Monday, April 7, 2014

The Matzo or the Egg?

Hi, it's me again. You may remember the borderline nervous breakdown I had going through my first Christmas season after leaving the Churches of God. So I'm sure you'll be shocked to read this. I know I'm shocked to type it.

I'm really looking forward to Easter.

Why not? It's all about candy, right? I mean, I've been seeing UCG promotions featuring a chocolate-smeared toddler for weeks. Easter means chocolate. I'm a girl. What more is there to explain? This is pretty much how COGWA bigwig Clyde Kilough explained people like me in a pre-Easter article last year. Yeah, Clyde, you figured it out. Evangelical Christians talk a good game, but we're really in it for the jelly beans.

COGWA literature gives me a migraine, so I decided to read the transcript for the UCG promotion instead, a Beyond Today episode titled "What Easter Doesn't Tell You." The hosts' main criticism against Easter, aside from the alleged paganism, was that "obscures the truth" that Jesus suffered, died and was resurrected that all might have the opportunity for eternal life. Why? Because it only focuses on the resurrection.

I'm sorry, but that's one of the most ignorant things I've ever heard. I'd wager almost anything that Christ's life, sacrifice, suffering and death will be discussed at my church's Easter service. They have in every leading up to it so far! They never stop talking about it! Our pastor always discusses our sin and the penalty Jesus paid for it. Even on Christmas Eve! Saying Easter (also known as Resurrection Sunday) doesn't give the full picture is like criticizing Pentecost because it, in isolation, doesn't discuss Jesus Christ's return to earth. Oh, by the way, the criticism that many of these "so-called Christians" only go to church on Easter says more about those individuals than the observance itself. You know, my COG congregation always had to set up more chairs on the Holy Days than on the weekly Sabbath, too.

Anyway, to read the banter between the hosts, you'd think we deceived Protestants believe Jesus died in a car crash and then celebrate His resurrection in a meaningless vacuum. Trust me, they know how and why He died. If anyone is leaving something about of the story, it's the COGs. They observe Passover, then throw a lavish party while His body lay in the tomb, loosely adapting Sinai ordinances through HWA's interpretative lens. They hold their annual golf scramble on Easter, where they make fun of all the pagans who skipped tee time to celebrate Tammuz rising. And then we get together on the last DUB to compare notes on who found stray goldfish crackers where.

Here's the thing. Jesus' resurrection is important. It is the entire reason we Christians have hope. That's not me talking, that's Paul (1 Corinthians 15:12-19, especially verse 19). It's what proved Jesus was the Son of God (Romans 1:4-5). And if He was who He said He was, then we know that our sins are forgiven (1 John 2:2) and we can have eternal life by placing our faith in Him (John 11:25-26). If that's not worth celebrating, then I don't know what is.

But it doesn't matter what you think, you say. We're not commanded to celebrate Jesus' resurrection. You can't just make up your own holidays for what YOU think is important. Well, the Jews did. They weren't commanded to celebrate Purim or Hannukkah, but John 10:22-23 shows us that Jesus was at the temple during Hanukkah (Festival of Dedication). It seems God gave this man-made celebration tacit approval. So if it's ok to create annual observances of the miraculous oil in the temple or Esther's triumph over Haman, it would seem that Jesus' victory over death qualifies as worthy of celebration.

I wanted to share the most compelling reasons I will be celebrating Easter guilt-free this year. The more experienced writers here at ABD did all the heavy lifting, I just want to point you to the places where you'll find background on topics where you might have questions, misinformation, or not even know whether you have all the information.

The COGs try to trace the "change" from Passover to Easter to the Quartodeciman Controversy of the late 2nd Century. They describe it as a decisive turning point for Christianity, in which rogue church leaders prevailed over followers of the apostles by replacing the Passover with Easter celebration.

In reality, the debate lasted 300 years and was about whether to observe the Pascha on the 14th of Nisan or on a static date, not whether to introduce pagan worship practices. Some wanted to stick to the Jewish date. Others argued that the Jewish calendar (with its postponements and such) made the observance disruptive and unpredictable. Paul's writings made it clear that gentiles were not required to observe specific calendar dates from the Sinai Covenant, so they found no reason to keep their calendar in flux. Apparently their argument had some merit, since the Jews scrapped their entire calendar system just a few decades later. Today, the timing of Easter is still based on the same events as the Hebrew lunar calendar, not pagan equinox worship. There's nothing wrong with taking the bread and wine on Nisan 14. But there's also nothing wrong with doing it on a different date instead.

Writers aren't usually known for their math skills, but I can count to three, so I always believed the COG chart showing how Matthew 12:40 disproved traditional Christianity's belief about the timing of Jesus' resurrection and crucifixion. So I was shocked to have Luke 24:21 pointed out to be, in which the disciple Cleopas describes Sunday as the third day since Jesus was crucified. Many more gospel verses alternately predict Jesus would rise "on the third day," "in three days" and "after three days". What if Jesus used a Jewish idiomatic phrase (figure of speech) that's lost on us Westerners? Might Hebrew scholars know something about how the Jews marked time using inclusive reckoning? If you're still reading this, it's at least worth considering.

