Last weekend, our adult son asked me why the date for Easter varies so much from year to year. His query made me realize that many may not know the history of the Easter holiday, which for me, and for many, is the most important holiday of our Christian faith. The resurrection of Jesus is at the heart of the Christian message. How unfortunate that church services may stress the empty tomb only on Easter Sunday, or even just through the Eastertide season. Another concern is the common way Christians summarize the gospel by mentioning only Jesus’ death. Without the resurrection, Jesus’ ministry ends in defeat and disillusionment (Luke 24:21). But everything changes if “He is not here! He has risen from the dead, just as he said” (Matthew 28:6). Paul bluntly stated that apart from the resurrection our faith and message are in vain (1 Corinthians 15:12-19).

There is no date that tells us when the first Easter was held, but we do know it wasn’t called Easter and it wasn’t always held on a Sunday. We also know that as early as apostolic times, the disciples of Christ would honor Jesus by celebrating his resurrection. They referred to it as Resurrection Day to honor their new life in Christ.

The realization that Christ died for us, for the forgiveness of our sins, that brought us into a new covenant with God, stems from The Last Supper. We find the words of Jesus, spoken to his disciples at the supper in the upper room, in all four of the Gospels. Of these four gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke show us the saying of Jesus as he lifted the cup and said, “Drink from it all of you. This is the blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” In Mark’s version, we do not read the line “for the forgiveness of sins,” and in Luke’s gospel, the covenant is called “the new covenant in my blood.” As usual, using the three gospels puts it all together for us. Finally, in John’s gospel, we do not find these words at all. John’s gospel, also known as the spiritual gospel, focuses on the glorification of God and the command to love one another, as Jesus had loved them. However, the first three lead us to Jesus dying for us, to the resurrection on the third day, and to our new life as believers because of the sacrifice Jesus made for the world. As the apostle Paul summarized to the people of Corinth in 1 Corinthians 15:20-22, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep (the first to rise of those who have died). For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam, all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”

As always, I’m going to wander a bit. It is because of our new life as believers that we often baptize and/or bring new members into the church on Easter Sunday. I would like to invite any of you who might not be baptized or might want to be part of the Body of Christ known as Berlin Center Church or LeValley Church to let me know. It would be a blessing for me to celebrate the Sacrament of Baptism with you or to welcome you as a member of the Church along with the rest of the church family.

Looking back to the beginnings of the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection, we find the first council of Christian leaders, called the Council of Nicea, held in 325 A.D. It was during this council that the day of the resurrection was decreed to always take place on a Sunday. Also, the Sunday that was designated would always be the first Sunday, following the first full moon of spring. Since that time, Easter can fall on any Sunday between March 22 to April 25.

Now let’s try to understand the many ways that the word “Easter” may have come into use. Before I begin, we need to know that no one actually knows.

Scholars tell us it was during the eighth century when words close to Easter started to be used. These words have a number of definitions, including the month of beginnings, or a derivation from the name of German or English goddesses of fertility or the warming up of the season. Some say it originated with Anglo-Saxon terminology with the word “eastre,” translated as dawn, and is associated with the spring equinox, the lengthening of days, and Jesus as “the light of the world.” As far as history has shown us, early on, the resurrection of Jesus became a part of the Passover celebration of the Jews.

According to ancient records, it appears that the resurrection added a new significance to the Passover celebration for those who believed in Christ. This celebration became part of “Pesach,” the word in Hebrew meaning “Passover.” It was also used in Greek as “Pascha” or “Paska.” It is unknown at what point “Pascha” became synonymous with the word “Easter.” However, sometime through the centuries, the two words were used interchangeably, until we get the Easter of today.

Today, many people around the world celebrate Easter, the resurrection of Christ. There is a new movement among believers to refer to the day once again as Resurrection Day, for the purpose of differing it from the commercialization of Easter. You may have noticed that I, personally, almost always call Easter Sunday Resurrection Day!

Dr. Greg and I wish you a wondrous Resurrection Sunday as we see the beauty of God’s creation in all of the flowers, the new growth in the trees, bushes, and perennials, and, most importantly, as we see the joy in God’s people and hear the joys in their voices as we sing Christ the Lord is Risen Today! Al-le-lu-ia!

Love in Christ,

Pastor Nancy