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Easter Untangled

What is “Good Friday?” Why do we call the day our Savior rose from the dead “Easter?” Wasn’t He supposed to be in the grave three days and three nights? What’s the connection with Passover? And please explain the bunnies, painted eggs and plastic grass.

It’s amazing what 2000 years of time can do when a great deal is at stake, when we’re not keeping watch as we should, and when our enemy is highly motivated to wreak havoc. In this case, I’m talking about the confusion, contradictions, traditions, syncretism, commercialism and other ‘tions’ and ‘isms’ that have grown up around and nearly choked the essential, beautiful truth of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Here’s the plain story in order, and you can follow along in the gospel of Luke, starting in chapter 22, for a pretty thorough account. Jesus, being a Jew, directed his disciples to get a place ready where they could eat the Passover meal together. They did, and lots of good stuff happened during that celebration. Read through the four gospel accounts to get all the details.

After the meal Judas left to tell the bad guys where they could find Jesus to arrest him (look in John 13 for this bit). Then Jesus and friends walked out to the Mount of Olives, and Jesus prayed long and hard (you know, sweating blood), knowing what was going to happen next. An armed mob showed up and hauled him off to a night of torture and interrogation. Next morning he was dragged to the Roman governor of Judea (Pontius Pilate) for more questioning, then to Herod Antipas, the Tetrarch of Galilee for some abuse, then back to Pilate. Pilate found no fault in Jesus, but nevertheless had him scourged with a metal tipped whip and released to be crucified.

Jesus was executed as a criminal. He died on the cross, the sun blacked out for three hours, an earthquake rocked the city and dead people climbed out of their graves and wandered around. Everyone was pretty freaked out by that point, I imagine. A rich guy had Jesus’ body taken down and buried in a rock tomb. He lay there, dead, for three days and three nights. When some of his followers went with burial spices on the third morning, they found the tomb open and empty and big scary angels telling them not to be looking for the living Jesus where the dead one had lain.

Jesus’ disciples, when they finally got it through their thick heads that he had risen from the dead EXACTLY like he said he would, quickly started understanding other aspects of the whole miraculous thing. They got that Jesus was the ultimate sacrificial lamb, a spotless and perfect Passover offering, able to wipe out the sin of all mankind past, present and future. Personally, I think it would be cool if we kept our celebration of Jesus’ resurrection tied to the timing of Passover each year, to emphasize all the facets of this truth. But I can’t see my Baptist church moving in that direction any time soon. No matter, we do what we can where we are.

The timing is important. Catholic tradition, spilled over into Protestant tradition, has Jesus being killed on Friday (there’s your Good Friday, though I still don’t really get the Good part). Friday was the day, they decided, because the next day was a Sabbath, which would be Saturday. But all special holy days were Sabbaths, including Passover. So it’s entirely possible to have more than one Sabbath in a week. Dr. David Reagan does an excellent job of constructing a possible timeline of the events of that week, based on the date of Passover in 31 AD. Find a link to the article at the bottom of this page, or search the Lamb and Lion Ministries website for the information. The order of events in that timeline has Jesus in the tomb for three days and three nights, just as prophesied in Scripture.

Now for the Easter fiasco. The King James translators wreaked their own havoc by translating “pascha” as “Easter” instead of “Passover” in one passage (Acts 12:4). The other 28 times this word appears in Scripture, it’s translated Passover, because that’s what it refers to! So from that one wonky translation choice, we have pasted a pagan label on Resurrection Sunday. Along with the label came all the pagan fertility symbols (bunnies, eggs) associated with Easter/Ishtar/Astarte and the return of spring. Can’t really explain the plastic grass, though.

Some may see this as incidental and trivial, like all the commercial Christmas falderal, but I think that encrusting such a critical event with pagan rituals, egg hunts and too much sugar is nothing if not a minor victory each year for our sworn enemy. I encourage you to fight, graciously and humbly and very, very gently, to take back this bedrock event of our faith, clear away the pagan overgrowth, and let the wonder of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection shine forth in all its glory.

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