Lent, Ashes, Easter, Rabbits and Eggs - What's it all about?
Garner Ted Armstrong & Eugene M Walter
Just WHAT is "Easter"? What does the NAME mean? Have you ever WONDERED WHY you believe and practice certain customs? You'll be surprised to find the PLAIN TRUTH about Easter!
AS CHILDREN, to most of us the word "Easter" always meant bright, colorful, egg-shaped jelly beans; grass nests, with cute little Walt Disney-type bunnies; and newsreels about the big parade on Fifth Avenue in New York. The name didn't bother us, especially. It seemed to rhyme with "yeast," or perhaps have something to do with a direction, like "East." But EVERYONE seemed to figure it was mighty important to pay it some special attention, and, being normal people who were inclined to get starry-eyed over brightly lit candy counters and beribboned store windows, it probably seemed like a good idea at the time.
But What Does It Have to Do With Christ?
Following the crowd is a tremendous pull on little children. But Easter wasn't invented by children — and it's not child's play! What about it? Did YOU ever wonder about some of the strange customs being observed by "Christian" societies today? Just what do eggs have to do with Christ, and His resurrection? What DO rabbits and eggs have in common? Rabbits most assuredly do not lay eggs — even though millions of little children are taught to assume they do! And why "hot cross buns"? Why not cold triangle ones, or just plain bread? And what was there about Wednesday that led to putting ashes on one's forehead, and what is really "good" about FRIDAY? And IF Friday was the day Christ was crucified, then WHY did He keep INSISTING (Matt. 12:40) He was going to be THREE complete days, and THREE complete nights in the tomb? He couldn't have been — IF He was resurrected on Sunday morning, could He?
You would be literally SHOCKED if you read the true HISTORY of the "hot cross bun," the Easter bunny, the eggs, the practice of bowing toward the East as the sun rises! You would be still MORE shocked if you knew of the purely PAGAN festivities, the heathen orgies, the licentious rioting associated with "Lent" in many countries RIGHT NOW, TODAY! In Germany several years ago, the usual riotous "Mardi Gras" was taking place in Cologne. People were acting as if insane — drunken revelry was taking place — hideous masks, weird costumes, idiotic dancing and noise-making were everywhere. We asked passersby what it all meant! One man said, vaguely, "Oh, it's for the CHILDREN!" Another said it had no "special" meaning. Only one man out of several seemed to know it was the pre-Lenten RIOTING that accompanied the days of "fasting" prior to EASTER! After all — who needs an excuse, people reason, to attend a party?
It's Easter — But Why?
On one Sunday morning each spring, a strange and bewildering phenomenon takes place in cities, towns, and country sides around the world. Instead of sleeping late as usual, many thousands will get up early on this day — very early. They must be at their destination well before sunrise. The occasion? A game of golf? A fishing trip? No, not on this particular morning. Instead, they will meet with friends and, of all things, watch the sun rise! And as if this were not strange enough, this is all part of a religious service! On this very same day, millions of others will be preparing to do something unusual, too. This is one of the two or three times during the year when they will darken the door of a church! Or perhaps it would be better to say decorate the door of a church, for they will have purchased fashionable new clothes especially for the occasion. Some, because their forty days of partial abstinence called "Lent" are over, will once again freely indulge themselves. Others anticipate a family reunion, a big ham dinner or, perhaps, a fashion show or a parade. And the children? They are absolutely delighted with the chocolate rabbits, the colored eggs, and the prospect of exciting egg-hunting and egg-rolling games on the lawn! This is Easter — one of the big holidays of the Western year! But what is its purpose? What is it supposed to commemorate? And why all these incongruous activities? Why watch the sun rise on this day? Why purchase new clothes for it? Why eat ham for dinner? Why rabbits? Why not a puppy or a kitten? They can lay just as many eggs as a rabbit. But then, WHY eggs? Wouldn't oranges or onions roll just as well? To a world steeped in tradition, these customs seem normal. But when you stop to think about it, what real sense do the activities of this day we call "Easter" make, anyway? And why is Easter observed on a Sunday? Why not on a Tuesday, Thursday or Monday? To this question many will immediately reply that Sunday was the day on which Christ rose from the dead and that His resurrection is the very reason for observing Easter. But is it? WAS Christ resurrected on a Sunday? Are you sure? Have you ever proved it from the Bible? And what has the Easter rabbit to do with Christ's resurrection? Where did the "Good Friday — Easter Sunday" tradition come from? How did it find its way into the professing Christian Church? Why is it observed throughout the entire Western world today?
