Easter, Ostara, Ishtar and Jesus
Perhaps it’s just because the internet allows us access to so much more information than we ever had in the past, but it seems to be a much bigger thing of late to point out how the major Christian festivals are all of pagan origins, as if that somehow discredits them in some way. Coming up to Easter 2013, I’ve noticed the bandwagon getting a little more crowded than it has been in previous years.
The one that I’ve seen a couple of times so far, has been a depiction of the ancient Assyrian goddess Ishtar. This one’s actually slightly newer to me, last year I mentioned Ostara or Eostre, a may-or-may-not-have-really-existed goddess of German/Saxon religious origins.
Let’s just clarify one thing, though. It actually doesn’t matter which pagan deity you want to attribute it to, there are elements of pagan origins involved in the celebration of Easter.
There, I said it – and all the Christians gasped.
Frankly, with enough time and research put into place, I have no doubt that I could write a whole book on the origins of Easter. I’m not going to – at least not now, maybe one day. Instead, I just want to take a brief look at the overall topic.
Yes, there are probably pagan origins – although the fact that every ancient religion under the sun is trying to get in on the act kind of leads us to conclude that there’s no specific pagan festival that was actually the origin of the Easter celebration.
Most pagan religions held their celebrations to do with the time of year. Given that the most important element of these people’s lives was food and the harvest, it makes sense that they built their festivals around the cycle of life – and Spring is the time when seeds are being sown, winter is coming to an end and life is ‘renewing’ in its own sense. Most pagan religions (at least most that I’ve researched) held some kind of fertility festival at these times as a representation of the new life that came with the end of winter and the coming of the longer, warmer days ahead throughout Spring and Summer after the Spring equinox.
Bunnies and eggs, yes? Symbols of fertility and new life!
Just one thing – the egg tradition really doesn’t seem to have been a thing before Easter was recognized as a Christian festival. The origin of Easter eggs actually extends from the observance of lent leading up to Easter, where eggs were not consumed during those forty days of fasting. I’m yet to see any real evidence that suggests the practice of Easter Eggs was associated in any way with the pagan fertility festivals. Sorry, pagans, but it seems that you’ve stolen that one from the Christians, not the other way around.
Alongside these pagan festivals, though, is the observance of the Hebrew Passover. To give a brief rundown – the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt, and after a series of plagues, the final step was for the angel of death to come and strike down every firstborn child in the land. With the blood of a lamb over their doors, the Israelites were saved and the angel of death ‘passed over’ their residences on this fateful night – Passover.
(A slightly rough explanation, but I’m trying to conserve my word count here!)
The Passover, though, was celebrated around about the same time as these Easter festivals, being tied also to the Spring equinox. One of the final things that Jesus did was observe the Passover with his disciples – in Christian terms, this is the event of The Last Supper. It was very shortly after this that Jesus was arrested and then crucified.
What this means for Christianity is that unlike the celebration of Christmas, which probably has no chronological relation to Jesus’ actual date of birth whatsoever, we have a pretty good reference point to say that Jesus was crucified not long after the Spring equinox.
What it doesn’t mean, is that Christians stole a pagan festival to attribute to Jesus.
My birthday’s November 25, and a friend of mine is born November 28 – so a couple of years ago we shared a birthday party. It made sense, we had a lot of mutual friends, were looking to celebrate around the same time and it was a lot easier for us to organise something together and share the celebration. So what do you think the ancient cultures would have done? They have a tradition of holding this ‘Easter’ festival, which just happens to coincide with the recognition of Jesus’ death. Of course the traditions ended up merged together.
Does this mean Christianity stole Easter? Don’t be ridiculous.
The Festive Season
Obviously it’s come to that time of year again, “The Holidays.” When we all stick smiles on our faces and get excited for the upcoming day of presents and food and drinking and family and friends. The Festive Season!
Oh yeah, and it starts from some guy named Jesus who happened to be born that day.
Yes. Yes. I know, Jesus wasn’t actually born on December 25. Not the point.
Something that gripes me these days is this ridiculous level of political correctness that floats about during Christmas – sorry, “The Festive Season.” What also gripes me, though, is that I don’t really know where it comes from. Every Christmas for the past two or three years I’ve seen the flood of posts come up on Facebook and other places saying that there are claims to stop it being called Christmas – those big annoying pictures that come up saying “I’m keeping CHRIST in Christmas! Share if you believe or ignore if you’re a heathen scumbag who should just stay out of it.”