Did those 2nd century leaders also push to ditch the name "Passover" in favor of "Easter"? No. They kept on calling it by its Hebrew/Aramaic name, "Pesach." Those who spoke Latin called it "Pascha." The name "Easter" wasn't used until centuries later, when Germanic tribes were introduced to Christianity. English, which is heavily influenced by the German language, adapted the name.
Even today, in countries where Romance languages are spoken, the name for Resurrection Day celebrations are reminiscent of their Aramaic roots. Spain has "Pascua." Portugal has "Pascoa." The French call it "Paques." In Italian, it's "Pasqua." You get the picture.

Arguing the suspect name "Easter" taints the resurrection celebration makes about as much sense as claiming keeping the Sabbath is pagan since Saturday is named for the Roman god Saturn. Reading paganism into Easter because Germanic tribes gave it a pagan-sounding name seems symptomatic of an the unfounded belief that history revolves around the Anglo-Saxon people. We are not the center of the universe. We came to the table pretty late as far as civilizations go.

Wait, didn't the holiday name come from the Babylonian fertility goddess Ishtar? No. COGs connect Ishtar to Easter through her consort, Tammuz, who died and rose from the dead each year in Babylonian mythology. Several Easter traditions supposedly come from this vegetation god - Lent is really the weeping for Tammuz mentioned in Ezekiel 8:14 and sunrise services marked his resurrection.
The problem is, mythology places Tammuz' resurrection long after the Passover - during the summer month both the Hebrew and Babylonian calendar call "Tammuz."

And the Germanic goddess Eostre? There's little proof she ever existed. Ostara? Chances are good she was made up, too. The name came from Charlemagne, who renamed the months when he conquered western Europe. Resurrection Sunday occurs during the month he named Ostarmonath. Where did he get the name? Experts say it's unlikely that Charlemagne, a warrior against Germanic paganism, named a month after a goddess. Days of the week were traditionally named after deities but, in that culture, months were named for weather events, calendar events or customs that occurred during them.

Well, the word "ostar" means "east," and originates from the same high German word from which "Austria" gets its name. Austria was long known as the "Osterreich," or "Eastern Kingdom." The root indicates a movement toward the rising sun, which always occurs in the east. Professor Ronald Hutton, a well-known historian in British paganism and occultism, suggests the name simply meant "the month of beginnings" or "the month of openings," an appropriate name for a time of year when trees budded and flowers bloomed. The theory that many months were named for weather events seems to support this explanation (although my personal favorite still is Solmanoth, or Mud-Month, which was roughly the equivalent of February).

So even if there's some relation between possibly non-existent goddesses and the word Easter, it's a problem to deem a millenia-old observance pagan because a goddess was stapled on after the fact. The same goes for fertility symbols like eggs and rabbits, which weren't associated with the resurrection celebration until Christianity spread to the Germanic tribes. And in case you are still hung up on Ishtar, her symbols were lions and eight-pointed stars, not eggs and bunnies.

Eggs were associated with the resurrection celebration in the Eastern Orthodox church, where Christians fasted from eggs during Lent as a means of sacrifice. Once the fast was over, children went out into the bushes to look for eggs to feed the family.

Now please understand, I'm not trying to talk you into doing anything that makes you feel uncomfortable. You don't have to go get your kids' picture taken with the Easter bunny (I'm not).
Don't get up to pray at sunrise on April 20. I plan to be asleep then, and I pray my kids cooperate. But there is nothing inherently sinful about doing either of these things, as Romans 14:14 tells us.

All I ask is that you don't let your Bible reading end with John 19 and its parallel passages the night of Passover. Take some time to read the resurrection account during this season when we all agree it happened, whether it's on the first Day of Unleavened Bread, on Resurrection Sunday or on a random Tuesday. There is no wrong day to read the scripture and thank God for the events that make our salvation possible. Jesus' resurrection is just as significant as His death, don't let anyone tell you otherwise. He is risen, indeed, and it's the reason we have hope.

It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; ) Acts 17:11

1 comment:

Martha said...

One of my colleagues just pointed out to me that there is another, even more benign facet to the Quatrodeciman Controversy, one of which I was previously unaware.

This controversy occurred between two well-intentioned groups. One, the minority, consisted of those who wanted to continue observing Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection on the 14th of Nisan (that is, the Jewish Passover, following what they felt were customs handed down by the apostle John and Polycarp). The other group wanted to continue celebrating these events on a fixed date, in accordance with customs handed down by Peter and Paul which may have included some type of fast that ended on the Sunday following Nisan 14. Neither group wanted to introduce pagan worship practices or move the celebration to one of Ishtar's feast days.