerstone of our faith and the hope of our eternity.  And yet every year we are subjected to those religious zealots who come out of hiding to allege that our Easter celebration is leftover from former pagan holidays, and that “True” Christians would never take part if they only knew.  What’s more sad is that their readers blindly adopt their misinformation as the Gospel, pun intended.  So today I’d like to counter and preempt their arguments with some factual truth.

The most common allegation is that Easter is a derived name from the Mesopotamian Goddess Ishtar.  In the early  nineteenth century there was a minister of the Free Church of Scotland named Alexander Hilsop.  Hilsop was vehemently opposed to the Catholic Church and created and propagated a notion that the Roman Catholic Church was in fact a secret pagan society dating back to Constantine. Hilsop claims since Constantine was never really Christian, he brought pagan words into the Christian vernacular, making Ishtar in essence, Easter.  In the English language we don’t substitute two words simply because they sound similar.  His writings, specifically his book titled A Tale of Two Babylons, and teachings have been soundly rejected by scholars due to their unsubstantiated factual evidence.  You can read much more of his life and the fallacy of his teahings online.

This brings us to the second alleged notion that Easter is named after an Anglo-Saxon goddes named Eostre.  First, we now know that Anglo-Saxons did not name their months after gods or goddesses but rather after seasons of agriculture.  In addition, there is no evidence that a goddess named Eostre ever existed.  The only reference to that name in all history is found in a line of a writing by Venerable Bede, an old historian. There are simply no other listings of that name, no left behind carvings or statues, no lisitng among known gods or goddesses, NOTHING!  The existence of Eostre is simply unproven and thereefore, can not be the source of any known pagan ritual.

So then, where do we get the term Easter?  In the original Greek, the word Pascha was used for both Easter and Passover.  That carried over as well into the Latin translation. However, in the 1500s William Tyndale did not want to use the same word for both the Jewish observance and a Christian observance. He chose Pask, a dervitive of Pascha, for the Jewish holiday, leaving by default, Easter for the Christian observance.  King James followed suit in his translation as he recorded the passover in the book of Acts as Easter.  In the Orthodox tradition, the original term Pascha is still used in it’s original beauty and significance.

So why address such a misinformed allegation at all, if it has no merit?  Simply because there will be many people who believe that if something is posted on any social media platform, especially if it comes from a shared post by one of their friends, then it must be true.  We have become so virtually programmed that we absorb all we read on social media like a dry sponge dropped into a swimming pool.  There are few fact checkers that will investigate before blindly passing it along or even worse, condemn us who celebrate Easter as being brainwashed by pagan historians, when in fact quite the opposite is more true.  To discount the magnificance of Easter to a mere handed down pagan ritual by a discredited Scottish minister is to deny the events on which our entire faith is solely built, and a huge disservice to those foolish enough to believe it rather than the truth of the Gospels.

The historic recording of the Bible manuscripts still in existence, along with other notable historic non-Biblical writings such as those by Josephus, are universally accepted and measured under the criteria of historical accuracy as proof enough that Jesus existed and that the stories left for us are accurate and confirmed by other writings.  However, Jesus and his teachings will remain a mystery for those who can’t or won’t accepth him through faith alone.  It’s sad, and yet understandable.  Jesus’ own disciples, who lived with him and shared in his ministry as witnesses to his miracles and teachings, had a hard time accepting that he was who he claimed to be, even up to his death on the cross.  They scattered and hid-only John was recorded to be at the scene of the crucifixion.  And even when Jesus miraculously reappears before them, Thomas demands to see his hands as proof, so our doubts are understandable.  And yet the truth remains absolute and infallible.

I choose to believe in a God who set forth a plan of reconciliation for all mankind by becoming one of us, fully man and yet at all times retaining all power, who yielded himself and his body to the most horrific suffering imaginable to atone for all sin, was placed in a borrowed tomb and rose from the state of being dead so that we too may share in his resurrection.  Don’t be led astray by those who find folly in our faith.  Put on your Easter best-commemorate his death on good Friday, and rejoice in his victory over the grave on Easter Sunday with no shame or guilt of pagan worship, and pray for those who miss out on this blessed event because of their own inability to verify false allegations.  Jesus died, Jesus rose, Jesus will come again to receive all who have received him!  Happy Easter!

 

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The Diminished Cross

GUWG-Cross-Light

Each year about this time I lament my disappointment as I once again embark on a futile search for a place to observe Good Friday among my protestant based churches.  Mind you not all have done away with such observances, but with each passing year the offerings become fewer and fewer.  In a feel-good age of cheap grace and victorious living, the message of suffering, forbearance and surrender of self, becomes increasingly diluted if mentioned at all.  The challenge of taking up one’s own cross and submitting to the unpredictable and uncomfortable life of following our Savior in His suffering and death is being largely replaced with the more popular theology of living your best life, tapping into God’s treasure trove and living a free-style life where all is covered by grace and a high five is preferable to a lowly stature of humble prayer and reflective remorse.  The cross is only relevant as a piece of jewelry or a favored tattoo and not a reminder of our sinful roots.