Of course, I’m paraphrasing.
Here’s the thing, though. Even if there doesn’t appear to be any sanctioned, government-led effort to reduce Christmas to “the holidays,” “Hanukwanzmas” or something equally as ridiculous, there is a not-so-public consideration in many people’s minds to remove the religious connotations from the holiday. Even my workmates want to wish people well for the festive season.
Some people seem to feel guilty these days about saying Merry Christmas – not all, but some – because they have to take into consideration the feelings of those people who might be offended by Christmas.
Beyond anything else, that is, to me, the most laughable consideration possible. That someone may be offended by Christmas.
Let me get one thing straight, though. I do not believe that it is a person’s responsibility to censor themselves to prevent offending someone else. If you want to call me names, tell me I’m stupid, criticize me or anything else – that’s your prerogative; just like it’s my prerogative to be offended by it. Whether that means I scream and shout, whether it means I delete and block you on Facebook, or whether it means I call you names in return is my prerogative. Chances are, I’m just going to ignore you.
I reserve the right to say Merry Christmas to you. What you do with that isn’t my problem; this time of the year, the ‘Festive Season’ is just that: Christmas Time. It is in our culture today as a celebration of the coming of Jesus Christ; Christ’s Mass.
Christmas or Christmyth?
I saw a post on Facebook this morning, it read:
To all my friends, please remember that Christmyth is a time for family, friends, love and presents
Oh and of course, honouring our Lord and Saviour… Money, that is.
Whilst I accept that it’s a sad reflection of our society that money is considered to be the “Lord and Saviour” in today’s world, it’s understandable that people would have this consideration. The fact is that in a world and society where currency is the currency of the realm, if you remove Jesus from the equation, what else is there?
We live in a world today that’s devoid of hope, and is it any wonder when we consider statements like this? That our “Lord and Saviour” is money?
But I digress; what about this ‘Christmyth’ concept? This is a question far deeper than the shallow surface that it portrays.
I grew up in a Christian home, and Christmas, therefore, was just a part of life. I grew up hearing of tales of the three wise men, the shepherds being spoken to by angels, King Herod trying to kill baby Jesus and of course, the virgin birth. It was all just stories and history that I took for granted, no less real than Napoleon, Julius Caesar or Joan of Arc.
The thing with just taking it for granted, though, was that when I hit a bit of a crisis in my life as a young adult, everything came crashing down around me. I didn’t know why I believed in Jesus, I didn’t know why I believed in God. It was what I had always done in my life but lacked any depth. My salvation was shallow, something on the surface because that was a part of who I’d always been.
I was therefore away from God for a very long time, but during that time I kept searching for truth. I kept searching for meaning to my existence, for a reason behind everything that happened.
I’m not going to go into the historical evidence for Jesus’ existence, but needless to say, you’re in the very small minority of historians if you want to argue that he is a myth. Jesus existed, there is no Christmyth, and it was only a matter of time, in my search, before I came to this understanding.
When I came to this understanding, I didn’t have much choice. I clearly remember standing in a church service saying to God that I know he exists, that I know Jesus exists, and I know that Jesus died and rose again to save me from the consequences of my own sin. I clearly remember saying to God that regardless of anything else, if I can’t deny those three fundamental things, then I have no other choice than to follow Him.
So what about the Christmyth? If Jesus existed, then he was born, that’s about as simple as it can be put. Yes, it’s unlikely that the date he was born is the date that we celebrate – but then, the date we celebrate the Queen’s Birthday (here in Australia) isn’t her birthday either. August 1 is considered to be every horse’s birthday, that doesn’t mean that every horse is born on August 1 each year!
There is no Christmyth. It’s a real celebration of a real person’s birth; a person who – even if you don’t want to accept that He’s the messiah and son of God – was arguably the most influential man in human history.
Was Jesus Married?
Yesterday I stumbled across an article from the Boston Globe about a Papyrus Scrap suggesting Jesus was married. The Papyrus is a scrap that’s no larger than a business card written in ancient Coptic, two lines of which say:
… Jesus said to them, ‘My wife … and
… she will be able to be my disciple.
