It’s Easter Sunday, the perfect time to forget what you think you know – if truth is worth seeking at all.
And as a natural-born truth-seeker, here’s my contribution to the greater good.
It began with a casual conversation I overheard at work that went something like this:
“When is Lent officially over? Does it end with Easter or Good Friday?”
“All I know is I gave up swearing three weeks ago.”
“I think it ends on Holy Thursday. Either Holy Thursday or Good Friday.”
“Well I don’t get it … if Jesus wandered in the wilderness for 40 days and Lent began on Ash Wednesday, which was March 8, and Easter is on April 23rd, that’s … 46 days. That doesn’t make sense!”
I think it actually beings on the eighth Monday before Easter, Clean Monday, and skips weekends.”
“Actually Lent recalls the 40 days Jesus spent praying in the wilderness before he was crucified, a time when Christians sacrifice something they love, just as God did. But the early church decided not to count Sundays because Sunday was a work day for priests.”
“All I’m saying is it doesn’t make sense to me.”
I’m not exactly sure how the discussion ended, or why it began. Clearly it’s hard to untangle 2,000 years of confusion, even with a brainstorming session among journalists.
But for the record, here’s what I do know.
So please accept, with apologies to all my former Sunday school teachers, the following essay. I call it:
“Why I Gave Up Buying Easter Shoes for Lent.”
First, a Reader’s Digest version of the historical roots of Easter: It’s really a hybrid of pagan goddess worship, early Christian and Hebrew customs and the amorous nature of rabbits.
Hebrews celebrate Passover each year beginning on the 15th night of the Jewish month of Nissan, this year, April 19. “Passover” comes from the Hebrew word “Pesach,” a verb meaning “he passed over.”
This custom goes back to the Old Testament book of Exodus when Moses, inspired by God, freed the Israelite from slavery. As the story goes, the “angel of death” passed over homes marked with the blood of a sacrificial lamb and claimed the lives of the first-born son of all the other households, including Pharaoh’s son. This finally convince Pharaoh to free the Israelites.
Historians say the Christians continued to observe Passover, recognizing the symbolism of the crucified Jesus as the sacrificial Lamb of God, whose blood was shed to save their souls form eternal suffering. They saw this as fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies of a messiah, or Savior, and based on their beliefs on the resurrected Lord.
Others, known as pagans, celebrated the annual arrive of Eostre, the goddess of fertility. Festivities in her honor began around the Vernal Equinox (March 21) coinciding with the burgeoning of plants, flowers, new life and more bunnies than even Hugh Hefner could account for.
Around 325 A.D. the Nicene Council ruled that the annual celebration of their Savior should be celebrated in conjunction with the pagan rites of Eostre, to bring more pagans into the Christian fold.
Over time, other icons of new life, such as eggs, and bunnies, were included (which have joyfully evolved into chocolate-covered versions widely distributed in advance of Easter.)
The next 1,675 years involved too much religious turmoil to relay. Of note, however, would be the Pilgrims, who brought Christianity to the New World from Europe.
Anyway, I gave up buying Easter shoes a few years ago, around the time God and the Big Bunny collided in my world.
My inquisitive preschooler wanted to know what the Easter Bunny had to do with God and church and why Tommy and his fellow Rugrats celebrated Passover.
I had no idea where to begin.
And so began a personal journey to the roots of my own faith.
I was raised to be a nice Protestant girl in the U.S. I learned to enjoy holidays, customs and new shoes on Easter as much as the next gal.
But I’ve also learned that when worlds collide, you need to kick off your shoes and sort things out for yourself.
Today, I find myself inspired by the God of Moses and the miraculous New Testament accounts of Christ.
I will forever be humbled by my humanity.
Easter here in the U.S. is broadly enjoyed as a candy-eating holiday underwritten by a magical rabbit with pagan relatives nobody talks about in polite conversation over Easter dinner. And yes, it’s also enjoyed by devout church-goers, the very same who also like to “keep the Christ in Christmas” (even though, for the record, that holiday was also co-opted from the pagans).
That’s a story for another day.
Generally speaking, the mash-up of fun holiday rituals and religious rites are simply that. The true meaning of Easter belongs to those who celebrate it in whatever way the choose to in a free country like ours.
As for me, in the end, I hope I’ll be defined by what I chose to embrace in life rather than by what I might have lived without for a few weeks each year.
Originally published April 23, 2000