Jamaica Gleaner / It is in seasons like this that I miss my colleague and foil, Ian Anthony Boyne (1957-2017), who could be relied on to write a column attacking traditional orthodox Christianity for celebrating the Feast of Easter. His argument, following his decidedly unorthodox mentor Herbert W. Armstrong, was that Easter had its roots in paganism, the word ‘Easter’ being derived from the Germanic goddess”ostre, associated with spring festivals with bunnies and eggs. Ian was always right about one thing: the WORD ‘Easter’ does have pagan roots, but NOT the Christian celebration called Easter, which has its roots in the historical events of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ. English is a hodgepodge of a language, incorporating words from all over the place, including German. But the origin of a word must not be confused with its meaning. In Spanish, the word for the season is ‘Pascua’; in French, Pâques, and in Portuguese, it is ‘Páscoa’; these words derive from the Greek word ‘pascho’, which in English means ‘I suffer’. In English, we refer to Eastertide as the ‘Paschal Season”. If Ian’s language of discourse was Spanish, French, or Portuguese, he would not be able to argue that this holy Christian season has pagan roots. His problem, really, was with the English language, which drew on Old High German for the word, to which he takes objection, to describe the season. Where did Herbert W. Armstrong (and Ian) get his information about the goddess”ostre? In antiquity, there is only one reference: by the English monk, the Venerable Bede (673-735), in his 8th-century work The Reckoning of Time. Bede states that during ‘Eastermonth (the equivalent of April), pagan Anglo-Saxons had held feasts in”ostre’s honour, but that this tradition had died out by Bede’s time, having been replaced by the Christian Paschal month, a celebration of the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. Evangelisation in Britain was so successful that Christian worship had replaced the earlier devotion to pagan gods (like Woden after whom Wednesday is named) and goddesses (like”ostre). For the English, springtime had become associated with Easter, and it may have been imprudent (although culturally understandable) to retain the name even though the cult of”ostre had died out long before 725 when Bede wrote his treatise. The fact is, though, that the Christian celebration of Passiontide always takes place around springtime, and this is because its roots lie in the Jewish Passover which always takes place around springtime. Spring begins with the vernal, or spring, Equinox, when the length of the daylight and night-time hours are exactly equal. Passover always falls on the first full moon after the vernal equinox, and Easter is always the first Sunday after Passover. For Christians, the timing of this season (and of Christmas) is of great symbolic importance. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them a light has shone” prophesied Isaiah (9:2). The birth of Jesus (the Light of the World) was placed at the darkest time of the year, and in the weeks and months thereafter, the daylight hours slowly got longer, until springtime when the day became longer than the night (i.e. the light had conquered the darkness). Passover for the Jews was when those in slavery in Egypt were saved from the angel of death by the blood of the (Passover) lamb, and ultimately saved from slavery. Easter is the Christian Passover: those in slavery to sin are saved by the blood of the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. For Christians, because of the Easter events, there is no more death, which has lost its sting: what appears as death is simply a shift from one kind of life to another. And that is why for Christians, this week – called Holy Week – is ‘the week that changed the world’. The Christian celebration of Passiontide does take place around springtime, because that is when – in the natural scheme of things – the light conquers the darkness; in parallel with the theological truth that the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ, conquered the darkness of sin and reversed ‘The Fall’ represented by the primordial sin of Adam and Eve. The appearance of controversy can create doubt and uncertainty where none should exist. Armstrongites like Ian created doubts in people’s minds with the false claim that “Easter is a pagan feast’. The word Easter may have pagan origins, but the Christian celebration of the Easter events was never a pagan feast. May the choices you make bring to your life today the full effect of the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus so long ago. Peter Espeut is development scientist and a Roman Catholic deacon. Email feedback to [email protected] .
JAMAICA: Peter Espeut | The week that changed the world
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