This isn’t the first ancient document to provide suggestions to Jesus’ marital status, but if identified as being authentic, then this would be the first text that I’m aware of in which we have a record of Jesus specifically referring to his wife.
Throughout my journey and studies of various things religious, I’ve read translations of a number of ancient documents that were not included in the canonical scriptures that we read in today’s modern bible. One document, known as the Gospel of Mary alludes to a private relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene where she reveals to the disciples things that Jesus told her that he did not share with his other disciples.
Peter said to Mary, Sister we know that the Savior loved you more than the rest of woman. Tell us the words of the Savior which you remember which you know, but we do not, nor have we heard them. ~ The Gospel of Mary 5:5-6
This is, of course, far from the first time the suggestion of Jesus’ marriage has been brought into the public eye. Dan Brown’s novel The Davinci Code brought a number of conspiracy theories, debates and arguments into the world as people questioned how much of it was actually true.
The question is, what does this actually mean for Christians?
The bible itself is silent on the matter of Jesus’ marital status. I guess, with no Facebook, he didn’t have the chance to live his life with a big ‘Single’ next to his name (or Married, if was ever the case). I would suggest that no mention of a wife would point more to a suggestion that he was not married, especially given that the most popular candidate for a spouse is Mary Magdalene. You would think that if Jesus and Mary were married, then in one of the multiple references to her throughout the gospels, someone would have thought to mention that she was his wife.
Of course, you could suggest that this was a big conspiracy. The argument comes down in a large part more to the idea of celibacy and its value in our Christian walks. The church organization for a very long time required its ministers to be celibate – and of course some still do. If you want to subscribe to this theory, then it’s arguable that perhaps the mentions of Jesus’ marriage were removed from the documents to advance this cause.
Realistically, my personal thought is that the celibacy requirement is influenced more from Paul than Jesus.
But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am; but if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion. ~ 1 Corinthians 7:8-9
In this whole chapter Paul speaks pretty heavily about marriage and how he perceives it as a concession against sexual immorality, which, on a separate topic is an interesting addition to a certain other debate that’s been going around recently. However Paul does say very clearly that he believes people are better off spiritually if they’re unmarried.
There goes the human race!
This still doesn’t answer the question about what effect it would have on Christianity if Jesus was married.
I would argue very little.
When Jesus came to earth, he was God incarnate. I’ve heard the question put before as to how much was he God and how much was he man, and the answer given as a paradoxical both. He was wholly God and he was wholly man. His human body would have been physical, completely earth-bound whilst his spiritual self was still God. Therefore, I would suggest that there would have been nothing mystical or special about Jesus’ physical body, to paraphrase Shakespeare: If you pricked him, he would bleed; if you tickled him, he would laugh. Physically he was just like you and I. It was his spiritual self, the Creator in human form that allowed him to live a pure life.
My conclusion: I don’t believe Jesus was married. I’m not saying that the papyrus in question is a fake (although it wouldn’t surprise me if it turned out to be), but if it’s authentic I would suggest that there’s some misrepresentation – perhaps inadvertently – on the part of the original author. I accept that Paul has quite a valid point about marriage being preferable to sexual impurity, and of course Jesus would not have required this (I do not, of course, mean that this is the only purpose of marriage). Jesus also would have much higher priorities on his plate than getting married during his life which would have taken precedence over marriage. Additionally, I’m not subscribing to some conspiracy theory of marital references being removed, and therefore if he was married, I think someone would have said so in one of the canonical gospels.
Finally, I don’t think Jesus would have gotten married – much less had kids with the knowledge that his physical future involved pain, torture and death.
I am, of course, happy to arrive in heaven when I die and for Jesus to say, “Hey, you got it wrong, this is Mary, my wife, and these are my kids.” Ultimately I probably will never know for absolute certain, but I lean very heavily onto the side of Jesus being a bachelor.
This is another follow on post from an entry I wrote recently talking about Christianity and being a good person. The entire topic sparked a bit of debate amongst myself and some friends, essentially asking if I was suggesting that as Christians we should therefore go out and do whatever we want. This interpretation of Christians and Sin wasn’t actually a point of the article, but it did raise the question and therefore I feel it warrants addressing.
