Well, it’s that time of year, the most celebrated and revered day in Christianity. The death, burial and resurrection of Christ commemorates the crucial event of Christianity, without which Christianity would not exist. So it’s the time when Christians gather to reflect, resound and renew their commitment to Christ.
It’s also the time when many Christians refute the traditional symbols of Easter or even call it ‘Easter’. For those who engage in this refutation, the rejection of identifying it as ‘Easter’ is rooted in the fact that the term ‘Easter’ was adopted from a pagan holiday. This seems to taint the holiness and significance of the resurrection with paganism, right? Consider what Mel Lawrenz says in this article from the Biblegateway blog in response to the question ‘Why do most Christians use the word ‘Easter’ in reference to the Resurrection day of Jesus, when that word comes from a pagan goddess?’:
First, there never has been a direct association of the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus with the pagan deity. The celebration of the day of resurrection fell on the month of Eastre (West Saxon) or Eostre (Northumbrian). So it was a time of year that was the association, the name of a month. Now that month’s name was probably (not certainly) derived from a goddess of spring. But this association is remote and that is why if you use the word “Easter” in normal speech today, people make no association with ancient pagan religion. Hundreds of millions of Christians use “Easter,” and have done so for centuries, with the meaning of “the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus.”
Second, there are many words we use that have long-passed connections in pagan culture or religion, but their meaning has been changed. When we talk about going to church on ‘Sunday’ we don’t have much heartburn about the fact that this day in the Roman calendar was for the worship of the sun. The examples are everywhere. And when we pass into January we mark a new beginning with little concern that the word “January” comes from the Roman god Janus, the god of doorways. Many of the words we use have some peculiar etymology. What matters is what the words mean to us today in normal spoken language.
I agree with Lawrenz’s assessment. There is no good reason to disassociate with the term ‘Easter’ simply because it was once associated with a pagan religion. If we can use the term ‘Sunday’ as part of our Christian fabric, then why not Easter? Moreover, what attachment does Easter to pagan religion in today’s terminology?
I find a similar attitude with the traditional relics of Easter, which is bunnies and eggs. The outcry is that it undermines the significance of the resurrection. But I find this argument misplaced as well. For I see in scripture that God reveals himself to humanity by intersecting humanity according to their culture. This is the essence of the incarnation – God the Son took on flesh and intervened in a point of time in history to bring eternal life through faith in Him. He did not disassociate from relics of the culture but used them to display his glory. He used the very ideas that people had about God, even if misplaced, to point to himself. Why?
Consider his dialogue with the woman at the well in John 4:7-26. The Samaritan woman had an idea about God and what worship of God meant. It meant a particular place and a particular time. What does that have to do with bunnies and eggs, you might ask. Because they are symbolic of a time when Christianity is celebrated. For many, it points to the events of the Christianity though the Christ of Christianity might not be embraced. So getting back to Jesus and the Samaritan woman, he did not rebuke her for her identification of worship but used that to point to where real worship occurred. It seems to me, there is a connection to what can be done with bunnies and eggs. Instead of spurning them and rebuking those who would conflate the idea of harmless artifacts with the significance of the resurrection, why not use them to highlight the resurrection? I personally think we can do more harm by chastising the use of these artifacts than by using them to point to Christ. It is not like the ones who incorporate bunnies and eggs into the holiday are worshiping a pagan deity, but it is a meaningless symbol that produces a lot of fun. Why not turn it into something meaningful for the cause of Christ?
I also see that Paul does this on Mars Hill in Acts 17:16-32. Paul did not approach the Athenian court, slashing and burning their idols for Jesus. No, he used the very vestige of pagan thought and symbolism to point to Christ, even citing their own poetry to identify who this God is that they consider ‘unknown’. This also shows that we are willing to identify with people. Isn’t that what Jesus did with the incarnation?
So this Easter, instead of ditching the traditional symbolism of the time, why not use it in a way that connects people to the real meaning of Easter – Jesus Christ, Him crucified buried and resurrected. He is risen!
Edit: Here is an interesting article on the subject, Was Easter Borrowed from a Pagan Holiday.