Time to drop Easter
Ian Boyne, Contributor
It's time to abandon Easter. No, this is not a call for more secularism and the marginalisation of Christianity. It is a call for Christianity to return to its roots and for Protestants, particularly, to be consistent with their dogma of Sola Scriptura, Scripture alone.
The development of Easter as a Christian festival is rooted in prejudice, anti-Jewish bigotry and an excessive quest for distinctiveness in contradistinction to Jewish practices. Easter has its roots in paganism, but that is not all that is objectionable about it as Christian practice, though that would be bad enough, considering the multiplicity of texts in both the Old and New Testaments which inveigh against paganism and syncretism.
My overarching point is that Easter is a totally redundant festival, as all its Christian themes can be most appropriately and adequately captured by a Christian Passover festival. If you object, as Peter Espeut and others have done consistently, saying we have no need to honour terminated Old Covenant practices as Christ has liberated us from the Jewish law, I say if you can reach into the bowels of paganism to fashion Easter, what would be so obnoxious about using even an abolished, but reinterpreted Jewish law for Christian liturgy?
WHY ADOPT FROM PAGANISM?
Even if Passover, as festival originating in the Old Testament, is no longer necessary or commanded under the New Covenant, wouldn't it be better to adapt that and baptise it in Christian symbolism rather than adopt something from paganism? What could be the objection to that? In fact, when you read the New Testament, you see that many elements of the Jewish Passover are reinterpreted and Christianised. Jesus is called our Passover lamb (1 Cor 5:7-8) He was crucified the very day the Passover lambs were sacrificed. Not a bone in His body was broken, as was commanded with the Passover lamb.
What is called Lord's Supper, or Communion, is rooted in the Passover symbolism. The Gospel records that what Jesus ate as his last Supper was a Passover meal. The Gospel records the disciples asking, "Where will you have us go to prepare to eat the Passover?" (See Mark 14:12; Matthew 26:17 and Luke 22:15) In 1 Cor 11, Paul recounts a tradition of what took place "on the night on which Christ was betrayed". Jesus said, "Do this in remembrance of me" - in remembrance of His death. The Lord's Supper was intended to be a memorial, an anniversary of His death, to be taken once a year.
For more than 300 years of the Church's history, Christians continued to keep what they called the Passover, but which was thoroughly recontextualised in light of Christ's death. They no longer thought of what happened at the exodus in Egypt, but what happened at Calvary when Christ secured our spiritual liberation from the bondage of sin. All the elements in the Easter festival can quite potently and adequately be captured in the reinterpreted Passover.
This, Peter Espeut and Michael Burke will agree with. Their only argument is that it is not necessary for the Church to use Passover, for that is abolished by Christ and, significantly too, the Catholic Church, which has Sacred Tradition in addition to Scripture, has the right to create entirely new festivals like Easter.
The Catholics and Anglicans have stronger ground to stand on to keep Easter than Protestants who claim Scripture alone and don't claim apostolic authority to give new revelation. But my point to even Catholics is, re-examine the historical motives and acknowledge that they were unworthy and deeply prejudicial.
Let's be absolutely clear about two things. The Easter tradition has pagan roots. This is undeniable. In their book, Passover: Before Messiah and After, Donna and Mal Broadhurst trace the origin of Easter to Ishtar, the Sumerian goddess of love and war, who in Canaan evolved into a moon goddess and wife of Baal. Ishtar was the wife of the Sumerian god, Tammuz. Write the Broadhursts: "The worship of Ishtar as nature goddess had spread throughout the ancient world. In Phoenicia and Syria, her name had become Astarte."
And Alan Watts, in his book Easter: It's Story and Meaning, says: "As we go on to describe the Christian observance of Easter, we shall see how many of its customs and ceremonies resemble those rites of the pagan cults." The late Seventh-day Adventist scholar, Dr Samuelle Bacchiocchi, says in his book God's Festivals in Scripture and History: "Pagan influence can be seen in the replacement of the Passover symbolism of the lamb with that of the Easter hare. The Easter hare was once a bird that changed into a four-footed creature. The hare, or rabbit, became a symbol of fertility. The hare laid eggs which became the symbol of abundantly new life of spring.