The topic of Christians and Sin is an interesting one, and I’m sure there are a lot of people with fairly firmly-held beliefs and opinions.
I think the first and most important point, though, is to go straight back to scripture.
What shall we say then? Shall we continue to sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? ~ Romans 6:1-2
Here’s the thing. In becoming a Christian we accept the gift of Salvation that is ours through Jesus’ sacrifice. We then become his children and heirs to the heavenly kingdom, and like any prince or princess on earth, with that comes an element of representation and responsibility.
What do I mean by this?
Personally, I think it’s a really simple concept and we tend to try and overcomplicate things, and I think we like to overcomplicate things so that we can find the grey in things that are black and white. I know that I’m very guilty of this.
To be simple, though, you have to be blunt, so here it goes.
We have a responsibility to live a righteous life and to set an example to the rest of the world of what this actually is.
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven”. ~ Matthew 5:14-16
It’s our actions that are meant to be seen. There’s no room for grey here, Jesus quite plainly tells us that it’s through our good deeds that God will be glorified. He doesn’t say it’s through our biblical words, or through our holy aura, but it’s through our good deeds.
It’s cliché but true: Actions speak louder than words.
But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. ~ Romans 6:17-18
Sin is slavery – many people don’t realise it, but it’s true. When the Israelites were in Babylonian captivity, Daniel and others were brought before king Nebuchadnezzar to serve him. Daniel refused to consume the standard Babylonian fare and instead offered a challenge: that he and the others would take ten days living on vegetables and water rather than the food given to the rest of the servants. At the end of it Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were all better off, so they were allowed to keep going.
Live a life of chocolate, McDonalds, KFC, coke, and other junk food for ten days and tell me how you feel. Then live a life of vegetables, water, and wholesome, natural food for ten days. I don’t think anyone in the world would be able to do this and say they felt better, healthier and happier at the end of the junk food period than they did at the end of the vegetables.
Yet in so many people’s perception the junk food, the chocolate, the coke all tastes better than broccoli, carrots and water. It’s the same with life – what we think feels better doesn’t necessarily make us better. Even if we don’t always want to admit it, God has our best interests at heart by telling us how to live righteously.
Christians and Sin. Not only are we not supposed to be acting however we want – in fact Jesus calls us directly to good actions – but the fact is that through good actions we actually will benefit.
Courting vs Dating
I hope everyone’s sitting down while you’re reading this, because I’m going to say something that, for some reason, people think I have great difficulty saying.
I was wrong.
I’ll just wait for you to regain consciousness…
Recently I wrote a blog entry entitled ‘A Rose by any other Label’ in which I talked about the Christian habit of giving things our own ‘holy’ name to distinguish the ‘Christian’ function from the rest of the world. In particular the post was spurred on by some comments I read around a publicised difference between courting vs dating.
That weekend a good friend of mine came up to me and told me that I was wrong and that there is a difference between dating and courtship. This led to a fairly intense discussion on a number of areas, but ultimately I have to accept that he corrected me on my opinions on the words.
The trouble with labels – and with language in general – is that there’s always going to be an element of subjectivity in how individual words are interpreted. I’ve had the same struggle just in the past 24 hours with a couple of discussions around the topic of morality (which will be coming soon).
See, when I wrote the previous post – and when I read the comments from my friend around dating and courtship, I was viewing the topics from my own individual perspective, and perspectives are always tarnished, coloured and affected by our own unique personality and individuality.
To me, the words are synonymous, not because I consider courtship to be synonymous with the more widespread concept of dating, but because I consider dating to be synonymous with the concept of courting. At the stage of life I’m at presently, I’m not looking for a relationship just for the sake of having a relationship, and I’m not looking to just go out and have a good time with anyone. I made a commitment some time ago that the next girl I enter a relationship with will be the girl I marry.
Of course, this isn’t how many people view it – and it’s not how I always viewed it, either.
So what are the differences, then?
Through additional discussions that I’ve had since posting that blog entry, I’ve come to the following conclusions:
Dating is more casual. It’s not necessarily exclusive and isn’t necessarily entered into with any foresight towards a greater commitment, but rather is more generally about just being with ‘someone’ rather than being with ‘the one.’ While I wouldn’t say that it’s only about self-gratification, it’s definitely a lot more about ‘my’ needs, wants and desires. Ultimately, it’s a ‘try before you buy’ type of scenario.
