While some are quick to criticize Christians for celebrating Easter and point to ancient pagan observances in spring and to worldly customs involving such things as Easter eggs and the Easter bunny, Christians celebrate Easter for none of these things. They have an entirely different reason to observe the festival and to celebrate. Christians observe Easter to remember and celebrate the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead on the third day following His crucifixion just outside the walls of Jerusalem.
For the critics, it is true that Easter Sunday, set on the first Sunday immediately following the Paschal full moon, does not always fall on the third day after the Jewish Passover. But since Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week, Christian churches observe the day of His resurrection on a Sunday each year. Eastern Orthodox churches usually observe the festival on a different Sunday than Western churches because of their use of the Julian Calendar to calculate the date of Easter rather than the Gregorian Calendar and the astronomical full moon rather than the Paschal or ecclesiastical full moon. Yet, all of this is neither here nor there. It wouldn’t be an issue if Christians celebrated Jesus’ birth in July and His resurrection in November because it’s not about the date of the observance but the event that is remembered.
And there are those who claim that the very name “Easter” comes from the name of a pagan goddess or a pagan celebration — and many blindly accept this assertion — but a far better explanation is that the name Easter comes from the old German word “Oster” or “Ostern,” which means “the rising of the sun.” Oster comes from the old Teutonic of auferstehen (or auferstehung) which means resurrection. This comes from two words: Ester, which means first, and stehen, with means to stand. And these two words combine to form erstehen, an old German form of auferstehen, which is the modern German word for resurrection (Nick Sayers, “Why We Should Not Passover Easter,” http://www.easterau.com).
In a 2011 article published by Answers in Genesis, Roger Patterson adds the following information: “When Martin Luther translated the Bible into German (New Testament in 1522), he chose the word Oster to refer to the Passover references before and after the Resurrection. William Tyndale translated the Bible into English from the Greek and Hebrew. His New Testament (1525) uses the word ester to refer to the Passover. In fact, we owe our English word Passover to Tyndale. When translating the Old Testament (1530), he coined the term to describe how the Lord would “pass over” the houses marked with the blood of the lamb (Exodus 12). The usage of ester was retained in the 1534 revision of the New Testament, and it was not until later that it was known as Easter, adding that Luther and Tyndale were the first to use a translation of pascha rather than a transliteration.”
Whether called Easter or Resurrection Sunday, we as Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and the bodily resurrection of Jesus is the crux upon which Christianity either stands or falls. If Jesus did not rise bodily from the dead, His death on the cross for the sins of the world would have been insufficient and there could be no promise or certainty of forgiveness of sins, of our being accepted by God or of our own resurrection and eternal life when we place our faith in Jesus and His atoning sacrifice on the cross.
St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 15:14-19): “And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up — if in fact the dead do not rise. For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.”
But the Bible goes on to say (1 Cor. 15:20): “But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”
Jesus’ resurrection proves that His death was a ransom accepted by God for the sins of the world and that God, for Jesus’ sake, reaches out to us lost and prodigal sons and daughters with the promise of mercy and forgiveness upon all who look to Jesus in faith (cf. Rom. 4:23-25). His resurrection proves that Jesus was true to His word that He would rise again on the third day, and it gives us the assurance that He can and will raise up unto everlasting life all who have believed in His name.
How do we know that Jesus really did rise from the dead? By eyewitness accounts.
Again, St. Paul summarizes the evidence for us (1 Cor. 15:3-8): “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.”
If anyone had doubts about the bodily resurrection of Jesus in the first century, there were plenty of living eyewitnesses who could attest to seeing Jesus alive again following His crucifixion. Our faith rests upon the testimony of those witnesses recorded for us in the Gospels and Epistles of the New Testament, as well as in the Old Testament prophecies of Christ’s death and resurrection. Compare the resurrection accounts in the four Gospels — Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24 and John 20-21.
Without the bodily resurrection of Jesus, Christianity would be no different than other religions of the world which tell people all the things they must do or not do to be accepted by and at one with their god and maker.
Christianity is the only religion that teaches that man does not and cannot measure up to God’s perfect standards because we are all fallen sinners. Instead of man somehow reaching up, the Bible teaches that God reached down to us in the person of Jesus Christ and redeemed us from the guilt and condemnation of our sins by the innocent sufferings and death of His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, in our stead (cf. Rom. 3:21-26). Jesus’ resurrection is proof that we indeed have been redeemed to God! And it is proof that we who have placed our hope in Him will be raised up from our graves on the Last Day to the eternal joys of His kingdom!
And yes, this is cause to celebrate and rejoice! It is a reason to join together and sing God’s praises for accomplishing the salvation of lost and condemned sinners, for winning for all pardon and forgiveness, and for offering and giving the blessings of forgiveness and life eternal through faith alone in Jesus’ name!
“I know that my Redeemer lives; what comfort this sweet sentence gives! He lives, He lives, who once was dead; He lives, my ever-living Head” (Samuel Medley).
Scripture is taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.