What is Easter all about? The question instantly conjures up memories of childhood experiences of the three hunts.
First and foremost was the clothing hunt. The annual return of Easter in childhood meant that we would be shopping for new clothes that week. A new suit of clothes or a dainty dress was expected fare.
The commercial aspect of the observance of Easter was non-essential and insignificant to a 10-year-old child in a family of 10. Just having clothing was an appreciated blessing, but getting new clothing was an excitedly anticipated event that was worth remembering. Finding the appropriate Easter outfit for five girls and five rambunctious boys at a reasonable cost without a second mortgage constituted the framework of the first hunt.
Second up from the recollections of days past and gone are memories of the infamous Easter egg hunt. These frantic events, often held at schools and on rare occasion a liberal church, were bastions of competition that usually managed to elicit the rough and tumble response of younger boys.
Such competitiveness was so fierce among my second-grade peers that our zeal to find more eggs than any other boy in the class generally ushered in yielding to the temptation of increasing our finds during the hunt, even at the expense of raiding each others' baskets. All eggs were fair game during the hunt.
The third hunt always occurred very early on Easter Sunday morning, usually at the same place each year: our family church. Our hunt there was a most difficult one, one that entailed nicely asking others to please excuse us, while 10 children, or however many had gotten up that morning, attempted to go to church and sit on the same pew. This third hunt was for a seat in church.
As a child, I never quite grasped the nor fully understood why so many people made annual guest appearances that morning. It was as if that particular day commanded an annual obligation that had to be fulfilled, an almost social expectation that had to be satisfied that day. Regardless of the other 51 Sundays throughout the year, this one simply could not be missed. In a church packed with worshipers at six o'clock in the morning, this hunt was on for a seat.
Although I immensely enjoyed the memories of the three annual hunts of Easter, I didn't fully understand what I was celebrating or why. The apostle Paul has helped me immensely by sharing in 1 Corinthians 13:11, "When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man I put away childish things."
History tells that the word "Easter" is a derivative from the Aramaic word "pasha" and the Hebrew word "pesah" (Passover festival). The English word comes from the Anglo-Saxon word Eastre or Estera, a Teutonic goddess to whom sacrifices were once offered to in the month of April.
Early references to Easter are found in Chaldean paganism worship of Astarte or Ishtar, a Babylonian goddess of fertility. Pagan religions in Europe adopted this fertility goddess and called her Eostre or Oster. Their festivals celebrating her occurred on the spring equinox with rabbits and brightly colored eggs. Historians tell us that the rabbit in ancient Egypt was quite a popular fertility symbol because of its incredible ability to reproduce. The period for this pagan worship was once called Easter month. Such was the secular History of Easter, but more important is its sacred History.
Early Jewish Christians continued to celebrate Passover after the death of Jesus Christ, regarding Christ as the true paschal, or Passover lamb. This celebration naturally evolved into a commemoration of the death and subsequent resurrection of our Lord, or the Easter feast. This feast started with a fast at the hour of crucifixion, (3 p.m. Friday) and continued until the hour of resurrection before sunrise on Easter morning.
Jewish Christians historically fixed the time of the celebration by the paschal moon, which ushered in the feast in each year on the fourteenth day of the moon in the month of Nisan (April) with no particular consideration of the day of the week. Gentile Christians however, have historically tended to identify the celebration with Sunday, the first day of the week (the Lord's Day).
Since the council of Nicea in 325, western Christians have observed Easter according to the Gregorian calendar on Sunday after the first full moon of Spring, which means anywhere between March 22 and April 25.
Christian leaders in antiquity redirected emphasis from paganism by instituting a 40-day fast to commemorate the 40 days Jesus spent preparing for His earthly ministry. The further complements of Lent, Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, have solidified Easter's Christian significance.
The essence of Easter for all Christians is the emphasis on the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. The essential meaning of His death, burial and subsequent resurrection are elements of the Christian faith that are rendered secondary importance in a society that still emphasizes Easter as a time to buy suits and dresses and hunt eggs.
Raymond Lindquist posits that "Easter is to our faith what water is to the ocean, what stone is to the mountain, what blood is to the body. It is the unique substance of redemptive reality. It is the first and final word in the dictionary of God. It says that Christ is the Author and Finisher of our faith."
In childhood my recollections of Easter led me on the three hunts. The first hunt left me physically clothed, but spiritually naked; the second left me physically full but spiritually empty; and in the third hunt I found Jesus Christ. It's Easter; have you found Him?
(The Rev. Rex Wright is pastor of Oakey Grove Baptist Church in Evans.)
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