Why, you may ask, do Christians call the Sunday Jesus rose from the dead “Easter”?
Apparently Christians are capable of getting their knickers in a knot about this: the word itself derives from an old English word, “Eostre,” which is the name of a pre-Christian deity.
What? Were those rascally medievals trying to foist pagan practices on the innocent followers of Jesus?
No, no, a thousand times no.
There are some very interesting cases of early and medieval Christians taking over bits and pieces from pagan practice and weaving them into Christianity (the date chosen for Christmas and locations of certain places of worship come to mind). The result could actually help the church to grow: if people were already taking that day off, or if they were used to worshipping at that place, it could be a way to reach them with the Christian message.
But that isn’t what happened with Easter and “Eostre.”
The evidence comes from the 8th century Church historian known as The Venerable Bede. In a book called The Reckoning of Time Bede tells us that before Christianity the months of the year were named for the pre-Christian deities.
So what we think of as “April” was, long ago, called “Eosturmonath” or “Eostre’s Month.”
English speakers shouldn’t find this too unfamiliar, since we have days of the week like “Wednesday,” “Thursday,” and “Friday.” Think Woden’s Day, Thor’s Day, and Frigg’s Day. Heaven help us if using the very language forces us into tacit paganism.
So “Easter” is just a word for the month. The word from pagan culture just got carried over after the uniquely Christian Holy Day began to be celebrated.
Bede also tells us that by his time people had come to call April “Paschal Month.”
Much earlier, and still in Orthodoxy, the holy day came to be called the “Pascha.”
The term refers to “Passover,” the great Jewish holy day remembering the deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt. God “passed over” the Israelite’s houses when the deadly plague came on Egypt. It is what finally led to their release to escape through the parted waters of the Red Sea.
“Easter” is the Christian “Pascha” — our new Exodus through Christ
Christians (with a great deal of biblical evidence to help them) were declaring that Jesus’ resurrection was the Christian Passover — in Christ we are now delivered from slavery to sin, and freed to new life, belonging to God.
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