Even with the limelight on a special week, it is good that we consider its historical significance and the weight centuries of observation plays on our present-day celebrations of this event in the Christian year.
Christmas and Easter: One does not have significant meaning without the other. The birth of Christ which we observe at Christmas splits time in two. Ever since that significant date, whatever time of the year it happened originally, we have had B. C. and A. D.—Before Christ and Anno Domini, in the year of our Lord.
But Christmas without Easter would not have had worldwide and centuries-long impact. The latter celebration gives the former purpose and direction.
Since time as we know it was set by the birth of Christ, we might think that Easter, which does not have a division of time named for it, is less significant. But great Christian leaders of the world, from the earliest time until the present, have been avid in proclaiming that without the death of Christ and His resurrection, His birth would hold far less importance. Easter, then, authenticates the purpose, the mission of the Babe of Bethlehem, Emmanuel, God with us.
It was not until about the 3rd century A. D. that churches began to observe what we know as the season of Easter. We oftentimes complain that both Christmas and Easter are too secularized, a time for buying and selling, excessive giving, and many celebrations that are far removed from the spiritual meaning of these two holy seasons. As a matter of convenience, both seasons were set upon dates already observed in pagan cultures. We must remember that Christianity was launched in a pagan world.
The date of Easter changes slightly each year and comes no earlier than March 22 and no later than April 25. To confuse the date further, Eastern Orthodox and Western Orthodox observances of Easter are oftentimes on different calendar dates. That is because the Eastern date is set using the Julian calendar and the Western date is set using the Gregorian calendar. To confuse matters further, the date for Easter is set not on the astronomical first full moon after the spring equinox, but on the Sunday immediately following the Paschal or Ecclesiastical full moon. When I read about how it is enumerated, I'm just grateful that someone in the know can determine the date for Easter and let us know.
Regardless of how it came to be and when, it was named Easter by Venerable Bede, because a celebration was already in place to honor a Teutonic and Anglo-Saxon goddess named Eostre (or Estre). She was believed to be the goddess of the rising light of day and the dawn of spring. It seemed to Venerable Bede that, since Christ's death and resurrection brought light and new life, it would be well to name the celebration of His coming forth from the grave Easter.
Those who delve into and record statistics tell us that Easter is the one Sunday in the year when more people attend Christian churches, regardless of denomination, than any other day of the year—even Christmas. Ask these once-a-year church-goers if they are Christians and they will probably respond "Yes." After all, does not their faithfulness on Easter Sunday prove this? They believe in life after death. They have a hope of their own resurrection following death. After all, Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior, crucified on what we now term "Good Friday" broke the bonds of death that bound him. Will He not do the same for believers? Did he not promise the thief on the cross who believed in him, "This day you will be with me in Paradise?" We somehow need to remember there are fifty-one other weeks in a year, fifty-one other Sundays to show faithfulness of beliefs and Christian practice.
I read with a great deal of concern that the twentieth century registered more martyrs for the faith than any other century. Considering how many Christians lost their lives in the early years after the resurrection when the church was spreading rapidly and believers were killed for their faith, this statistic was alarming. In the year 2,000, over 150,000 Christians worldwide were martyred. Those who study trends predict that persecution will spread and that even in the United States the freedom to worship and practice one's Christian faith will be in great jeopardy.
Strong Christ-centered beliefs played an important role in the formation of America's government. In 1892, the Supreme Court of the United States made this decision: "Our laws and our institutions must necessarily be based upon and embody the teachings of the Redeemer of mankind. It is impossible that it should be otherwise; and in this sense and to this extent our civilization and our institutions are emphatically Christian." [Quoted from Supreme Court Records by Thomas Horn of Worthy Christian News]
Easter is a good time to evaluate our seriousness of belief and commitment. Easter can be a new beginning, a time when night turns to day, darkness to light, mourning to joy, despair to hope, weakness to strength, fear to courage, distress to peace, defeat to victory; death to life. A catchy but truthful saying made the rounds a few years ago. The statement was: "If it is to be, it is up to me." Could we think on these things this Holy Week and Easter—and even beyond, all year long?
c 2009 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Apr. 9, 2009 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.