In the spring months of each year, our thoughts are directed toward the death and resurrection of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Our spring celebrations are of “first importance” to us, for they remind us of the meaning of Jesus’ death and the importance of his resurrection.
Because of God’s great love for us, he sent his Son to die for us, to redeem us from sin. This is a central truth of our lives as Christians. I hope that we never grow tired of celebrating and observing these monumental events. They should never become stale or routine.
As often as we observe the Lord’s Supper, we should let it remind us afresh of God’s love for us, a love that will never fail, a love that will never get smaller. Though humans may be unfaithful, God will never leave us or forsake us. Though we may struggle and stumble many times, God never abandons us. He is always ready to welcome us back.
As we commemorate Jesus’ death, we are gloriously confident of God’s love for us. We do not need to worry that our sins, no matter how many or how serious, have cut us off from him. God always welcomes his children.
We are mindful that Jesus died because of sin. He went to the cross because humans chose to decide for themselves what is right and wrong. We have all done that, and we have all repented of that — many times. We seek to do God’s will, not our own. We do not want to participate in self-willed life, for that is the approach to life that alienated us from God, sentenced us to death, and led to our Savior’s death. So the Lord’s Supper is a reminder to us to humble ourselves (even as Jesus did, even unto death on a cross) and seek to serve others (Philippians 2:4-8).
Each of us is woefully inadequate to the task set before us! It is hard for us to put aside our own interests and serve others! It is impossible for us to escape this body of death!
The good news is that God has provided the way, and it comes not only through the death of Jesus Christ, which reconciled us to God, but through his life (Romans 5:10). For a balanced understanding of the Christian life, we must remember that our Savior is a living Savior, resurrected from the dead, ascended into glory, seated in a position of honor and power with God the Father. He intercedes for us, and he lives in us, and we in him. Because of his life, we walk in newness of life, living in a state of forgiveness instead of condemnation.
Jesus died for our sins. We also need to remember that he was raised for our salvation. If he had not been raised, Paul said, we would still be in our sins (1 Corinthians 15:17).
The Festival of Unleavened Bread
The Festival of Unleavened Bread was a reminder for the Jews that they had to leave Egypt in haste. Just as the Passover pictured an escape from death, the Festival pictured an escape from slavery. The Israelites pictured this by living without leaven in their diets for one week.
Spiritually, what do Christians escape from and live without? It is sin. When the Israelites ate unleavened bread, they pictured living without sin. But the festival does not picture us putting sin out of our lives. The sin is removed before the Festival begins! The Festival of Unleavened Bread does not picture the removal of sin — the Passover pictures that. Only Jesus’ death can remove sins from our lives. Our role after that is to live a new life, a holy life in the presence of God. How can we live a new life? Only by having Christ live in us — symbolically portrayed in the old covenant by eating unleavened bread. Jesus Christ is the sinless bread of life. He must live in us.
The Festival pictured the life and work of the risen Christ. How does it do that? One powerful symbolism can be seen in the wavesheaf ritual, which was always done during the Festival of Unleavened Bread (Leviticus 23:10-11). It was always done on “the morrow after the Sabbath.” No grain could be eaten until this first sheaf had been waved toward heaven (verse 14). This pictured the rising of Jesus Christ to his Father in heaven. None of the spiritual harvest can be done until the firstfruit, Jesus Christ, had been offered (1 Corinthians 15:20-23).
A yearly ritual
The old covenant had a yearly ritual regarding the rising of Jesus Christ. It is natural for Christians to have such a celebration, too, since we have a better understanding of what was being symbolized. Christians in some countries call this resurrection festival by a Greek term for the Jewish spring festival — “Pascha.” That is because the resurrection celebration began in Greek-speaking areas when Jewish influence was still strong in the church.
In English, the celebration is named by an Anglo-Saxon word that is sometimes claimed to have a dubious origin — “Easter.” But we do not need to throw out the celebration just because of the name that some people call it! We have many terms in English, such as “Saturday,” that come from pagan names. We do not need to avoid such words. The meaning of a word is established by how people use it now, not by how they used it centuries ago!
There is no reason to condemn Christians who have an annual Sunday celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. Nor is there reason to condemn the name Easter. Some people condemn the way in which Easter is calculated. It does give us the irony that some Christians celebrate the resurrection before other Christians commemorate his death! But that is not a reason to throw stones at other Christians. God has simply not given us commands on how to calculate an optional celebration!
The date of Easter is calculated not on the basis of the Roman calendar, but on a combination of equinox, phases of the moon, and the day of the week — similar in many respects to how the date of the wavesheaf ritual was selected. The early Christians calculated the calendar differently from the way the Jews did, and there is no sin in that.
Christians should remember Christ’s resurrection, just as we remember his death. The two go together. The New Testament does not require Christians to commemorate the resurrection in any particular manner or on any particular day. Yet millions of Christians throughout the centuries have found it helpful to do so. The Bible does not forbid them to do so.
It is not a sin to celebrate the resurrection, not a sin to use to the word Easter, no matter what its origin. It is not a sin to gather at sunrise to worship our Savior. Easter is the spring celebration of Christians honoring the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is not done to honor an Anglo-Saxon goddess.
I encourage Christians to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Some may choose to do it one day, some on another, some perhaps on several days each year. Wonderful! Let good news be celebrated! Christians should rejoice about the victory over sin and death that Jesus won.
It is not a sin to paint eggs, or to search for and eat painted eggs. Nor is it a sin to eat chocolate eggs and chocolate rabbits. These things are no more pagan today than the names of the days of the week and month are. Whatever pagan associations these names may have once had are now gone. No one suspects that egg-dyers or egg-hunters are worshiping other gods.
We should not put our focus on customs that have little or nothing to do with the resurrection. But neither do we superstitiously have to avoid those other customs. Some Christians will have nothing to do with such things; others will see no harm in participating in them. Different people will “draw the line” in different places, and we should live in peace with one another. Differences do exist, and emotions can run high on this issue. So seek peace and pursue it. Those who participate in Easter customs need not flaunt it; those who refuse need not make a big deal about it. Neither approach is evidence of being more righteous.
Each of us must answer to the Lord, for it is to the Lord that we live and die — and we are not called to judge the Lord’s other servants. We are each called to do the work God has called us to do, and we are to do it whether or not other people are doing what they are supposed to be doing.
We need tolerance, not mutual criticism. We need grace, not more legislation. Let’s celebrate and worship together!