Where Easter Came From
Believe it or not, Easter was observed thousands of years before the time of Christ and the beginning of the Christian era! "Easter" is merely the slightly changed English spelling of the name of the ancient Assyrian goddess, Ishtar. It was pronounced by the Assyrians exactly as we pronounce "Easter" today. Hislop says in The Two Babylons that Easter "bears its Chaldean origin on its very forehead. Easter is nothing else than Astarte, one of the titles of Beltis, the 'queen of heaven,' whose name, as pronounced by the people of Nineveh, was evidently identical with that now in common use in this country" (p. 103). In the Bible, God condemns the worship of Astarte, the "Queen of Heaven," as the most abominable of all pagan idolatries. In connection with the Easter celebration, God specifically condemns sunrise services (Ezek. 8:13-18) and the making of "hot cross buns" (Jer. 7:18-20; 44:19). How did this pagan celebration ever become one of the two most important holidays of the professing Christian Church?
Easter a Counterfeit of God's Passover
Now read the facts for yourself. The Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th edition, article "Easter," says: "There is no indication of the observance of the Easter festival in the New Testament or in the writings of the Apostolic Fathers... The first Christians [the original TRUE Church of Jesus and the apostles) continued to observe the Jewish [that is God's] festivals, though in a new spirit, as commemorations of events which those festivals had foreshadowed. Thus the Passover, with a new conception added to it, of Christ as the true Paschal Lamb and the first-fruits from the dead, continued to be observed." Of course! The Passover and all of God's Holy Days were ordained by God to picture God's PLAN of salvation. Christ, the apostles, and the New Testament Church — both Jewish — and Gentile-born Christians — kept these festivals. Read it for yourself in Acts 2:1; 18:21; 20:6 and 27:9. Then open your Bible to these instructions of Paul to the Gentiles in I Cor. 5:7-8; 11:20-34 and 16:8. These scriptures prove that the New Testament Church continued to observe the days God made holy, including the Passover, long after Christ had ascended into heaven. Hislop states, "The festival, of which we read in church history, under the name of Easter, in the third and fourth centuries... at that time was not known by any such name as Easter. It was called... Passover.... That festival agreed originally with the time of the Jewish Passover, when Christ was crucified.... That festival was not idolatrous, and was preceded by no Lent" (p. 104). God's Passover pictured Christ's death. Contrast this with Easter. It falsely claims to commemorate Christ's resurrection — not His death. When did this clever counterfeit creep into the professing Christian Church?