Courting on the other hand is much more serious. It’s a completely exclusive relationship with someone that you actually have the intention of marrying. It’s not about ‘me’ or ‘you’ but rather it’s about ‘us,’ and in a Christian sense, the ‘us’ includes God as well. I guess, to me, the point of this is not so much to ‘try before you buy’ but rather to learn how to be compatible with one another ahead of marriage.
During the conversation I had with my friend, I posed the question that if courtship’s such a strong commitment, then why even bother having this extra step before marriage? Why have these stages of courtship – engagement – marriage at all? He pointed out that he’d be happy not to worry about the engagement process (although I’m sure a lot of girls would argue against having a nice romantic proposal to remember, right?). In the end, I think I agree – not that we need to eliminate the proposal and engagement, but rather that instead of viewing all of these things as separate stages, I should be viewing it as a more fluid process – like a road rather than stepping stones.
So I stand corrected and accept that there is a difference between the two. Like I said, though, language is still a tricky thing and different people will continue to have different ways of interpreting and defining various stages of relationships. Please comment below with your thoughts and ideas!
This morning I saw a photo come up on my news feed – in the picture was a punk-looking guy holding a sign that said, You don’t have to be a Christian to be a good person.
The first thought that came to mind was simple: Christianity isn’t about being good, and I said that.
Then I started thinking about it even more.
Two verses came to mind.
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. ~ Romans 3:23
There is none righteous, no, not one. ~ Romans 3:10
There’s a really incorrect perception around the world – both in and out of the Church – that Christianity is defined by the actions of Christians. It’s thanks to this perception that we see God and the Church being blamed for the sinful, wrong and mistaken actions and beliefs that are perpetuated by a handful of people labelling themselves as Christians.
I’d like to step away from Christianity a moment for a timely example: This weekend the world has been shocked by a number of violent protests from Muslims after the launch of an anti-Islamic video. The fact is that these extremists who got violent are not a wide representation of the Islamic community any more than Osama bin Laden spoke for the whole of Islam when he engaged in terrorist activities.
It’s hypocritical, judgmental and (dare I use this word) discriminatory to tar all Muslims with the same brush, and it’s the same story for Christians.
You can’t define a religion by the actions of a few extreme-minded individuals.
Christianity is not defined by the actions of Christians. Even if a line could be drawn through the actions of every single Christian to have ever lived, the definition of Christianity is not what we do, but what Christ has done.
See, around 2000 years ago, God sent his son Jesus Christ to earth. The reason he did this is because we, as humans, are impure and sinful. We are not good, and therefore we cannot enter into the presence of God who is good; who is love; who is pure. Sin is like a shadow – a shadow can never be found in light, simply because, by its definition it is an absence of light. In the same way, we cannot enter God’s presence of holiness because we are not holy. We are impure. Sinful. Not good.
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. ~ Romans 6:23
With sin comes death. If God is life, then death is the absence of God – or what is defined in scripture and mythology as Hell. What Hell ‘is’ is not a question that I ever want to know the answer to – nor do I want anyone to ever find out, because even if Hell is the party that so many people think that it’s going to be, I guarantee you something: the party’s still going to be better in heaven.
Jesus was the Son of God, he was God’s spirit in a human body. He experienced life as we experience it: Temptation, pain, suffering, joy, laughter, loss, friendship and so on. He lived a human life, but in that life he did not sin, his spirit – the spirit of God was stronger than the human temptations that we go through day after day after day. He remained pure, even in the physical existence that we deal with and because of his purity, he did not earn the wages of sin – death. In spite of this, Jesus went willingly into death.
“Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.” ~ Luke 23:42
Jesus’ choice to lay his life down was not an easy one, in fact he pleaded with God not to send him through the experience that was death. Yet ultimately his love was greater than his fear.
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear. ~ 1 John 4:18
This is the definition of Christianity, that Jesus, the Son of God gave his own life as a repayment for the death that we as impure and sinful humans earned. I am no better than any person who does not believe, and nor is anyone else.
