We have arrived at Easter weekend. I am a fan of all holidays, and Easter is always welcome as it comes after a long drought of major holidays.
Easter is an interesting holiday because pretty much all of the tradition that surrounds it has absolutely nothing to do with what it purports to celebrate. Jim Gaffigan has a pretty great joke concerning it:
He doesn’t really talk at all about where those things come from. I’m not going to go into extreme detail, but these are all things that are of pagan origin. Easter is of course not unique in this regard, Christmas also carries with it a lot of pagan tradition, but Easter seems to be a more extreme example.
One of the things that I have found to be fascinating as I study Christianity is all of the pagan influence on the religion. Christianity has taken some pretty severe turns from its Jewish roots, turns that often don’t seem to make a whole lot of sense.
One of those things is the Christian celebration of Easter rather than Passover. After all, Jesus’ resurrection in the Bible occurs on Passover Sunday. The Passover holiday itself is full of rich symbolism from the Old Testament concerning the purpose of Christ. The Easter holiday, on the other hand, was originally the celebration of fertility goddesses, and the focus on new life is much more true to the original holiday than the modern focus on the resurrection of Christ. Obviously, it is easy to see how these themes can be extended to the Christian tradition… take out the goddess, and think about “new life” in a slightly metaphorical way, and voila, you have a Christian holiday. By the way, if you want to see the specifics of the origins of Easter, you should probably just google it.
The reasons for departing Passover for Easter have a lot to do with pagan converts to Christianity, in a large part due to the Roman adoption of Christianity. This is a very interesting point in the development of modern traditional Christian beliefs, and is a point at which the purpose of Christianity was skewed for a very long time. As a starting point, I recommend the book Pagan Christianity, it served as such for me. To make a long story short, pagan influences of various origins made their way into Christianity, and we have many non-Jewish ideas and understandings, whereas early Christianity was very much a sect of Judaism. As some examples: Jews do not believe in Hell, nor do they believe in the specific named entity of Satan. That is, to a jewish person ha-satan is more of a concept that could be ascribed to a being, but more often to refer to the “evil inclination” of people. The term generally means an adversary, stumbling block, or obstacle, and so it could be ascribed to an angelic being similar to the traditional Christian understanding of Satan, but the Jewish understanding would not allow for an uber powerful being that is in fact an adversary to God Himself. As a third example, traditional Jewish belief differs from that of Christianity in that it sees the Bible as being divinely inspired, but not the literal word of God.
Perhaps the most striking thing about Easter in the Christian tradition is its focus on divine wrath. Nary an Easter morning service goes by without a recounting of the torturous death of Jesus of Nazareth. It’s not that we shouldn’t remember it, but the obsession with the mode of death is something that likely would have been abhorrent to Jesus’ contemporaries, who definitively did not adopt the cross as the symbol of their faith that we have today.
The fact is, the Bible records Jesus as instructing us to celebrate Passover, and to remember him. Not to remember his death, but to remember him. We should connecting with Jesus’ life, not his death. Remember what he taught and how he showed us to live. Sure, remember that he died, and that he rose again, that is important as well, but don’t become obsessed with morbidity. Stop seeing the Jesus’ death and resurrection as Jesus saving us from God, and start seeing it as a symbol that God is redeeming humanity from the inclination of evil.