How a Pagan Easter Became "Christian"
Easter was a pagan festival long before Christianity and the New Testament Church ever existed. It anciently commemorates the Friday death and supposed Sunday resurrection of Nimrod, the false pagan savior! In the great apostasy which swept through the New Testament world in the latter part of the first century, this pagan "Good Friday — Easter Sunday" tradition was falsely applied to the death and resurrection of the true Savior, Jesus Christ. It was made to appear "Christian." This teaching became especially popular in the area around Rome. But in Asia Minor, where the Apostle Paul had established Churches, the New Testament Passover continued to be observed on Nisan 14. The Encyclopedia Britannica, article "Easter," states: "Generally speaking, the Western Churches kept Easter on the first day of the week, while the Eastern Churches [containing most of those who remained as part of the TRUE Christian Church] followed the Jewish rule [observing Passover on 14 Nisan, the first month of the Sacred Hebrew Calendar]." This difference soon led to serious controversy. Gradually the Greek and Asian Churches began to succumb to the pagan tradition. This same article in Britannica states: "Polycarp, the disciple of John the Evangelist, and bishop of Smyrna, visited Rome in 159 to confer with Anicetus, the bishop of that See, on the subject, and urged the tradition which he had received from the apostle of observing the 14th day. Anicetus, however, declined." The story doesn't end here! "About forty years later [A.D. 197] the question was discussed in a very different spirit between Victor, bishop of Rome, and Polycrates, metropolitan of pro-consular Asia [the territory of the Churches established by the Apostle Paul]. That province was the only portion of Christendom which still adhered to the Jewish [the writer should have said "true Christian"] usage. Victor demanded that all should adopt the usage prevailing at Rome. This Polycrates firmly refused to agree to, and urged many weighty reasons to the contrary, whereupon Victor proceeded to excommunicate Polycrates and the Christians who continued the Eastern usage [that is, GOD'S way]. He was however, restrained [by other bishops] from actually proceeding to enforce the decree of excommunication... and the Asiatic Churches retained their usage unmolested. We find the Jewish [the true Christian] usage from time to time reasserting itself after this, but it never prevailed to any large extent." It did, however, crop up from time to time as an irksome and annoying issue that caused disunity in the professing Christian Church. When the pagan Roman Emperor Constantine convoked the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D., heordered the bishops to settle the matter once and for all. It was one of the two big issues of the Council.
Council Confirms Roman Usage
At the time of the Nicean Council, the Syrians and the Antiochenes were the only defenders of the observance of the 14th day. They stood little chance! "The decision of the council was unanimous that Easter was to be kept on Sunday, and on the same Sunday throughout the world, and that 'none hereafter should follow the blindness of the Jews' " (ibid). In the spiritually darkened minds of those at the Council, anything that was Biblical — anything that God commanded — was "Jewish." The bishops at Nicea so abhorred anything they thought to be Jewish that they "decided that Easter Day should always be on a Sunday, but never at the same time as the feast of the Jews. If the 14th Nisan fell on a Sunday, Easter Day was transferred to the following Sunday"! (Burns, The Council of Nicea, p. 46) "For how," explains Constantine — "could we who are Christians possibly keep the same day as those wicked Jews?" (Arian Controversy, Gwatkin, P. 38) So strong was the anti-Jewish feeling that pork or ham — an abomination to the Jews — was deliberately eaten on Easter to show utter contempt for anything "Jewish." In this case the "Jewish" way also happened to be God's way as revealed in the Bible. (Write for the free article, "Is All Animal Flesh Good Food?") Thus the Nicean Council — regarded by the world as one of the great milestones of Christianity — condemned observance of the New Testament Passover, one of God's most sacred memorials, without even looking into the Bible! And by "violence and bloodshed" — as history shows (Hislop, p. 107) — the observance of the pagan Easter was enforced in its place.
When Was Christ Resurrected?
Shocking though it may be, either the "Good Friday-Easter Sunday" tradition is a fable — or you have no Savior! Jesus gave only one sign to prove that He was the Messiah. That sign was the length of time He would be dead and buried. Notice Jesus' own words concerning this ONLY SIGN that would prove His Messiahship: "An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" (Matt. 12:39-40). Did Christ mean what He said? Did He really expect to be buried in the earth for three days and three nights — a full 72 hours? Notice Mark 8:31: "And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and AFTER three days rise again." Did you grasp that? Jesus did not say "after a day and a half." He said "after THREE DAYS." Now consider! If Jesus were crucified and buried late on "Good Friday," then one day after would be Saturday evening, and two days after would be Sunday evening, and three days after would be Monday evening. But Jesus rose long before Monday evening! Either He was not crucified on "Good Friday," or He did not fulfill His sign and He is therefore an impostor and not the Messiah! Did Jesus fulfill His sign? In Matthew 28:6 we read this testimony of the angel at the tomb: "He [Jesus] is not here: for he is risen, AS HE SAID"! Jesus did fulfill His sign! He is the Savior! Then He could not have been crucified on "Good Friday"!
