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17th April, 2006

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Why didn't Jesus keep Easter?

Some Christians may be surprised to learn that Jesus never observed Easter, a festival commemorating His resurrection; they assume that Jesus introduced most if not all of the religious festivals celebrated in Christendom today. The simple truth is that He didn't; the majority were adopted by ecclesiastical institutions in the centuries following His death and resurrection.

All believers would agree that His death and resurrection, together, constitute the most important event in the history of the universe. Through His death, human sins are atoned for, the death penalty is paid in our stead and believers can be reconciled with God; in short, His death provides the grounds for human justification, by which we are declared innocent by God and embraced by Him in intimate personal relationship. Through His resurrection, He can indwell believers (Col. 1:27, Gal. 2:20) and, equally importantly, pave the way for believers to be resurrected and glorified as He was (1 Cor. 15:1-22). Our resurrection and glorification are grounded in Jesus' resurrection, just as our justification (and sanctification) are grounded in Jesus' sacrifice.

Naturally, such significant events should be remembered by Christians. But what form should such commemoration take? Any encyclopedia will tell you that Easter practices are steeped in non--Christian rites that reeked of pagan overtones. Many scholars believe that the very name, Easter, is derived from “Eastre, the Anglo-Saxon name of a Teutonic goddess of spring and fertility, to whom was dedicated a month corresponding to April” (Encarta Encyclopedia). The same article continues,

Her festival was celebrated on the day of the vernal equinox; traditions associated with the festival survive in the Easter rabbit, a symbol of fertility, and in colored easter eggs, originally painted with bright colors to represent the sunlight of spring, and used in Easter-egg rolling contests or given as gifts.

Jesus and His disciples never observed such rites. Rather, the New Testament plainly shows that Jesus observed the holy days commanded by God in the Old Testament. (See Leviticus 23 for a summary.) These holy days serve as shadows of the great events of salvation history (Col. 2:16-17). Easter observances, as we know them, make no showing in these shadow observances. However, Jesus' death and resurrection certainly are depicted. The Passover lamb, killed towards the end of the 14th day of the month Nisan, foretold the death of Jesus Christ. He died at the very moment

the lambs were being killed in the temple. He observed this rite (John 2:13, Luke 22:15) and, on the evening prior to His death, commanded His followers to annually remember His death by partaking of the bread and wine of the Eucharist. By contrast with the killing and eating of the lamb, which could only be observed in Jerusalem, believers around the world can participate in this sacred rite. The Council of Nicea, without any divine authorization, demanded that Christians remember Jesus' resurrection and death not on the biblically mandated dates, but on the first Sunday after the full moon following the vernal equinox and (in the case of His death) the preceding Friday.

The biblically-mandated Passover observance heralded the holy day season known as the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Lev. 23:6). Jesus' resurrection occurred during these days. Instead of bunnies and eggs, the biblical shadow observance called for observance of the rite of cutting the wave sheaf. On the day before the weekly Sabbath during Unleavened Bread, messengers from the high priest went out into a chosen field, and carefully selected the choicest flush of standing grain. Having done so, they then bound the chosen patch, still uncut, into a sheaf. Having done this, their job was complete.

The next day, right towards the end of the Sabbath, a group of appointed priests would make their way to the chosen sheaf. Right on sunset one of them, sickle in hand, would bend over the chosen sheaf and shout out aloud: "Is the sun set?" Whereupon the others surrounding him replied: "Yes." He would then ask: "Shall I reap?" They would answer: "Reap". He then cut the bound grain. That night the cut sheaf was carefully stored in the temple, and then early the next morning the high priest took the sheaf, raised it high, and then brought it back down again.

The symbolism should be clear. The sheaf being cut from the ground at sunset after the Sabbath pictures Jesus' resurrection. Its lifting up the next morning symbolized Jesus' ascension to heaven to be accepted of His Father. Jesus' death and resurrection occurred at the very moment the rituals were being observed. Coincidence? No way.

Should not believers observe the same religious festivals Jesus and His disciples observed, and at the same time on the annual calendar they observed them? Since no temple stands, we cannot observe the Passover with “all its rites and ceremonies” (Num. 9:3), but we can take of the bread and wine. We cannot take upon ourselves the wave sheaf ritual performed by the ordained priesthood, but we can rehearse it in word and thought during the days enjoined in Old Testament law and observed by Jesus and His disciples.


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