Let’s Call Observance Resurrection Sunday
During this past Holy Week at one of the services I attended, the minister made the point that we should not call the final day EASTER SUNDAY but rather RESURRECTION SUNDAY. This point was not only well-taken but also theologically correct.
Eostre was a pagan goddess whose festival was celebrated during the vernal equinox. She was originally the Northumberland goddess of the dawn. (One can see the old English precursor for the word “east” in her name, which of course is where the sun rose.) Over the years, this festival incorporated various pagan fertility rites — the source of the painted eggs and rabbits –in celebration of earth’s great rebirth each year. It was a literally “A Rite of Spring.”
I remember first hearing this theory in the early 1950s from a radio preacher over WWVA radio. His name was Herbert W. Armstrong and he and his son Garner Ted Armstrong were the founders of the World Wide Church of God, situated in Pasadena, California. He also had a school there called Ambassador College. As I recall, he broadcast seven evenings a week. At the time I was attending a Methodist mission in a little “coal patch” called Dilles Bottom, a few miles down the Ohio from Shadyside (This is now the site of the proposed ethane cracker) where my mother played the piano. Armstrong’s nightly harangues were a corrective to the sweet pieties of the Methodist deaconess.
Not only was the Christian Easter celebration rooted in paganism, but Christmas itself had its origins in the Roman Saturnalia. This was the celebration of the winter solstice and was generally held around December 17. This festival was dedicated to Saturn, a major god within the context of Roman mythology. Again there was great merriment with this celebration.
Velma Rodefer, the Latin teacher at Shadyside High School, told us that the Roman equivalent of “Merry Christmas” was “Io Saturnalia.” Thus to my juvenile mind, secular authority confirmed Armstrong’s theological rant. (Armstrong was also very pro-Eretz Yisrael and must have made major contributions to the nascent state because I found a small statue of him at a park in Jerusalem.)
The above factoids lay fallow in my mind until the early 1980s when — aided and abetted by alcohol and drugs — I had my midlife crisis. I handled this problem by attending several theology schools. One of the things that I learned is that if you don’t have your theological problems pretty well worked out, you certainly will not find G-d in the seminary. Another thing was the no one cared about these theories concerning Eostre and Saturnalia. In fact, I was told that the ability of Christianity to incorporate and absorb other spiritualities was considered a good thing. This is called synchronicity, bringing disparate things into alignment, like two watches.
It was the Maundy Thursday service at the Church of God which I referred to at the beginning of this piece. As far as I can determine, only a portion of this denomination and the Holy Father in Rome follow literally the practice of foot washing. Several years ago a Methodist minister in Charleston publicly shined shoes but I think that this is akin to handling garter snakes. The point made at the service is quite valid, though: WHY DO CHRISTIANS OF ALL STRIPES MISLABEL THE MOST IMPORTANT EVENT IN OUR RELIGION?
Christmas is merely a contraction for “Christ’s Mass,” so that is not really a major item of concern. Besides, it is impossible to come up with even a theoretical date for the birth of Jesus. (Easter is linked to the Jewish Passover, which is set in a precise fashion in accordance with the lunar calendar.) Would the shepherds have been in the fields with their flocks in Palestine in December? It is difficult to make even an uneducated guess here.
A few weeks ago, Rabbi Joshua Lief dealt with a similar (and related) subject at Temple Shalom: the historicity of the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt, the parting of the Red (Reed?) Sea, etc. The only account we have of this event is what’s contained in the Bible. There is no corroborating evidence. Christians are more fortunate with the resurrection. There is some slight proof that Jesus actually existed. I told someone after the rabbi’s talk that since both Judaism and Christianity are based on these “miracles,” if we didn’t come to terms with them in some fashion we were for all practical purposes Muslims. The Holy Koran recognizes both Moses and Jesus as prophets and basically accepts their ethical teachings. I received a blank stare for my theory.
Driving back to New Martinsville that night, I thought about one of my favorite parts of Judaism. Every Friday evening people gather at Temple Shalom to thank G-d (the Orthodox write the name this way) for bringing them up out of Egypt, 3,000 plus years ago. There is an unbroken string of observed sabbaths going back all these years. Could this be based on a cleverly constructed myth as opposed to an historical event?
Chuck Colson was an aide to President Nixon and was famous for saying that he would walk over his grandmother’s grave for that president. (Sound familar?)
While in prison he had a religious conversion and when he came out he formed a group to assist convicts and their families. He would say that with all the power of the White House behind them, they couldn’t suppress the truth about the Watergate break in.
So Colson asks how could Jesus’ disparate band of followers create – and their followers perpetuate — a story about about the Resurrection?
I am certainly not suggesting that we get rid of Easter egg hunts and chocolate bunnies. Just keep them in context, that’s all.
Rogers, an involuntarily retired lawyer, resides in New Martinsville with his wife and 19-year-old daughter. *************************************Rogers, an involuntarily retired lawyer, resides in New Martinsville with his wife and 19 year old daughter.