What About Easter?

Today (actually starting at sundown yesterday) is Passover.  Tomorrow is Easter.  While thinking of what to prepare for this morning, I thought, why don’t I do some research into why Seventh Day Adventists do not celebrate these holidays like most other Christians in the world today?  I looked it up.  There is no official statement about Easter from the Seventh Day Adventist Church.  Of course we do kind of celebrate Passover in our communion services, but not on the actual day specified for passover in the pentateuch.

I don’t know about you, but my experience with Easter growing up SDA was that we would get together with family or friends and have an Easter Egg hunt.  I never understood why we did it, but I really enjoyed the “hunt” part of it.  I think I knew that rabbits didn’t actually lay eggs.  The eggs we dyed were from chickens.  It was fun to try to make the eggs different colors with dyes, and I did like the taste of a hard-boiled egg with some salt, something that I normally didn’t get to eat since my mom tried to avoid cooking with them.  To me, it was just one of those silly things like Santa Claus at Christmas.


But Easter for most Christians is actually a really beautiful and meaningful celebration.  On wikipedia it says the following about Easter:

  • The New Testament states that the resurrection of Jesus, which Easter celebrates, is one of the chief tenets of the Christian faith. The resurrection established Jesus as the powerful Son of God and is cited as proof that God will righteously judge the world. For those who trust in Jesus' death and resurrection, "death is swallowed up in victory." Any person who chooses to follow Jesus receives "a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead”. Through faith in the working of God those who follow Jesus are spiritually resurrected with him so that they may walk in a new way of life and receive eternal salvation. 
  • Easter is linked to Passover and the Exodus from Egypt recorded in the Old Testament through the Last Supper, sufferings, and crucifixion of Jesus that preceded the resurrection. According to the New Testament, Jesus gave the Passover meal a new meaning, as in the upper room during the Last Supper he prepared himself and his disciples for his death. He identified the matzah and cup of wine as his body soon to be sacrificed and his blood soon to be shed. Paul states, "Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed"; this refers to the Passover requirement to have no yeast in the house and to the allegory of Jesus as the Paschal lamb.

That sounds like a pretty good thing to celebrate doesn’t it?  


My experience with the SDA Church is that around Easter, there would usually be an emphasis on the death and resurrection of Jesus.  I have noticed that it is popular for Adventist Churches to plan and organize some sort of drama or music production during Easter, and sometimes there is some effort to make contacts for further followup such as prayer or bible study with the attendees.  


In an article in the May 30, 2010 edition of Adventist Review by George W. Reid entitled “Adventist and Easter”, we read the following statements: “…the early Christians gave no attention to commemorating the resurrection day of Christ.”  And “… although the resurrection of Jesus is a historical event of huge importance, we have no biblical precedent for making it a special day of celebration. That came in later centuries of Christian history. For this reason Seventh-day Adventists have never given the attention to Easter that other churches do.”

The article goes on to say: 

  • Although there exists no clear biblical reason for observing Easter as a religious festival, in parts of the world the public is so oriented to Easter observance that it is a time of year when they become open to special studies in the Bible. An opportunity opens to reach out to the public with the fuller message of Christ, often with good response. Under such circumstances Easter and its surrounding events can lend themselves to evangelistic outreach without, however, assigning any special religious meaning to the day itself. Wherever there is opportunity to advance the message of Christ without compromising biblical truth, the "wise as serpents, harmless as doves" counsel of Christ is appropriate.


But the main thing that I hear most often from Adventist’s on the topic of Easter, is that it was originally a pagan holiday, and the Roman Catholic church adopted it similar to how they adopted Sunday.  This is only partly true however.  When looking for content on the observance of Easter in the writings of Ellen White, I could only find one major reference, and that is from the appendix of The Great Controversy in reference to the chapter “God’s Law Immutable” which largely covers the topic of Sunday vs. Saturday Sabbath observance.  It states:

  • The bishops of Rome began, very early, to demand obedience from all the churches. Of this the dispute between the Eastern and the Western churches respecting Easter is a striking illustration. This dispute arose in the second century. Says Mosheim: “the Christians of this century celebrated anniversary festivals in commemoration of the death and resurrection of Christ.... The day which was observed as the anniversary of Christ’s death was called the Paschal day, or Passover.” Like the Jews, Christians celebrated “a sacred feast, at which they distributed a paschal lamb in memory of the holy supper.” The Christians of Asia Minor kept this feast on the fourteenth day of the first Jewish month, when the Jews celebrated their Passover, and when Christ is said to have eaten the paschal lamb with his disciples. Three days thereafter, a festival was observed in honor of the resurrection. The Western churches, on the other hand, celebrated the resurrection of Christ on the Sunday following the Jewish Passover, and observed the paschal feast on the night preceding Sunday, thus connecting the commemoration of Christ’s death with that of his resurrection. 

This note in the appendix goes on to describe how the Asiatic Prelates refused to give in to Victor, the Bishop of Rome’s demand to celebrate according to the Western church and how they were then excluded from fellowship with the church Rome.  However, “Rome finally conquered. The Council of Nice, “out of complaisance to Constantine the Great, ordered the solemnity of Easter to be kept everywhere on the same day, after the custom of Rome.”

From what we just read from the GC appendix, it seems that there was nothing pagan at all in the origin of the churches Easter celebrations.


So, where do the egg laying bunnies, and even the name Easter itself come from?

Again, quoting from the Adventist Review article we looked at earlier we read:  

  • The name "Easter" never appears in the Greek New Testament. It is derived from the Anglo-Saxon Eostre, the name of the goddess of spring. By the 8th century this name had come to be applied to the anniversary of Christ's resurrection. With the passage of time the connection with the goddess was lost, the only remaining meaning being associated with Christ's resurrection.

So, it does seem that since the early Christians were still celebrating passover (although now with a new understanding and meaning) and this was in the Spring which was the same time that the pagans were celebrating the rebirth of the earth from the death of winter, and the gods of fertility, that as these pagans became Christians, some of their traditions came to take on new meanings, such as that the egg, instead of symbolizing fertility (and this is from the wikipedia article) “Traditionally, easter eggs, hard-boiled eggs dyed bright red to symbolize the spilt Blood of Christ and the promise of eternal life, are cracked together to celebrate the opening of the Tomb of Christ.” 


There is one final note that I’d like to share from the wikipedia article, from a section that talks about which churches celebrate Easter and how they celebrate it.  Our church is not mentioned by name, however, I think we fit into this category:

 “Some Christian groups feel that Easter is something to be regarded with great joy: not marking the day itself, but remembering and rejoicing in the event it commemorates—the miracle of Christ's resurrection.”


In closing, I will leave you with this well known paragraph from the Desire of Ages, page 83:

  • “It would be well for us to spend a thoughtful hour each day in contemplation of the life of Christ. We should take it point by point, and let the imagination grasp each scene, especially the closing ones. As we thus dwell upon His great sacrifice for us, our confidence in Him will be more constant, our love will be quickened, and we shall be more deeply imbued with His spirit. If we would be saved at last, we must learn the lesson of penitence and humiliation at the foot of the cross.”

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