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Why I Celebrate “Pagan” Easter

Why I Celebrate “Pagan” Easter

When I was a kid, we didn’t really do much for Easter. At most, we would probably have a lamb dinner at home.

Sometimes at church, we would have a sunrise service on Sunday called “Amanecer con Cristo” or “waking up with Jesus” which I wasn’t too crazy about. Yet, I’ve recently realized that, back then, I never really celebrated the event behind all of the festivities: namely, the bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead almost 2000 years ago.

That supernatural claim alone is fully controversial in today’s society. However, if, as Jesus said to Peter, the claim of Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah is the Rock of the church, the Resurrection is the foundation that is built upon that rock.

This is no small matter. Literally the entire Christian faith hangs upon the occurrence of this one event. It doesn’t hang upon acceptance of a literal seven-day Creation. It doesn’t hang on the correct location of the Red Sea crossing or the existence of the Ark of the Covenant. It doesn’t hang on which religion controls the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. It doesn’t even hang on Sabbath or Sunday observance.

The whole Christian faith rises or falls depending on whether Jesus correctly predicted his death and resurrection, saw both actually happen, and is now seated at the right hand of God in Heaven. The very first evangelists clearly believed this. One of the best, the Apostle Paul, even went as far as to say this:

But tell me this—since we preach that Christ rose from the dead, why are some of you saying there will be no resurrection of the dead? For if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. And we apostles would all be lying about God—for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave. But that can’t be true if there is no resurrection of the dead.

And if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. – 1 Corinthians 15:12-18, New Living Translation

Now, of course, the day isn’t colloquially called Resurrection Day; it’s called Easter.

From here, it’s easy to fall into two camps. There are those who treat this day like a holiday basically celebrating the beginning of Spring. People dress in light colors, dye eggs, take pictures with creepy rabbits in the mall, and prepare delicious Easter baskets. They may celebrate Easter, but not the Resurrection.

Then, there are those who sit the day out altogether, placing Easter as being questionable because of its history and current practice. They look at the supposed compromise that was made to reach the pagan world and, similar to Christmas, say that the date has no significance whatsoever; it is a date that was arbitrarily chosen at best, and at worst was intentionally done on a day that pagans would accept. To them, this Sunday will be April 1, just another day (maybe they’ll play a prank on someone because it’s April Fools).

Both practices are dangerous. It’s great if your family has a tradition of eating together, taking pictures, or making baskets because it makes the day special and personalized for your family. Yet, if you believe in the Resurrection, it’s important not to trivialize it.

On the other hand, it’s understandable if someone doesn’t want to mix what they consider “sacred” with what they consider “profane.” The argument here is that there is a supposed association between the English name for the day and a link to an ancient pagan celebration in honor of a deity named Ishtar. As one commentator has written on this subject, however, “it is important to note…that in most other European languages, the name for the Christian celebration is derived from the Greek word Pascha, which comes from Pesach, the Hebrew word for Passover. Easter is the Christian Passover festival.”

It happened on the very date of Passover because Easter is Passover and Jesus is the true Passover Lamb. This day is not without significance. It deserves commemoration.

In any case, it’s a day worth commemorating and celebrating if you consider yourself a Christ follower. I’ve come to realize that I had portions of both. I would celebrate the day yet forget its deeper meaning. Or, I would acknowledge in my mind that Jesus resurrected, but treat that idea with the same kind of emotion that I get when I find out there’s a sale on Ben and Jerry’s ice cream: “Oh, that’s cool!”

If I really believed that Jesus did what he said, that would make me tattoo “HE’S ALIVE” on my chest for everybody to see (not that I would, but my point is that even the strongest “AMEN” I could muster would be a boring reaction to an unheard of supernatural event).

At any rate, the real significance of the day is not in what it is called, it’s about what it commemorates: the Resurrection, the single most influential event in human history (we even divide time itself into AD/BC because of Him). Find a way to celebrate it today.

Nelson Fernandez

Nelson is married to the love of his life, Sarah, and together have a son named Isaac. He serves as Associate Pastor at Miami Temple SDA, a multilingual, multiethnic, and multicultural church in South Florida. He loves ministry, Marvel movies, video games, Naruto, and serving the local church. He also runs his own blog about leadership, evangelism, and practical Christianity at www.nelsonsblog.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @NelsonF610.

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