For my family, the answer to the question the title of this article asks is no and yes. For others, the answer is yes and yes. For still other families the answer is no and no, and for a very few families, the answer is yes and no. First, the difference between the two: Easter is the traditional name for the time the church celebrates the Resurrection of Jesus. Why then would I distinguish the two? There are two reasons—one old and less important and the other new and more important.
Centuries ago, when the Christian faith first became the dominant faith of the Roman Empire, there was a self-conscious attempt to “Christianize” pagan festivals already in existence. Easter was one such attempt to take the festival of the pagan god Ishtar and replace it with a celebration of the Resurrection. Some make arguments that this is a good thing, an attempt to conquer our enemies or even a reflection of the apologetical approach of Paul at Mars Hill. Some make arguments that this is a bad thing, a syncretism of Christianity and paganism.
My argument would be that meanings can change over time, and we need not feel conscience bound not to do something because heathens did something similar on a similar day centuries ago. I appreciate the sensitivities about ancient history, but I still believe it to be ancient history. My bigger concern with Easter is its current jumbled meaning.
Easter vs. Resurrection Day In modern Western culture, Easter has come to represent a generic springtime holiday marked by lots of candy, fluffy and/or chocolate bunnies, and real or marshmallow chicks. I like candy more than the next guy. What I don’t much care for is celebrating nothing. Easter as a cultural holiday, if it has any religious significance at all, signifies at best our civil religion. It is a polite nod from a radically secularized broader culture to a purposefully misty Christian background. It is that day when we as Americans acknowledge the spiritual convictions of our ancestors.
It is a day for honoring the dead.
Resurrection Day, on the other hand, is a day for honoring the living. It is that day when we celebrate the astonishing fact that Jesus Christ, having been in the grave for three days, walked out, not just alive but vindicated. Resurrection Day is a day for those who have been raised up into the heavenly places with Christ Jesus to rejoice in His victory over the grave.
It is that day each year when we rejoice over the most pivotal event in all history. Some families see this distinction but still choose to celebrate neither. A long-standing tradition, dating back to the Puritans, suggests we may not as Christians celebrate any religious “holidays” for two reasons. First, their perspective says that when it comes to worship, we may only do those things that God’s Word commands. There is no command to set apart this one Sunday; therefore, we may not do so.
Second, God gave us fifty-two Sundays to rejoice and celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord. Every Lord’s Day, from this perspective, is Resurrection Sunday.
It should not surprise us that this Puritan perspective came with a particular challenge. If God designed us to mark time, to set apart seasons for celebrations, and we will not do so because of our faith, we might do so for other reasons. The Puritans, for all their religious zeal, actually created many “civil” holidays. Because those holidays weren’t “Christian,” governments allowed them. Because they weren’t Christian, they may have helped lead future generations away from the faith. In like manner, there may be a few today who follow a similar pattern, refusing to celebrate on one particular day the Resurrection, but who would be willing to celebrate “Easter,” a denuded and meaningless celebration of the coming of spring.
Yes and Yes On the other side of the spectrum from the Puritans are those who celebrate both “Easter” and Resurrection Day. They are confessing Christians.
They worship not just on Christmas and Easter but on each Lord’s Day. Their celebration of this particular Lord’s Day includes chocolate bunnies, colored eggs, and marshmallow peeps. These folks, who I suspect included most of us when we were growing up, see some kind of loose connection between the “Easter” trappings and the Resurrection. The two ultimately become welded together. These folks seem comfortable joining the broader culture in their celebration and adding to it the significance of the Resurrection.
No, and Yes We ought, I believe, to adopt the position that eschews the celebration of Easter and leaves room for the celebration of Resurrection Day. The trouble with the civil holiday isn’t that it is civil nor that it is a holiday. It is instead that such a day is not worthy of a celebration. New hats, rising seasonal temperatures, and a mammoth cache of candy are not sufficient to warrant having a party.
The Resurrection is worth celebrating and celebrating with vigor. At the church where I serve, we have no egg hunts. We have no one in a bunny suit. We have, instead, a great feast, the grandest feast of the year. We make toasts and hold a dance. The desserts that weigh down our tables make Easter baskets look anemic in comparison. It is indeed true that we celebrate the Resurrection each week. But that does not preclude us from giving a special focus one Sunday each year. To take my wife out for a fine meal on our anniversary, for instance, doesn’t mean I’m not grateful for her every day. That we leave room for such celebration, without imposing it, likewise seems to cover the basic objections of the Puritans.
Our Heart Celebrations Ultimately, we must remember that there will always be a
the connection between what is in our hearts and what fills our days. Those who reject any celebration of any kind would be wise to examine their own hearts to see if perhaps they are missing the joy of their salvation. Those who are more concerned with candy and sundry traditions would be wise to examine their own hearts to see if perhaps they are missing the point of the day. Those of us who celebrate Resurrection Day and not Easter would be wise to examine our own hearts to be certain we aren’t simply baptizing Easter to would be wise to examine our own hearts to be certain we aren’t t simply baptizing Easter to keep up with the world outside the church.
All of us, wherever we land on this issue, ought to remember the inspired wisdom of Paul who told us, “Who are you to judge another’s the servant? To his own master, he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day over another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it” (Romans 14:4–6a). All of us who are in Christ, on the other hand, ought every day to wake and sing, “Christ the Lord is risen today, alleluia.”