Stanely Mushava : Features Correspondent
Easter, one of the keynote festivals of the Christian faith, commands mainstream observance but some of its fundamental aspects remain the preserve of pastoral enclosures. The re-dating of the festival from year to year, for example, has many wondering what criterion is in place. Others wrestle with the origins of the festival and its practices. Beyond the observance, it is also imperative to determine the historicity of the resurrection as this is the basis of Christianity and one of the absolute and exclusive claims of the faith.
Today, Christians celebrate Good Friday in commemoration of Christ’s death; many will observe a vigil night on Saturday; while Easter Sunday, falling on the March 27 this year, will see the faithful celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.
It will be time for liturgical observances, family reunions, spiritual rejuvenation, a time to reflect on the core tenet of the faith.
Any other year, the festival may well have been observed much earlier in March or waited awhile for April to come around.
In fact, if the other calendar specifics are befitting, Easter can be fixed within a liberal lapse of weeks between March 22 and April 25.
How is the date of Easter determined?
The questions occasionally come up around this holiday every year: Who decides when Easter is to be held, and why are the dates moveable? Normatively, the dating of Easter is tied to the Jewish festive calendar as Christ was crucified and rose from the dead within the culture.
Jesus’ crucifixion was immediately preceded by the Jewish Passover, therefore the inter-dating of the two festivals.
Catholics, Protestants and most other Christian sects on one hand; and Orthodox Christians on the other, have not quite found each other, however, on precise dating, while yet a far less popular segment is entirely scrupled against the festival over its pagan associations.
The Encyclopaedia Britannica relates that the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD decreed that Easter be “observed on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox (March 21).
Easter, therefore, can fall on any Sunday between March 22 and April 25.”
The equinox is a special day when day and night are almost equal.
The bishops at Nicea did not settle for an astronomically correct date for the equinox but fixed it at March 21. So, owing to the group of bishops convened by Constantine in the 3rd century, Easter comes between March 22 and April 22. Days leading up to the holiday are fit to the New Testament account of Christ’s crucifixion, death and resurrection on the third day.
Controversy on Origins
Easter is known exclusively to most Christians as the day of the resurrection of the Saviour and observed as such.
The word Easter appears once in the King James Version (Acts 12:4) but subsequent versions have changed that to Passover and some scholars say it is not the reflection of the original. As such, one has to look beyond the scriptures for the origins of Easter, and not without controversy.
No authority is definitive about the origins of the festival, although most give a hint of pagan associations.
According to HISTORY.com, some sources say the world Easter is an English adaptation of “Eostre, a Tuetonic goddess of spring and fertility, of which eggs and bunnies, symbols of fertility in pagan imagination which usually part of Easter, could be cues.
Encyclopedia Britannica takes exception to the claim that Christians appropriated pagan names and holidays for their highest festivals, particularly Easter and Christmas.
“Given the determination with which Christians combated all forms of paganism, this appears a rather dubious presumption. There is now widespread consensus that the word derives from the Christian designation of Easter week as in albis, a Latin phrase that was understood as the plural of Alba (“dawn”) . . .” observes Encyclopaedia Britannica.
There are varied claims on the subject but essentially for Christians, “we know that ‘an idol has no real existence,’ and that there is no God but one,” as Apostle Paul says. Most Christians obviously observe the day in honour of Christ, detached from any hint of paganism so controversy on origins may not be a major case against the festival.
The festival is centred on the risen and living Saviour, an absolute and exclusive claim of Christianity, and forensic hints of lifeless idols must not disincentivise sincere worshippers. Ultimately, as the scriptures say, Christians are bonded by their common faith and can still happily differ on festivals.
The Real case for Easter
The historical death and resurrection of Christ, a foundational article of the faith, is a unique claim of Christianity.
Even now, the subject is exciting historians, scholars and philosophers. It is perhaps inspiring an equal share of affirmation from apologists, as it is, polemics from the sceptics. Christian authors have been vigilant in their affirmation of the entire basis of the largest faith in the world.
In “The Case for Easter,” a former journalist noted Christian apologist, takes it upon himself to investigate the evidence of the resurrection. The varied offering, authored in consultation with medical experts, historians, philosophers and others, presents medical evidence, ruling out from consultation with medical experts and historians that Jesus’ death and resurrection, the evidence of the missing body, and the evidence of appearances.
Strobel sets out his investigation as a sceptic but is eventually won over by how the pieces all seem to tie together. He cites an observation by respected philosopher J.P Moreland which nails the case for him as he is drawing towards a verdict.
“When Jesus was crucified, His followers were discouraged and depressed. So they dispersed. The Jesus movement was all but stopped in its track,” Moreland tells Strobel.
“Then after a short period of time, we see them abandoning their occupations, regathering, and committing themselves to spreading a very specific message – that Jesus Christ was the Messiah of God who died on a cross, returned to life, and was seen alive by them,” he observes.
“And they were willing to spend the rest of their lives proclaiming this, without any pay-off from a human point of view. They faced a life of hardship. They often went without food, slept exposed to the elements, were ridiculed beaten and imprisoned.
“And finally, most of them were executed in tortuous ways. For what? For good intentions. No, because they were convinced beyond a shadow of doubt that they had seen Jesus Christ alive from the dead,” Moreland says.
This conviction has spread across the world. The evangelistic strivings of the first believers have passed from one generation growing the faith into the world’s largest, at 2,2 billion as at 2010. Easter is about adoring and drawing new strength from the risen Saviour to minister His message of hope to those yet to make the fold.