What Day Was the Crucifixion?
Jesus was buried shortly before sunset on the day of the crucifixion (Luke 23:53-54). Since Jesus said that He would "rise the third day" after His crucifixion, it is obvious that the resurrection must have occurred precisely at the completion of the third day following His burial. That moment would be near sunset three days later. When the women came to the tomb early Sunday morning, Jesus was already risen! The angel said, "He is risen: he is not here" (Mark 16:6). He was not at the sepulcher Sunday morning. Therefore Jesus could not have risen later than near sunset Saturday afternoon — three days after His burial. Why shortly before sunset on a Saturday? Well, obviously, if Christ was ALREADY RISEN on Sunday morning, and WAS NOT THERE — and if He meant what He plainly said concerning His length of time in the tomb, and if He was, as the Bible plainly states, buried shortly BEFORE A SUNSET, then the nearest SUNSET prior to the early predawn darkness of Sunday morning was the PREVIOUS LATE SATURDAY AFTERNOON! Christ said He would be in the tomb for THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS! Can we count back in time to discover, then, WHEN He was buried? Three days before Saturday would place the crucifixion on Wednesday! That Wednesday was a preparation day — a preparation day for what? For the annual Feast of Unleavened Bread. The first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread is always an annual Sabbath. So Thursday that year was an annual Sabbath. So that we would know that that Sabbath which followed the crucifixion was not the weekly Sabbath, John was inspired to call it a "high day" (John 19:31). According to Jewish usage this expression means an annual Sabbath or Holy Day which may occur any day during the week. Now look at your Bible again. Mark picks up John's account by adding that after that Sabbath — the high day of the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread — the women bought sweet spices to use in anointing the body of Jesus (Mark 16:1). This purchasing of the spices could not have been on Thursday, the annual Sabbath. It had to be on the following day, Friday. Having made their purchases and prepared these ointments on Friday, the women then "rested the Sabbath day according to the commandment" (Luke 23:56). This was a different day — the weekly Sabbath, the seventh day of the week. Upon that day — near its close — Jesus was raised from the dead exactly three days and three nights after He was buried in the tomb. Could anything be plainer? Your Bible proves that the resurrection was not on Sunday. The crucifixion was not on Friday. Rather, Christ died near sunset on Wednesday and was resurrected near sunset on Saturday, three days and three nights later. (This is all explained in much greater detail in the booklets, The Resurrection Was Not On Sunday and The Crucifixion Was Not On Friday. Both are free)
Does It Make Any Difference?
Some will still say, "Yes, I know that Easter has a pagan origin, and I can plainly see that Christ was not resurrected on a Sunday. But as long as we keep Easter in a Christian spirit as a kind of remembrance of Christ's resurrection, what difference does it make? After all — REGARDLESS as to the significance of the day, or the various customs associated with it, we're doing it to remember the resurrection of Christ, aren't we?" Not the Christ of the Bible, you're not! And the answer is — it doesn't MAKE A BIT of difference, if Christ Is NOT alive, and if the Bible is NOT the Word of God, and if there is no God! Because if there is no God, and we're left free to pick and choose whatever custom most appeals to us for OUR OWN religions — then let's have at it with great zeal! But, at least, let's call a spade a spade — and realize the TRUE significance of the symbols we use. But since there is a God — and since Jesus Christ REALLY DID walk from His tomb, then it does make a tremendous difference — to CHRIST! There is not a single word in the Bible telling us to observe Easter. Instead, God thunders, "LEARN NOT the way of the heathen" (Jer. 10:2). And any encyclopedia will tell you that Easter is a pagan festival, long antedating Christianity. More detailed proof is available in our surprising free booklet, The Plain Truth About Easter! Are you going to obey God? The choice is yours.