What is the origin of the name Easter?

What is the origin of the name Easter?

A church historian and monk around 700, known as The Venerable Bede, wrote that the term Easter was derived from Estre, a German goddess of dawn and spring. (How awesome a name is The Venerable Bede?) There appears to have been, at one time, a pagan celebration of spring from which the name Easter is derived.

So is Easter actually an older pagan celebration appropriated by the church, as today’s heathen like to claim about all church holidays?

No, not really. Easter is an Anglo-Saxon word, and what we know as Easter had been celebrated for centuries before either the Angles or the Saxons ever found out about it.

The holiday was originally referred to as the Christian Passover, or Pascha in Greek (from the Hebrew Pesach), which was adopted as a proper name in Latin as well. To this day, the Danish call it Paske, the Dutch– Pasen, the French– Paques, Romanians– Pasti, Portuguese– Pascoa, Spanish–Pascua, Italian– Pasqua, Swedish– Pask, etc.

The term “Easter” may be derived from a pagan deity or from the month that bears the same name, “Ostermonat“/April. The origins of the holiday itself though, originated quite independently of any Germanic influence whatsoever, directly from the resurrection of Christ at Passover time.

What’s interesting is that the Medieval Germans seem to have taken a similar approach to what the first Christians did, namely refer to the celebration of Christ’s resurrection by the name of the holiday formerly celebrated at that time.

The first Christians kept the term Pascha or Passover and simply updated it by celebrating Jesus’ resurrection at Passover instead of the Israelites’ rescue from slavery in Egypt. As Christianity spread into Europe, many simply accepted the church’s name for this holiday, but those Anglo-Saxon rebels decided to use their own term for a celebration of new life for the holiday of Christ’s resurrection.

Rather than adopt the technical church word Pascha, which was for them meaningless, they chose to refer to the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection in their own terminology that reflected the meaning of the holiday as a celebration of new life.

When we think about today’s celebration of Easter, I think what jumps out most to me isn’t any possible connection to ancient heathenism, but contemporary heathenism. For a lot of people, the resurrection of Jesus has no more to do with Easter than the goddess Estre, just some ancient historical celebration of what has become basically just a spring festival again.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with the name Easter or the traditional signs of spring associated with it, like bunnies and eggs, but much like Christmas-time, the secular observances can become a problem when they distract us from what matters.

As Christians celebrating Easter, we want to keep a clear focus on what actually makes the holi-day holy, and what should be at the front of our minds every day— that Jesus rose from the dead to prove His divinity and our salvation.

Lent… What is it and why?

Lent… What is it and why?

You may have seen the palm bucket out in the narthex, and that means Lent is just around the corner! Soooo… what the heck is Lent?

Lent is a period of repentant preparation for the celebration of Easter that was begun not very long after the first Easter almost two thousand years ago. The duration of Lent is 40 days, reminiscent of the 40 days of rain in Noah’s flood (Genesis 7), the Israelites’ 40 years of wandering in the desert (Numbers 14), and the 40 days of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness (Matthew 4).

Lent begins, however, 46 days before Easter, not 40. That’s because the Sundays during this time are not included, since Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday and so that day is always a day of celebration. The first day of Lent is called Ash Wednesday, for the practice dating back to the Old Testament of covering one’s self with ashes as a sign of remorse and repentance.

At Bethlehem we, like many congregations, observe this ancient custom by marking our foreheads with the sign of the cross made in ashes from the palms of last year’s Palm Sunday (hence the palm bucket in the narthex). This is a powerful, physical reminder of our sinfulness, in which we recognize our sin as truly a problem, and Jesus as the only solution.

Ash Wednesday is the first of weekly Wednesday night services that are added during Lent to help strengthen us in our faith during this dedicated time of the year. While spending more time in God’s Word at church, many people also choose to give up something worldly as a kind of fast to deepen their spiritual self-discipline.

As we do these things, we’re reminded by Joel 2:13 “Rend your hearts, and not your garments.” Outward signs like ashes and outward behavior like going to church or giving something up are meaningless without true repentance of the heart. The observance of Lent isn’t mandatory or necessary. It is an opportunity to encourage and facilitate a closer look at our lives and Christ’s sacrifice of His life for us so that we can grow in faith and holiness.

I hope this Lent is a valuable time for you to do just that as you join with your brothers and sisters in Christ at Bethlehem in this time of self-examination and Christ-exaltation.

Our services each Wednesday during Lent are at 4pm and 7pm, with a meal and Bible study in between.

The theme for each Wednesday will be “Silent Witnesses” as we look at the objects, places, and animals that silently bore witness to the last days of Jesus’ life before His crucifixion. You can also make this theme a part of your whole week with the free daily devotionals provided.