Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Easter or Firstfruits?

Spring is here! I’m so glad! Warmer temperatures, rain instead of snow and ice, sunshine, flowers—what a blessing! Spring is also the season when we make a point of remembering that Jesus died and was raised again that we might be saved from the penalty of our sins. We call this time of remembrance “Easter.”

“Easter.” That’s a strange name when you think about it. What does the word “Easter” have to do with the death, burial, and resurrection of our Savior? And for that matter, what do colored eggs and rabbits have to do with it, either? And who decides when we are supposed to celebrate it?

There are answers to these questions, answers that may bother you. They bothered me.

The Bible is very clear that Jesus was crucified on Passover: Matthew 26:17 says, for example “Now on the first day of the Feast of the Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying to Him, “Where do You want us to prepare for You to eat the Passover?” (NKJV) Matthew goes on to tell of the last supper and the events leading up to the crucifixion. Mark and Luke tell essentially the same story. Passover can occur on any day of the week, but it always occurs on the 14th of Nisan, the first month of the Jewish year, which is in spring. Why do we not celebrate Passover?

The answer is that, since the Nicene Council of 325 AD, the church has, in general, sought to distance itself from anything Jewish. Constantine, who led the council, called Jews "adversaries," "depraved," and "innately mad," and their way "evil." The Council declared it improper to follow their customs in regard to this celebration or to have anything in common with them. Constantine said this of the people whom God chose and from whom we have the Bible and Jesus our Savior. In order to accomplish this misguided goal, the Council decided on a formula by which the date for remembering the resurrection would be found, and they phrased it in such a way that the celebration would not fall on Passover even by accident. Does that sound wrong to you? It does to me.

What about that word, “easter?” My dictionary gives its etymology (that is, the roots of the word) as--A. Sax eastre, from another A.Sax. word that sounds a lot like easter, which was from the Old High German Ostara, a goddess of light or spring… Hmm, a name of a goddess is what we apply to the celebration of the resurrection of our Savior? I did a Google search of Ostara and found information shared by pagans and witches about celebrating spring, new growth, and fertility; about colored eggs and reproducing rabbits. It was more than I wanted to know!

God says in His word, in Exodus 23:13, “And in all that I have said to you, be circumspect and make no mention of the name of other gods, nor let it be heard from your mouth.” (NKJV) And Joshua 23:7, the second part of the verse, says “… You shall not make mention of the name of their gods, [that is, the gods of the nations around them] nor cause anyone to swear by them; you shall not serve them nor bow down to them.”

I don’t know about you, but I must, from now on, refrain from speaking the name of that false god of spring. I repent that I have sinned in speaking it for years, and in teaching my children to speak it. I am thankful that God is faithful, when I repent, to forgive my sin and cleanse me from all unrighteousness.

So what shall I call this wonderful time when I celebrate that Jesus my Lord triumphed over death and rose from the grave? Passover? Well, I could, but Passover is when He died, not when He arose. Resurrection Day? My mother called it Resurrection Day…that might work.

Does God name the day? Yes, He does. He established the feast of Firstfruits. It was celebrated the day after the Sabbath after Passover, the first day of the week, which we call Sunday. In 1 Cor 15:20-23 we read: “But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. 23 But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming.” (NKJV) So Jesus rose from the dead on the feast of Firstfruits, and He is the firstfruits of those who sleep. Firstfruits. I like it. With God’s help, I will use it.