What is Easter to Most Christians?

Armando Palazzo

Armando Palazzo

As the Christian world goes “a buzz” regarding Easter every year, some are left wondering: 

“Why do Christians celebrate Easter? What is Easter? What’s the origin of Easter? What is good about Good Friday?” 

There is some debate within Christian circles about the origin of Easter, and whether Christians should celebrate it.

Some say “No” and cite their discomfort with the commercialization of Easter, while other Christians see Easter as having pagan origins.

So… What is Easter to most Christians?

Let’s start at the beginning… 

What is the history of Easter, and did the Early Church observe this holiday?

Though, the Bible does not mention the observance of Easter in either the Old or New Testament, Christians who practice the observance of Easter, celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead, as described in the New Testament (Luke 24:1-8), as having occurred on the third day after His burial following his crucifixion around 30 A.D.

The Easter season is celebrated as a much larger observance than just one day. It is the culmination of what is called the Passion of Jesus, preceded by Lent, or what you know as the Lenten Season. 

What is Lent, or the Lenten season?

Lent is observed by many Christians as a time to prepare one’s heart and soul for Easter. During lent, observers are encouraged to confront sinfulness, turning one’s focus and surrender toward God. They strive to develop a heart of Thanksgiving, celebrating the gift of salvation that is only received through faith in the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ! 

What is Holy Week?

Holy Week for Christian observers is the week between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, and it is seen as a special time of devotion towards the Passion of Jesus Christ. Holy Week, historically, has also been called the “Great Week,” because of the great deeds God had done during this week. 

How long is Lent?

Lent is a 40-day, six-week period of time preceding Easter Sunday. For most observing Christians, Lent ends on the Saturday before Easter Sunday; while for Catholics, observation typically ends on what is known as Holy Thursday. 

Holy Week includes Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday.

What is Holy Thursday?

Holy Thursday, also known as Maundy Thursday, is the Thursday before Easter Sunday, and it is part of Holy Week. On Holy Thursday, observing Christians commemorate the Last Supper of Jesus on the night of His betrayal and His arrest. The celebration focuses on the institution of the Church’s ordinance of Communion, as initiated by Jesus.

What is Good Friday?

Good Friday is observed the Friday before Easter Sunday. The focus of Good Friday is the celebration of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. 

Now, one would ask the question… Why would we celebrate Jesus dying on the cross? 

When it comes to Good Friday, what is being celebrated it’s not necessarily the pain Jesus went through, but rather the price He paid. According to Scripture, without Jesus paying the sin death of those who had placed their faith in Him on the cross, there would be no forgiveness of sins and no hope of salvation. 

Good Friday is “good” because it celebrates Jesus as atonement for sin.  It’s this point that is of much celebration, that man can be in right standing with God again. Salvation and eternal life with God in Heaven is made possible through Jesus’ sacrifice! 

The relationship between Good Friday and Easter Sunday commemorates Jesus’s death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead. The cross paid for man’s sin through faith, and His resurrection proved to us He is indeed God!

What about the problem of pagan origin?

History indicates that none of the days of observance/holidays above,  have any origin in the pagan world. The Early Church, from the 1st to 4th century, celebrated each of these and they are distinctly of Christian origin. Early Christians celebrated the Death and Resurrection of Jesus around the Passover season as we do today, long before it was labeled Easter. 

What then may have been influenced by paganism?

History seems to indicate—though there is much debate about this—that the accusation of some may not be fully accurate. Many historians believe the term Easter originated from the ancient pagan celebration of the spring equinox. Early Christians who did not want to participate in Jewish customs or observe pagan rituals, commandeered or assumed the term Easter as their own day of observation. What is clear in history is that Easter, or as many call it “Resurrection Sunday,” holy week, and Lent were all celebrated by the Early Church long before the term Easter was ever used. 

Some also wrongly claim that Lent, all that it encompassed, and Holy Week were a creation of the Catholic Church. This too is not fully supported by history, as most historians believe these holy days and seasons of observation in their various forms actually originated in the first, second, and third century before the Catholic Church was established. Historical evidence seems to indicate these developed over time.

The title of Easter, though historically it is of uncertain origin, also lacks historical certainty on when it was first used. Some historians believe the word Easter originates from an Anglo Saxon goddess known as Eostre, the pagan fertility goddess of humans and crops.

In fact, many argue that Easter eggs and bunnies, that have been part of the commercialization of the Easter\Resurrection holiday, find their origins in pagan rituals and celebrate the above false goddess Eostre. The eggs, bunnies, and to some even chickens, that are often themes of the commercialization of Easter, correlate with spring, new life, and fertility. 

For this reason, many Christians observing Easter refer to its observation as Resurrection Sunday, instead of Easter Sunday. Therefore, they reject the commercialization of the holiday with its Easter eggs, bunnies, and chickens, as items of celebration. 

Now then… What’s right? What should Christians do? Should Christians celebrate Easter or Resurrection Sunday?

Passages like Colossians 2:16; 1 Corinthians 10:23-33 and Romans 14, all give direction on discerning whether we should celebrate Easter and other holidays that may have had a pagan influence, even if it’s only the name that has been influenced. These passages, and many others, are very clear that followers of Jesus (Christians) have freedom in questionable matters—such as observing certain holidays, eating different foods, etc.—so long as their freedom does not cause them to sin, violate scriptural truth and instruction, or create a conflict of conscience. 

So, for Christians who choose to celebrate Easter, they should do so to the extent that what they’re doing glorifies God and uphold biblical truth with a heart of thankfulness. In this, they are worshiping God. Christians who have a conflict of conscience in celebrating Easter due to concerns regarding pagan influence, should refrain from observation due to their conflict of conscience. For them, to refrain is also their worship to God.

Neither should condemn the other for a difference in viewpoint or position of conscience. To criticize a brother or sister in Christ for exercising  their freedom in Christ, is their individual sin disguised as righteousness. In fact, to condemn a fellow believer for following their convictions in the freedom they have in Christ, as outlined in Scripture, is false righteousness.

It’s also notable to point out that Scripture (1 Corinthians 10:28) also teaches that a believer who is acting in their freedom in Christ should not flaunt their freedom before another believer, if that freedom may cause them to sin.

Either way, whether you celebrate Easter as a Christian, or not, this is an amazing time of year to share the gospel with a society that is aware of this holiday and is spiritually seeking. Whether you call it Easter or Resurrection Sunday, celebrating the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is indeed something we can do daily; and from it, we will derive joy and passion in sharing the gospel of truth with the lost!

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