You say that you don’t have to be a Christian to be a good person? I say that you can’t be a good person. We can redefine what good is all we want, but ultimately, as I said above, there’s no one good, no one righteous, no one pure – none except God.
Christianity has nothing to do with being good, it has nothing to do with being right and it has nothing to do with being superior to anyone else. Christianity has everything to do with love – that God loved us, and that he wants to keep loving us.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. ~ John 3:16-17
Before I write this entry, apparently I need to make a disclaimer. When I wrote the blog “Church Buildings Should have Ashtrays” a couple of weeks’ back, a friend warned me about people getting offended by criticism. So what I should mention is that nothing I write is directly aimed at one person in particular, but it’s simply general observations and thoughts that I have. Yes, they’re occasionally sparked by something in particular, but I don’t intend offense or insult to anyone.
Besides the fact that it apparently needed to be said, I also wanted to preface this entry with the statement because these thoughts were sparked by some things said by particular people.
So onto the important bit… Labels.
I was looking over my Facebook feed today and I saw someone posting up some thoughts about ‘dating’ vice ‘courtship,’ basically suggesting that the former’s a hormone-filled mad dash to “the finish line” (say no more, say no more, wink wink, nudge nudge) while the other’s all about getting to know someone and connecting with their heart in view of marriage.
It got me thinking, though, in particular about how Christians love to use labels to demonstrate the separation between ‘Godly’ and not.
The biggest label that comes to mind: Christianity’s not a religion, it’s a relationship.
Let me just ask, what’s religion, exactly?
- The service and worship of God or the supernatural
- Commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance
- A personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs and practices
Christianity is a relationship with God, yes. That doesn’t automatically exclude it from being a religion. We are, as Christians, in service and worship of God – that makes it a religion. In spite of all the arguments people want to make otherwise, it is an institutionalized system of beliefs. The modern church is an institution – there are different branches (denominations) but you can’t tell me that you’re not an institution when you have a boards, bodies of oversight, structured hierarchies of leadership and the rest.
That, my friends, is an “established organization” – an institution.
And what about Courtship and Dating?
It’s the same thing. It’s a pre-marital, pre-engagement period of getting to know someone in a series of one-on-one situations that allows you to determine if you want to take your relationship to the next level. In fact, ‘date’ is a synonym of the verb form of ‘court.’
Same thing. Different label.
Yet for some reason, we seem to think that if we give something a new name that separates it from the heathen worldly version of things, it makes our version of things the ‘holy’ one.
Christians aren’t religious, they’re in a relationship with God – that’s what makes us better (sorry, I mean ‘different’) to the rest of those religious heathens and pagans out there.
Christians don’t date, they ‘court’ – It’s dating without sex, and all those non-Christians out there dating one another are obviously evil non-Christians having orgies and getting pregnant before marriage. Courtship must the holy version – and if we call it that, then what, it will stop our human hormones from going into overdrive when the lights are low and no one’s around?
I doubt it.
I’m not saying don’t call it that. Call it what you like – just don’t go around acting like it makes you holier than anyone else because you have a different label.
And speaking of marriage – what about that one?
Would we have so many arguments in the world right now if people were fighting for the right of ‘same-sex unions,’ or gave it another label? I actually know from more than my share of conversations on this topic – this would be so much less contentious if we weren’t arguing about ‘marriage.’
It’s all in the label.
The other day I posted a link on my Facebook to a news story about a New Zealand university Christian group who’d come up with an interesting ‘marketing’ tactic this Easter. Throw eggs at Christians!
The catch? You have to let them share the gospel with you.
I posted this through, and a friend commented to ask what coloured eggs had to do with Easter. I replied nothing, but nor did they have anything to do with the story.
But it got me wondering about something. In my past life, I used to be quite contentious about Easter, Christmas and some other minor Christian calendar events.
Why? Because of their history.
For me, at a stage in my life following paganism as a spiritual belief, there was something offensive to me about these Christians making a festival all about their God and their Jesus when that wasn’t what it was all about in the first place. The perspective was one of these Christians barging into countries who didn’t want them and taking over the place, turning the holidays into Christian holidays, and manipulating the people into giving up their own, older religious beliefs for this new one.
