Have you ever wondered where the word Easter came from; I have! The problem is that the word has no direct derivation, so there is some speculation that it is connected to the Anglo-Saxon spring god Eostre, but it is based on obvious similarities and interesting coincidences. It is funny to read many articles on the topic. In reading those articles you can tell where the writer is coming from based on their bias to make Easter either more Christian or not. But that is the nature of speculation; without something firm and conclusive you can make things out to be what you want.
We see this often in the church, especially when it comes to the Bible. This is because we tend to forget that the Bible was not written as a factual, didactic history; rather, it is written as a witness. As we know with witnesses, the perspective is always skewed by bias and viewpoint. This is seen most relevantly in the four Gospels and the differences in the story they give about Christ.
This does not make them any less relevant or true; it just helps us to see God more fully and seek to discern what is the most important part of the story. This is important to remember when we think about Easter and the Celebration of the Resurrection. To keep things new and fresh many pastors, myself included, choose different parts of the story to look at. Sometimes it is the race between Peter and the Beloved Disciple, other times it is Mary. But regardless to other aspects of the story, what remains consistent in all of the Gospels, and supported by the letters is that Christ is raised and lives! This resurrection and life gives us hope and reminds us that our God will do what ever it takes to show us love!
This is why it is always interesting when people pronounce that all Christianity is, is a collection of pagan holidays rebranded. While there are always cultural aspects that may steal from one tradition or another, the ultimate truth of any holy day is the message that goes with that day. This is why knowing where the word Easter comes from is really just an exercise in curiosity.
But, if there is a connection to a Pagan religion, doesn't that ultimately further the witness of the day? Think about it this way. Core to the Christian Witness, especially in the reformed tradition, is the fact that God is present and active in the world. There is also the reality that God is bigger than any of us. This means that God may have, well, probably did, use the popular expressions to help people understand God’s sacred message. In other words, what matters is that we know and believe in Christ Jesus, and anything that helps us to understand and develop a relationship with our God is ultimately a good thing.
It is interesting, though many secular aspects have crept into the Easter celebration (I’m talking about you, Easter bunny!), unlike most Christian holidays, the Easter celebration is at its core a Christian Holy day where people will seek out a church and will look to hear that message of hope. Some people may decry this action, but the reality is we must be thankful that for a couple hours in a year people hear directly this message of Hope and Love, witnessing to the resurrection.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen