I wonder what comes to mind when you think of Easter? Every year it seems that no sooner has the Christmas merchandise been cleared from the shop shelves that they are immediately restocked with chocolate Easter Eggs and Bunnies. For most, Easter is a welcome break from school or work at the beginning of spring. Days are becoming noticeably longer, there is new growth in the fields and gardens, flowers are coming into bloom and buds are appearing on trees and shrubs.
The origins of the Easter festival are complex. The English word Easter has its origins in pagan festivals celebrating an Anglo Saxon goddess called Ēostre (or Ostara in the Germanic form). Customs relating to eggs and bunnies can be traced to these pagan roots. In many other languages the name for the Easter weekend derives from the Hebrew word Pesah which referred to the Jewish Passover festival. This was the season when Jews remembered God rescuing them from Egypt after 400 years of captivity and slavery. The final sign that changed Pharaoh’s heart was the sign of the death of the firstborn son in every household. Only God’s people who had roasted a lamb and painted blood on the doorposts and lintels were ‘passed over’ and saved from this final plague. Pharaoh relented and released the Israelites on their 40 year journey to the Promised Land.
It was the Passover season when Jesus was crucified and rose again. The parallel between the Passover lamb and Jesus was striking and the early church celebrated Christ’s death and resurrection. As the church spread, announcing the good news of new life that Jesus offers, pagan festivals were often Christianised in order to encourage converts to focus their attention on the risen Christ.
The apostle Paul teaches that Christ’s resurrection gives us hope of our own resurrected new life. As you enjoy the new life in nature this spring, and perhaps indulge in chocolate eggs and bunnies, reflect on Christ’s death and resurrection. There is a welcome for you at any of the local churches this Easter, where we would love to help you experience the new life that Christ offers us.