by K.W. Leslie, 31 March 2024

On 5 April 33, before the sun rose at 5:23 a.m. in Jerusalem, Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead. Executed less than 48 hours before, he became the first human on earth to be resurrected.

Jesus died the day before Passover. This was deliberate. This way his death would fulfill many of the Passover rituals. Because of this relationship to Passover, many Christians actually call this day some variation of the Hebrew פֶּסַח/Pesákh, “Passover.” In Greek and Latin (and Russian), it’s Pascha; in Danish Påske, Dutch Pasen, French Pâques, Italian Pasqua, Spanish Pascua, Swedish Påsk.

But in many Germanic-speaking countries, including English, we use the ancient pagan word for April, Eostur. In German this becomes Ostern; in English Easter. Because of the pagan origins of this word, certain Christians avoid it and just call the day “Resurrection Sunday.” Which is fine, but confuses non-Christians who don’t realize why we’re acting like a bunch of snowflakes.

Easter is our most important holiday. Christmas tends to get the world’s focus (and certainly that of merchants), but it’s only because Christmas doesn’t stretch their beliefs too far. Everybody agrees Jesus was born. We only differ on details. But Easter is about how Jesus rose from the dead, and that’s a sticking point for a whole lot of pagans. They don’t buy it.

They don’t even like it: When they die, they wanna go to heaven and stay there. Resurrection? Coming back? In a body? No no no. And we’ll even find Christians who agree with them: They’ll claim Jesus didn’t literally return from death, but exists in some super-spiritual ghostly form which returned to heaven. And that’s where we’ll go too: Heaven. No resurrection; not necessary. Yes it’s a heretic idea, but a popular one.

So to pagans, Easter’s a myth. It’s a nice story about how we Christians think Jesus came back from the dead, but it comes from ancient times, back when people believed anyone could come back from the dead if they knew the right magic spell. Really it’s just a metaphor for spring, new life, rebirth; just like eggs and baby chicks and bunnies. They’ll celebrate that. With chocolate, fancy hats, brunch, and maybe an egg hunt.

But to us Christians, Easter’s no myth. It happened. It validates Jesus; without it we’d have no clue whether he was just one of many great moral teachers, or someone to seriously bet our lives upon. It proves he’s everything he said he is. Proved it for the first Christians, who risked (and suffered) fearful deaths for him. Proves it for today’s Christians, some of whom do likewise.

Jesus and resurrection.

I explained in greater detail in my article about resurrection: People nowadays assume the ancients casually believed in resurrection: “Well of course people can be raised from the dead.” But they actually didn’t. Other than Pharisees, ancient religions unanimously taught when we die, we either go to some kind of afterlife, or get reincarnated. Various gods like Osiris and Baldr might come back to life, but humans certainly don’t.

Oh, Orpheus of Thrace might try to lead his wife Eurydice out of the underworld, but he wouldn’t succeed. Because, the ancients figured, dead was dead—and the afterlife was “the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns,” as William Shakespeare had Hamlet say. When people died, they were gone. Sure, someone might slip into a coma, or appear dead after an accident or illness, and appear to come back to life, and that was kinda miraculous. Happens in our culture too, whenever somebody dies and we perform CPR on ’em. But we properly call that “resuscitation.” And often resuscitation doesn’t work: That person’s dead. Deceased. No more. Ceased to be. Extinct. Run down the curtain and joined the choir invisible. And every other metaphor from the Parrot Sketch. Everybody knows this. None of the ancients were naïve enough to believe otherwise.

But something unique happened to Jesus of Nazareth. More than once he warned his students it was coming:

Luke 18.31-34 KJV
31 Then he took unto him the twelve, and said unto them, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished. 32 For he shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spitted on: 33 and they shall scourge him, and put him to death: and the third day he shall rise again. 34 And they understood none of these things: and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken.

Most of the reason they failed to grasp Jesus’s words was because, as Luke said, “neither knew they the things which were spoken”: This was a wholly unfamiliar concept. Pharisees had never taught ’em Messiah would die, then rise from death—’cause like everyone else, they knew people don’t just rise! Pharisees taught ’em resurrection takes place at the End, when God judges the nations. It wasn’t gonna happen to their Master next weekend!

Subsequently, when everything happened just as Jesus said it would, the students were stunned. They couldn’t believe it. At first they refused to believe it. Despite Jesus’s multiple warnings, they had no clue he’d be raised from the dead after his execution; their culture had totally conditioned them to not expect it. It threw everything they believed into utter chaos. Because dead people don’t come back. They stay dead. Right?