The cheap form of grace that some brandish about like an infinite well we didn’t have to dig was provided to us at a high cost.  In his book, The Cost of Discipleship, Dierich Bonhoeffer reminds us of the cost of this grace:

“such grace is costly because it calls us to follow. It is costly because it costs a man his life and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. Above all it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son; “ye were bought with a price”, and what cost God much cannot be cheap for us.”

That cost was paid on a cross.  There would be no Resurrection Sunday without the horrendous events surrounding Good Friday.  In fact there would be little value at all in an empty tomb except that given it by the verified death just three days earlier.  It is the cross that empowers the message of the resurrection-it is the bloodshed and the suffering and the ultimate show of sacrificial love by means of the cross that gives life and hope to the message of redemption and eternal life revealed by the empty tomb.  But somewhere in our attempt to make more palatable the message of hope and forgiveness many have left out the call to obedience, suffering, discipline and selflessness that the cross represents. A 30 second Sinners Prayer void of a call to total submission under the weight of a daily cross would be to hard to receive and would turn many away, so it is left off the buffet of inspirational anecdotes and dessert blessings lest the people may not come.

While I enjoy the freedom of our worship styles I am never drawn away from the integrity of the old hymns.  One of my favorites was written by Isaac Watts over three hundred years ago, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.  The descriptives held within the lyrics paint for us an undiluted picture of the price paid on the cross and the eternal value that lies within the solemn observance of that first Good Friday;

  1. When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of Glory died, my richest gain I count as loss and pour contempt on all my pride. 2. Forbid it Lord that I should boast, save in the death of Christ my God; all the vain things that charm me most I sacrifice them to his blood. 3. See, from his head, his hands, his feeet-sorrow and love flow mingled down; Did e;er such love and sorrow meet or thorns compose so rich a crown. 4. Were the whole realm of nature mine that were an offering far too small; love so amazing, so divine, deserves my soul, my life, my all.
I am the least of those to point out how we overlook the cost of the cross as we pass Go and head right to the empty tomb and collect our $200. My life is not one of submissive discipline and I fall short of understanding and living out the combined message of the tomb and the cross. But I am deeply grieved and concerned at how through the generations the high cost paid for the grace we boast has been diminished to a nearly unmentioned detail having little significance compared to Living our Best Life Now. It is the blood shed up to and on the cross that provides our healing.  It is the lashes and the nails on the cross that provide our forgiveness. It is the carrying of the cross by our King that provides us the best example of meekness and humility. And most importantly, it is only the death on the cross that made possible the glorious resurrection we celebrate at Easter.  One can not be separated from the other; one can not be observed properly as a single event without knowledge of the other. And one can not glory in the risen Savior and the empty tomb with giving glory to the crucified Lamb and the price of death paid for our redemption.
There is no shortage of scriptural texts to instill in us the ever relevant importance of observing the work accomplished on the cross.
1 Peter 2:24; He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness”
Hebrews 12:2; For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame and sat down at the right hand of the Father.
Galatians 6:14; May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.
1 Corinthians 1:17; Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom or eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
Although they gave it their best effort, not even Hollywood with all their special effects could adequately capture the horror, the level of pain, the sense of abandonment nor the depth of so great a love that was displayed that Good Friday on the cross we so reluctantly acknowledge. Christ took upon his body the eternal punishment for all evil, for all hatred, for all martyrdom in his name, all terrorism, all extremism, for every lie, indiscretion, theft, for every person who has walked the face of the planet he created. The source of all life became death; the embodiment of all that is good became all that is evil so that even his own father could not look upon him in his deepest and most agonizing hour on the cross. How can we so easily brush aside the infinite sacrifice in favor of the glorious outcome? Is it because the cross reminds us of our worthlessness and our own sinfulness but for the high price paid for our grace? With all that is left of my shattered life I will attempt to find glory and worth in the cross and pray that its significance is never lost on me.

I boast not or works or tell of good deeds for naught have I done to merit his grace

All glory and praise shall rest upon him so willing to die in my place

I will glory in the cross, in the cross, lest his suffering all be in vain

I will weep no more for the cross that he bore-I will glory in the cross.

May you have a blessed, reflective and completely cognizant Easter celebration as we acknowledge the whole Easter story from the incarnation to the passion, from the death to the resurrection and from his ascention to his eventual return, all made possible by his obedience to the cross.