Joyce was getting ready to post something on Facebook this morning and she said, “I’m going to wish everyone a happy “Resurrection Day.”
“Why don’t you say Happy Easter?” I asked.
“What does the word Easter mean?” she asked me.
My answer was, “Gee, I don’t know.” So I looked it up.
According to the Venerable Bede, an English Monk and historian from the 8th century, the word Easter came from the goddess “Eostre” whose festival was celebrated by pagan Anglo Saxons at the vernal equinox and was associated with spring and fertility. Perhaps this is a reason that some people don’t want to use the word “Easter.” The only problem is that there is no other record of this goddess in antiquity.
The English word “Easter” is related to the German “Ostern” which refers to the east—the dawning. That makes sense. But there must be a better reason.
The strongest tradition relates Easter to Passover. Jesus was in Jerusalem for the Passover feast and the Gospel writer John makes of point of telling us that at noon, the hour of Jesus crucifixion, the paschal lambs were also slaughtered. The Hebrew word for Passover is “pesah” and in most European languages it is the origin of the word for Easter.
Just as the Paschal lambs were sacrificed to atone for the sins of the people, the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross becomes the atonement for our sin. Easter then means more than “resurrection,” it means forgiveness of sin through the cross and abundant life and life everlasting through the resurrection. The cross loses its meaning without the resurrection. The resurrection loses its power without the cross.
I’m often asked why we use the term “Maundy Thursday.” That question is one I do know without having to look it up. The word “Maundy” is Latin for mandate. It was on Thursday night of Holy Week in the Upper Room that Jesus gave his disciples a new mandate, a new commandment, “That you love one another as I have loved you.”
I can’t think of a better way of celebrating Easter than following Jesus mandate to love one another, can you? Especially since our sins have been forgiven and we have the dawning of a new day to live!