When you read the resurrection stories in the scriptures, you’ll see some of this chaos—because the stories contradict one another.

  • Mark has three women witness Jesus’s empty tomb, Matthew two, Luke more than four.
  • Matthew says the women were there to see the angel pull the stone off the sepulcher; Luke says it was already moved and two angels were just hanging out there.
  • John and the longer ending of Mark have angels appear to inform the students, but in John Jesus himself appeared to Mary of Magdala. And later that day, Jesus appeared to the rest of his followers (or, in John, all but Thomas), and proved to them he really was alive.

Why do I bring up these “bible difficulties”? What do they prove?—that the apostles couldn’t keep their stories straight? Yes. But why couldn’t they keep their stories straight? Because they never expected Jesus to be alive. At all. Like I said, utter chaos.

When they eventually did get their story straight, it sounded like this:

1 Corinthians 15.3-8 KJV
3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; 4 and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: 5 and that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: 6 after that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. 7 After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. 8 And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.

Contrary to the belief system they were raised in, contrary to popular culture, contrary to commonsense, Jesus is alive. They saw him themselves. Hundreds of people saw him. Jesus’s own family (namely his brother James), who had never followed him before, saw him alive, and not only followed him ever after; his siblings became apostles and church leaders. It convinced the Twelve so thoroughly that, rather than go into hiding like they had when he was killed, they proclaimed Jesus boldly for the rest of their lives, and were willing to be martyred and exiled for proclaiming Jesus is alive.

Jesus’s resurrection is the event on which Christianity stands or falls. He’s alive, has conquered sin and death, and is our living, breathing king. The alternative is it’s all horsecrap: Every miracle, prophecy, vision, experience, and remarkable act of faith, for the past 20 centuries, has been based on lying clergy, gullible idiots, wishful thinking, and dumb luck. Statistically impossible dumb luck, but still.

We Christians are going with the unreasonable—but pretty well-verified—explanation Jesus is alive. It’s what the early Christians testified to, and went to their deaths proclaiming. It’s what we celebrate on Easter.

Pagan parts, and present-day customs.

Every Easter, articles pop up in newspapers and magazines “debunking” it. Not Jesus’s resurrection; they don’t want a bunch more angry letters from Christians. No; they jump on the idea of Easter as a former pagan holiday, which we Christians swiped and Christianized.

I dealt with this in my article on Easter as a “pagan holiday.” It’s bunk. We Christians didn’t steal pagan holidays; we stole Jewish ones. Easter comes from Passover. Eggs came from Passover, where they represent new life, like resurrection. Decorating them was our idea: We originally dyed ’em red to remember Jesus’s blood. Then Russians started decorating the heck out of ’em, and since it’s fun and creative and impressive, that caught on. Egg games, found in every culture for every reason, got mixed up with Easter. (And our egg hunts are much nicer than the original versions—which used to involve hiding them in thornbushes or other hard- and painful-to-reach places.)

True, bunnies came from paganism. Easter ham came from antisemitism. Chocolate is one of those good and perfect gifts which come from the Father above, Jm 1.17 so every holiday should have it; I don’t see why anyone would object to chocolate unless they personally lack self-control, but that’s a whole other article.

Because of these myths and their fears, some Christians won’t celebrate Easter at all. They figure we remember Jesus’s death and resurrection all the time, so there’s not much point for an extra-special day for it. But Christians are of course free to observe or disregard holidays however their consciences allow. Ro 14.5 The important thing is we remember Jesus.

Easter is the beginning of the Eastertide season, the 50 days between now and Pentecost, where we celebrate Jesus being alive. So, no more fasting. After 40 days of Lent, you oughta be tired of it anyway.

For any twice-a-year Christians, Easter and Christmas are the only days they bother with church. They’ll visit “their church”—whichever congregation they’ve decided is theirs—mainly to show off their Easter clothes, or take the kids to the church’s egg hunt. Church attendance shoots way up. Pastors and the Holy Spirit take advantage of this, and use these mornings to evangelize, so you should see a lot of people repent and come to Jesus during Easter services. If not, your church leaders are totally blowing an opportunity.

American customs include Easter breakfasts, Easter parades, egg hunts, passion plays (in which Jesus gets crucified, sometimes graphically, then resurrected), sunrise services (groan), and various family-friendly functions. And of course on Easter Monday, there’s the half-price candy sales.

Oh, and if someone tells you “Christ is risen,” you gotta answer “Christ is risen indeed.” ’Cause if you don’t, Santa eats another one of his reindeer… oh wait, wrong holiday.