"The origin of the Easter egg is traced back to ancient civilisations of Egypt, Babylon, Phoenicia and Greece where the universe is said to have been born from a mighty world egg." Hence, your Easter eggs and Easter bunny. Now wouldn't it have been better to stick with even the Jewish, Old Testament symbols and to adopt Christological meanings to the Old Testament Passover, instead of reaching for pagan customs? Would it not be better for a religion which accepts the Old Testament as part of its own Christian canon to use a festival from there, even if abrogated and done away, rather than adopt pagan customs and call it Easter?
It's hard for Espeut and others to hold a plausible argument for not celebrating a Christian, Christologically focused Passover. It's not too late to abandon Easter and use the Passover traditions instead. Especially in our enlightened age when we have such an abhorrence for racism, ethnic chauvinism and racial and cultural bigotry. It was cultural bigotry and prejudice which played a major part in the Gentile Christians adopting Easter and rejecting Passover. The theological justification about New Covenant came after.
When the Council of Nicaea, under Emperor Constantine, finally ruled on adopting Easter and rejecting Passover, which was being celebrated by the churches in Asia, there was no mincing of words as to the reason. They were clear.
The council said: "It appeared an unworthy thing that in the celebration of this most holy feast, we should follow the practice of the Jews who have impiously defiled their hands with enormous sin and are, therefore, deservedly afflicted with blindness of soul. Let us then have nothing in common with the detestable Jewish crowd. Strive and pray continually that the purity of your soul may not in anything be sullied by fellowship with the custom of these most wicked of men … (we must) avoid all participation in the perjured conduct of the Jews."
These are reprehensible words! If this were ever said about black people today, those words would be condemned as hate speech. It is rank anti-Semitism and racial and cultural prejudice. Yet, these were the words which were used to justify the adoption of Easter. It's not too late to dissociate ourselves from these words and, as a mark of protest, to stop celebrating Easter forthwith.
Don't say we then become heathen or atheists. I say replace it with the Christian Passover, which was used by the earliest Christians as the festival to celebrate the Passion of Jesus. The noted historian of the early church, Eusebius, in his famed Ecclesiastical History, noted the doctrinal controversy known as the Quartodecoman Controversy between churches of the East, which kept the Christian Passover, and the churches of the West which kept Easter.
Significantly, Eusebius said, "The dioceses of Asia, as according to an older tradition, thought that they should observe the 14th day of the moon", meaning Nisan 14th, the day Jews celebrate Passover.
In an early Christian document called The Apostolic Constitutions, the following rule is given: "You shall not change the calculation of time, but you shall celebrate it at the same time as your brethren who came out of the circumcision. With them observe the Passover." And so Christians, for centuries, observed the Passover - looking at the death and resurrection of Jesus through that prism. So if we return to that, we would be going back to Christian roots. There would certainly be nothing anti-Christian about replacing Easter with a Christian Passover.
To show you what a determined and resolute group of anti-Semites the early Roman Christians who adopted Easter over Passover were, while the Council of Nicaea decreed that Easter should be celebrated the first Sunday after the full moon of spring, the council also declared that if that Sunday happened to be on Nisan 14, the Jewish Passover, Easter should be celebrated the following Sunday. This is exactly what happened this year.
Some unorthodox Christians who celebrate the Christian Passover kept it last Sunday, and today is the revered Easter Sunday. Those ancient bigots wanted nothing in common with Jews. In an age so sensitive to racial and cultural prejudice, we are obligated to interrogate the roots of our current religious practice and discard all elements of racism and ethnic chauvinism. Do the research into the origins of Easter and the reasons the Christian Church adopted it.
The New Testament records Christians continuing the tradition of observing so-called Jewish feasts. In Acts 20:6, Luke, writing primarily to a Gentile audience, makes mention of the Days of Unleavened Bread. Why such a casual mention of these Passover days if the Christians did not have them as part of their liturgical calendar? And into the Gentile Corinthian church, too (I Cor 5), Paul uses an analogy of unleavened bread and Passover lamb to drive home a Christian lesson.
Why draw on an analogy from the Old Testament festival if the apostolic Gentile churches had abandoned the Old Testament feasts? Those texts show continuing allegiance to the Jewish liturgical calendar, now used in light of Christ's crucifixion and salvific plan. We must go back to that and abandon Easter. We lose nothing and gain everything.