“…the angel spoke to the women. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen… Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28: 5-6; 18-20, NLT)
A sermon statement made by my first pastor on my first Easter as a newly born Christian was, “Any Easter in which Christ is not at the center is just another pagan holiday.” And then he said, “Make sure you don’t miss Easter.” That was in 1980, and it still resonates despite the rather blunt language he used.
Many of us are easily turned-off by blunt language (like suggesting that some people are contemporary pagans), except when we are the ones using the blunt language. By the way, a simple definition of the word “pagan” is one who holds polytheistic religious beliefs (worships multiple gods)…but it also comes with the added connotation of being uncivilized and morally deficient. I suspect, people, who might in fact be “pagan” in their values and views i.e., they are not exclusively devoted to the God of the Bible (or Koran) don’t want to be associated with that word because of its connotation, particularly on religious holidays, including Christmas and Easter.
There are a couple realities here that shouldn’t be missed. The word Easter itself is a derivation of the Anglo-Saxon name of a pre-Christian goddess (Eostre) who was celebrated at the beginning of Spring. Somewhere along the line, the term was appropriated for a Christian application. There is this undeniable connection between a pagan celebration of new life in nature (flora and fauna) and the Christian Easter which celebrates the victory of Jesus over sin and death, made manifest by His resurrection, i.e. new life born from the clutches of death. Some of us may not like this connection, but there it is. Cultural appropriation (putting your brand on another peoples’ ideas forms, and practices) is essentially a form of plagiarism.
The second reality, at least from my vantage in the northeastern US, is that the purpose of Easter has become a justification for clothing and candy sales, particularly for children’s use and consumption. While it may not have the commercial clout of Christmas, the marketplace has coopted Easter for its own purposes and has been pretty successful. This money-centered emphasis doesn’t fit into a literal definition of paganism, but it could with a little effort. If asked to participate in a word association test, I wonder how many randomly selected people would say bunnies, chocolate bunnies, or new clothes in response to the word “Easter.”
My most recent reading has refreshed my thinking about the prophetic side of Jesus. Like all the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) prophets before Him, His presence, words, and actions caused extreme discomfort within the established social, religious, and political order. Those in positions of power and influence had a vested interest in keeping things as they were, and the de facto criticism of their status quo by these prophets and by Jesus constituted a dangerous threat. How could what had benefited them remain in place if they listened to and aligned themselves to the words of these prophets?
They and their message could not be allowed to take root. In biblical and world history, we see repeated cycles of suppression of the prophetic word, over the course of many centuries. Ways have been found to silence those voices. With a few exceptions, the prophets’ challenges have been met with various forms of ridicule, ostracism, threats, and persecution, including exile and death. It’s in our nature to do this.
Here is where Jesus parted company with His prophetic predecessors and even more contemporary versions of those called to prophetic roles. Their post-death legacy is in their words and actions which ultimately, did not have lasting power to significantly change human kingdoms committed, not to across-the-board righteousness and justice, but to maintaining and strengthening their established order. The legacy of Jesus is in His aliveness.
The resurrection of Jesus (Easter) is the ultimate rejection of this limitation. In a manner, Easter is God’s declaration that He has taken it upon Himself to break this cycle, something so long hungered after by prophets of old and more recently. The resurrection of Jesus is the final word. Attempts have and will be made, but nothing and no one will subvert Him. He may be ignored for a time, but nothing and no one will undermine Him. And that is reason to celebrate, even if candy and new clothes are a small part of the celebration.
The commemoration and celebration of Easter is to remind us that in the resurrected, living Jesus, the pattern has been broken and that all human kingdoms of every kind will cease, and only those who are in Him, the personification of righteousness and justice will remain, forever. The commemoration and celebration of Easter is to recall God’s promise that He has repaired what humanity has broken and has neither the skill nor the will to fix.
It is up to us to believe by faith what has yet to be realized by sight. Every promise God has made to me, He has kept. I believe, and therefore I will wait (count) on God.
Hope you didn’t eat too much candy!
© Byron L. Hannon, 2022. All rights reserved unless otherwise noted.