A little history lesson: Easter, like Christianity, does potentially have some origins based in the ancient pagan religions. There is some evidence of a Germanic goddess, Eostre (or Ostara) as being a goddess over spring in ancient times, however the first mention of her does state that the festival was already extinct, and there are some scholars today who argue that she may have been invented by Bede (the scholar who first wrote about her).
I’m not saying one way or the other, personally, because to me it doesn’t matter – and I’ll get to that.
What I want to pause and think about, really, is the whole thing about Christianisation of pagan festivals. As I stated above, once upon a time I took this as an offense, as a sort of espionage tactic by the Christians to make it easier to impose their religion on the people of another one.
I think, while it might be possible, it’s certainly less feasible than the other angle.
See, even whilst not walking with God, I still celebrated Easter and Christmas. I went looking for reasons to justify continuing to celebrate them given a lack of belief in Christianity, but I still celebrated them all the same.
Now imagine, say, 1500 years ago, whole villages and towns were coming to Christ. You become Christian in January, and suddenly April rolls around – here’s the Spring festival that you’ve been celebrating your whole life, but suddenly the gods you were worshiping aren’t the same anymore. What do you do?
You party anyway, and you celebrate with God.
If you travel around the world and stop in at Christian meetings throughout the nations, you’ll see differences in the way they worship depending on culture. The advantage of Christianity, and that we celebrate a personal relationship with God, is that there aren’t specific rituals that say you must worship in X manner. The way different cultures worship is an example of the freedom that we have in Christ to worship God and to have our relationship with Him in a manner that fits with us.
So when it comes to Easter, Christmas or anything else, then regardless of their origins, we can celebrate also. It’s not about ‘stealing’ the celebrations from the pagans; I genuinely don’t think that’s what happened. I would suggest that it was simply a cultural adaptation – they had a party last year, the year before, and every year before that too, so why not have a party this year with God?
And as for Easter Eggs?
I was surprised, actually, because this one does actually seem to have stemmed from a Christian tradition. Observation of Lent (I’m not even going there – I’ll eat steak when I like, thank you) had people not eating red meat or dairy, and eggs were included in this. So before refrigerators, they had all these chickens laying eggs, but nothing to do with them.
How rude of the chickens not to observe Lent, I say.
But hey, if you have a whole heap of eggs that you can’t eat, why not do something with them? Paint them up, colour them in and give them to one another. Still better than just throwing them away, right?
Here’s a moment of realisation.
“With your own eyes you saw those great trials, those miraculous signs and great wonders. But to this day the LORD has not given youa mind that understands or eyes that see or ears that hear.” ~ Deuteronomy 30:3-4
There are a great number of ‘Christian Cliches’ out there that people like to throw around – and I say throw around because quite often, I feel, they are statements that get said without really thinking of the meaning behind them. We sing in church lines like, ‘take all of me’ or ‘I give you my life’ and other things like that – but do we sing them with a conviction in our heart as to what they actually mean as a commitment?
The other side, though, of cliches, is that they become cliche for a reason. They just work. They are short statements that actually convey what a person is trying to say.
One other one that I’ve heard many a time is about the ‘scales falling from their eyes’ - going back to Saul/Paul’s conversion and how ‘something like scales’ fell from his eyes.
This is basically used to describe that moment of realisation, of actually recognising God and his awesomeness.
It’s kind of like what’s going on here for the Israelites, too. Things that they may not have thought of, or had gotten to a point of taking it for granted, were pointed out to them as something to go, “wow” at. In forty years, their clothes didn’t wear out. They ate no bread and drank no wine. They won battles – and considering the fact that really, they probably had no military training, this too was something to be able to look at and realise that God had been taking care of them the whole time.
I did this so that you might know that I am the LORD your God. ~ Deuteronomy 29:6
I remember nice and clearly my own moment like this. My moment of ‘scales falling’ so to speak – when I came back to God last year and opened my heart and life to him again. I’d been going through a process of being drawn back in, I guess, and finally stood there and realised: I could not, and cannot deny God’s existence; and I could not, and cannot deny Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. At that point I realised, nothing else actually matters in the long run – if I cannot deny those things, then I have no choice but to accept the gift of love, grace and salvation that God gave to me.
What moments of clarity have there been in your life?