Looking Back to Move Forward
Written by, Rev. Dr. Sheldon R. Shipman
Submitted by, Rev. Dr. Sarah Fleming
To the believer, Easter is certainly more than bunnies, Lilies and children searching for “Easter Eggs!” Indeed, all of these “symbols” have become traditions that point to and celebrate the most significant event of ancient and modern history:
THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST AND VICTORY OVER DEATH!
EASTER is quite similar to other major holidays like Christmas and Halloween, all of which have evolved over the last fifteen centuries or so. In all of these holidays, Christian and non-Christians (indigenous) elements have continued to blend together. The truth of Easter’s origins is not helped by the de-contextualized way many Eurocentric researchers analyze history (i.e. often called “his”-story). Most people who write about Easter trace the name to a Mother Goddess whose name in various European traditions was: Asarte, Ishtar, Ashtoreth, Cybele, Demeter, Ceres, Aphrodite, and Venus. Most agree that the name “Easter” is derived from the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring Eostre or Ostara. While these are some of the many rivers that contributed to the origins of our Easter celebrations, we should stop ignoring the African river from which they flowed as well; so add to this previous list, Hathor, the patron Egyptian (Kemetian) goddess of joy and love. Several historians believe this “blending of elements began with the knowledge possessed by St. Augustine, Tertullian and Origin that the oldest concept of death and resurrection was the Kemetian (Egyptian) story of Osiris (Heru/Horus) and Isis (Auset/ Hathor). The contributions of our ancestors to the origins of Easter and Christianity are found in numerous books by authors such as: Yosef Ben-Jochannan, John Henrik Clarke, Gerald Massey, John G. Jackson, Charles S. Finch and Albert Churchward.
Most of us are aware that our major holidays have definite connections to the movement of the constellations and the changing of the seasons. This is certainly the case for the two highest “holy-days” (holidays) of the Christian calendar – Christmas and Easter. Although the New Testament offers little information about what time of the year Jesus (Yahshua) was born, most scholars believe that the main reason for celebrating “his birth” on December 25th is due the celebrations surrounding the Winter Solstice. Since the days following the Winter Solstice gradually become longer and less dark, it was ideal symbolism for the birth of the “Light of the world,” (John 8:12) to coincide, and therefore, demonstrate the perpetual “victory of light over darkness!” Similar is the case with Easter, which always falls close in proximity to another key point in the solar year – the vernal equinox (around March 20th) – when there are equal periods of light and darkness. Spring is the season of new life, where plants, trees and animals that have been dormant or hibernating during the winter, “come back to life!” Given the symbolism of new life and rebirth, it was intentional to celebrate the “resurrection of Jesus” at this time of the year. Another interesting not is that the “palms” of our Palm Sunday celebration (Matt. 2:8) reflect this connection to the change of seasons, too. In ancient Egypt (Kemet), the “palm branch” was viewed as a ‘Time symbol” and its bifurcated leaves represented the spring equinox with its equal separation of day and night.
The word “Easter” is found only once in the New Testament (Acts 12:4) and it is the translation of the Greek word “pascha” – a reference, indeed, to the Hebrew (Jewish) festival Passover. In our bible, Passover is a festival that commemorates the liberation of the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt, as detailed in the Book of Exodus. It was and continues to be the one most important Jewish seasonal festivals, which just so happens to be celebrated on the first full moon after the “vernal (spring) equinox.” During the life and ministry of Jesus, Passover had special significance, as the Jewish people were again under the dominance of foreign powers (namely, the Romans). Jewish pilgrims steamed into Jerusalem every year in the hope that god’s chosen people would soon be liberated once more.
On one Passover, Jesus traveled to Jerusalem with his disciples to celebrate this festival. He entered Jerusalem in a triumphal procession (Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:29) and created a disturbance in the Jerusalem Temple. It seems that both of these actions attracted the attention of the Romans and religious leaders of Israel (Matt. 26:3-5), and that as a result Jesus was conspired against and executed around the year A.D. 30. Some of Jesus’s followers, however, believed that they saw him alive after his death, experience that (Matthew 28:9-10; Luke 24:13-49; Mark 16:9-20; John 20:11-18), but whether it was during the Passover festival and his followers believed he was resurrected from the dead three days later, it was logical to commemorate these events in close proximity.
Some early Christians close to celebrate the resurrection of Christ on the same date as the Jewish Passover, which fell around day 14 of the month of Nissan, in March or April. These Christians were known as Quartodcimans, a name that means, “Fourteeners.” By choosing this particular date, they put the focus on when Jesus died and also emphasized continuity with the Judaism out of which Christianity emerged. Some others instead preferred to hold the festival on a Sunday, since that was when Jesus’ tomb was discovered by his followers. In A.D. 325, the Emperor Constantine, who favored Christianity, convened a meeting of Christian leaders to resolve a variety of important disputes at the Council of Nicaea. The most fateful of its decisions was about the status of Christ, whom the council recognized as being “fully human and fully divine.” This council also resolves that Easter should be fixed on a Sunday, not on 14th Nisan. As a result, “Easter” is now celebrated on the first Sunday after the first moon of the vernal equinox.
As a final word to the faithful believer, the Most High is the ultimate “origin” and “originator” of everyone’s journey of faith, from the “Ancient of Days,” to these perilous times” (2Timothy 3:1-7) which we are experience today. “How” Christ arose, “what” were processes undergone, or in exactly “what” body He appeared, we cannot tell. We are assured by the Apostle that it resembled the one He had previously employed for His ministry (Matthew 28:9-10; Luke 24:13-49; Mark 16:9-20; John 20:11-18) , but whether it was the same body miraculously resurrected; whether it was His spiritual body, which appeared to be the same to the physical eyes of those who loved Him, or whether He had constructed an entirely new body on the same general lines as the previous one, it is not possible for us to say. In addition, it is not possible for us to be confident that the vision of the disciples was not “supernormal” or that, though the intensification and expression of His divinity, Christ had so stimulated their “inner vision” that they were able to see clairvoyantly or into another dimension. The important matter was and still is that He DID Rise Again…and hearts of His friends… and this truth is still uplifted, believed and declared by many some twenty centuries after His departure! To God Be the Glory! Hallelujah and Amen!