Resurrection: The True Meaning of Easter

( [email protected] ) Apr 10, 2004 12:31 PM EDT

Easter isn’t what it used to be—figuratively and historically—according to some churches who have switched from calling the third day after Jesus’ crucifixion Easter to calling it Resurrection Day. They feel the name is more accurate in depicting what the day means to Christians.

Dr. Mark Bailey, president of Dallas Theological Seminary, gave two main reasons why some pastors have omitted Easter from their Holy Week lingo.

The first involves the background of Easter, according to Dr. Bailey. The word “Easter” derived from the Scandinavian "Ostra" and the Teutonic "Ostern" or "Eastre," names used for their goddess of spring and fertility.

"Churches want to make clear that this isn't a holdover of a pagan holiday," Dr. Bailey said.

The traditional objects used as part of today’s Easter celebrations also have roots in pagan celebrations of springtime. Eggs are the most identifiable symbol of new life and rabbits have long represented fertility, according to a Catholic Encyclopedia.

Dr. Bailey explained a second reason for not using the word “Easter” due to its increasing commercialization. It "is not about eggs, it's not about rabbits,” he said. “Many churches choose to emphasize the Resurrection.”

“Easter” in today’s culture is celebrated on the second Sunday of April, 3 days after Jesus’ crucifixion on Good Friday and 40 days after the beginning of Lent Season.

By calling the celebration by a different name, churches are able to redirect its focus.

"The background of the word Easter speaks of fertility, but for us, the Resurrection speaks of life," said the Rev. Ralph Holland said. "Christ gave us new life. We're born again."

Holland is the senior pastor at a Spanish-language church, Mundo de Fe, started by Covenant Church in Carrollton, Texas. Both churches refer to Easter as "Resurrection Sunday."

Some Christians are displeased with the commercialization of the event.

“We object to manufacturers usurping our Holy Days, and Easter is really picking up momentum," says Gerald Iversen, of Iowa-based Alternatives for Simple Living, a 30-year-old nonprofit that helps churches challenge consumerism.

St. John Missionary Baptist Church in Grand Prairie, Texas, have a unique way of addressing the concern with Easter becoming too commercialized and they sometimes call Easter “dress down day."

"We want to take the focus off the commercialization," said Paul Jones, a spokesman for the church.

"Our purpose is not to celebrate corporate America at this time, but the Resurrection Day,” he said. “The focus is not on wearing a fancy Easter bonnet and new patent leather shoes.” The 12,000-memberchurch attends service wearing T-shirts, jeans or what they want, according to Jones.

While some Christians are worried that the current cultural practices of “Easter” will dilute its meaning, some think are okay as long as they remember is significance.

"I don't get bent out of shape with people celebrating with Easter bunnies," said Rev. Jeff Jones, senior pastor of Fellowship Bible Church North in Plano, Texas. "It's up to parents, if they know Christ, to make sure that it's more than that."

Although the name of the celebration may vary from Easter to Resurrection Day to Resurrection Sunday, there is one fact that’s unchanging.

"It's the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus as the Son of God," said Dr. Bailey.