Everyone knows about Easter. Jelly beans, colored eggs, and dress clothes. Big dinners. And the whole religious thing. What else is there to know?
There’s plenty. For example, did you know that the word “Easter” is derived from the name of an ancient goddess who was worshiped around the Middle East? She was known as Ishtar (Astarte, Eastru), and her feast was celebrated in April. But the resurrection of Jesus completely upstaged Ishtar, and the Christians commandeered her day for their own celebration.
And did you know that the first witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus were people no attorney would ever have called to the stand? And even if he had called them, it’s unlikely a judge would have allowed them to testify. Why? Because they were women. Women were considered too emotionally unstable to be reliable witnesses. The ancient historian Josephus says that women were disqualified from testifying because of “their giddiness and impetuosity.”
That explains why, when the women first told the apostles that Jesus was alive, the men did not believe them. Before seeing for themselves, they dismissed the women’s report as “nonsense,” a word which in contemporary medical terminology referred to delirium. Nevertheless, God granted these women the honor of being the first witnesses to history’s most momentous event.
Did you know that not one of the Evangelists who wrote the Gospels (the New Testament histories of Jesus) used the term “resurrection” to describe what had happened? This is nothing less than astounding. Long before the histories were written – in fact, within a couple months of Jesus’s death – Christians were using the word “resurrection” liberally. By the time the Gospels were circulated, it was both common parlance and accepted doctrine.
The refusal of the Evangelists to use the word is completely inexplicable if the theory, popular in some circles, is true: that the early church concocted the story of Jesus’s resurrection as a way of elevating Jesus’s status and validating the faith. But surely if that was what the early Christians were trying to do, they would have jumped at the chance to use the theologically significant word “resurrection” in their accounts.
A better explanation is this: the reason the Gospel writers didn’t use the word “resurrection” is that the people whose history they were telling didn’t use it. Those people were sure that Jesus died; was dead as a doornail; dead and buried. And they were just as sure that he came back to life after three days: that he was walking-talking-eating-drinking-laughing real. But during those first days, they did not yet realize this meant that Jesus had been resurrected. It took instruction from Jesus himself for them to grasp the enormity of what had happened.
There’s more. Christians see the events of that first Easter as the hinge on which the door between the ages turns. In a biblical worldview, unlike many other religious worldviews, history is going somewhere. It is not circular or cyclical; it is moving toward a goal; moving, in Jewish and Christian phraseology, from this age to the age to come.
The early Christians recognized that this age and the age to come meet and overlap around the death and resurrection of Jesus. Christians needn’t watch for the end times, because they know they’ve already commenced with the resurrection of Jesus. Instead, Christians watch expectantly for Jesus’s return.
According to Christian theology, the resurrection of Jesus was not a one-of-a-kind miracle that affected only him. It was the inaugural event of the new creation, which will be followed by the resurrection of “those who belong to him.”
Jelly beans, colored eggs, and dress clothes are hardly adequate means for expressing the importance of Easter. People should really get together, shout praises, sing songs and celebrate. Oh, wait. That is what people do in churches all around the world on Easter Sunday.
And even that is not enough.
First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 3/26/2016