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Over the years as a preacher, I have been asked questions about various holidays like Christmas and Easter. I think most people in the church realize that Christmas, December 25, is not the day that Jesus was born (he could have been born in the Spring of the year), and Easter is not the day Jesus rose from the dead. However, many in the church wonder whether or not it is acceptable to observe such holidays. Most all of us realize that the word “holiday” is formed from the practice of celebrating a “holy day.” Therefore, I wanted to spend some time in the bulletin explaining the Easter holiday. . . .

We know from studying early church history that it would have been very dangerous for the early Christians to establish a recognized holy day without much persecution. Therefore, religious leaders decided to link holy days to celebrations that already existed. Usually they were celebrated on the same day, week, or around the same time as a pagan holiday. At first they were observed as a matter of preference, so that Christians did not have to participate in the pagan rituals and services like their heathen neighbors. Later it was accepted as a part of those pagan rituals, like an addendum or an addition to the already approved corporate celebrations. Religious leaders felt like this practice would save lives and help spread Christianity, even though it meant compromising and aligning themselves with paganism and even idol worship.

By using pagan celebrations missionaries were very clever and were able to spread Christianity slowly through the population during the pagan feasts. The pagan festival of Norse Eastre (sometimes spelled Ostara or Eostra), which was observed during the vernal equinox (around March 21), occurred during the same time of year as the Passover. According to the Bible, and Judeo-Christian history, Jesus was crucified before Passover and was raised the Sunday following. Therefore, the Christians practiced observing and celebrating His resurrection in secret around the same time. The ancient Saxons celebrated the return of Christ during the Spring as well, and slowly the early missionaries moved the pagan festival of Eastre into a more spiritual direction. Eventually, Christians overtook the festivals and began binding a Christian tradition to the Eastre celebrations. Over time everyone would accept the holy day of “Easter” in celebration of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The holiday of Easter quickly spread all over the world.

The influences of the pagan festival of Eastre are still seen in the Christian observance of Easter. During the festival of Eastre, rabbits were worshipped to signify fruitfulness and fertility. Eggs, which also represented fertility, were colored the rays of the sun to signify the northern lights (or the aurora borealis). Today, people still recognize the Eastre rabbit (Easter Bunny) and color eggs, not knowing about these pagan practices. Easter was originally observed on the same week each year. Early Christians wanted it fixed to one specific date, like Christmas, and pushed for Sunday since Jesus arose on the first day of the week. In 325 AD emperor Constantine convened the Council of Nicea to debate this and other church issues. The Council declared that Easter be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox and should not coincide with the Jewish observance of the Passover. Because the vernal equinox was believed to be March 21 each year, Easter will always fall anywhere between March 22 and April 25. While some objected to the sporadic dates it was finalized and hence we have Easter each year on a different day.

Whether you like Easter, or choose not to celebrate it, I would like to share some words from the apostle Paul on this issue. He said, "One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. " (Romans 14:5-8) Whatever your choice, do not forget the Lord! Whatever you do, give glory to God! Have a great week!!!

You are loved.

Dr. Ray Reynolds

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