It’s that time of the year again, when bunnies come out of hiding and people start painting eggs. All in the name of fun, they say.
It’s Easter after all, and what better way to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Saviour than to have a little fun?
Sounds harmless, doesn’t it? I mean, God did institute an elaborate system of celebratory feasts for the Israelites after bringing them out of Egypt (Leviticus 23).
The church’s celebration of Easter coincides with the third of seven Jewish feasts (Firstfruits) which commemorates God’s providence by offering the first (best) harvest of the season back to Him. Based on the Jewish calendar, Christ was crucified on the Passover, buried on Unleavened Bread and raised on Firstfruits (and sent His Spirit on Pentecost).
Unfortunately, our celebration of Firstfruit-fertility has gone somewhat off tangent.
It seems that vestiges of paganism inform the seasonal Easter festivities. The term “Easter” itself is never mentioned in the Bible. It, however, strongly suggests that sometime during the Romanisation of Christianity, the term was borrowed from the Chaldean goddess of fertility or “Queen of Heaven”.
Her Babylonian name “Ishtar” sounds undeniably similar to the church’s sacred day, but strangely, the bunnies and eggs were nowhere to be seen.
Those very symbols implicate another fertility goddess – this time from Germany – with an “Easter” homonym for a name. Eostre’s symbols were – you guessed it – eggs and bunnies (for their huge litters).
And it doesn’t even end with eggs and bunnies: Many elements of current church tradition can be traced to ancient Chaldean, Babylonian and Eastern religion.
When running for the office of Roman Emperor, Constantine allegedly had a dream in which God instructed him to paint Chi-Ro (the two first Greek letters of “Christ”) on his soldiers’ shields. He won a decisive battle as a result, and when he finally assumed the throne, he upheld allegiance to the Christian faith while (ironically) tolerating and publicly embracing several aspects of pagan religion.
Few today would be so bold as to call it “idolatry”, as long as we remember our first love.
Some scholars propose that Constantine was gravely confused.
Specifically, he mistook Jesus for the then-popular cult of Sol Invictus or Roman sun god, and adopted a fusion faith involving elements of both, even having them printed on official coins. Bearing the stamp of the Roman Empire, this distorted Romanised version of Christianity was given the empire’s support to proliferate, and after several ecumenical councils and reformations evolved into the Church of today.
Whether for personal (faith convictions), political (populist) or practical reasons (prevent anarchy), the fundamental problem was this elaborate integrated faith – the one we think we know – was essentially different from the one the Apostles and early Christians lived and died for – the one Jesus started.
Is this cause for despair? Can God still use what humanity fundamentally messed up to draw mankind back to Himself?
For the frustrated believer, take heart, for our present circumstance echoes the Biblical narrative. With God, despair is always accompanied by hope.
I suppose it seems harmless to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection with the common symbols around us, even if these symbols were previously adopted by other faiths.
I mean, should we stop drinking water or baptising in water, since water is symbolically tied to several other religions too? Shall we cease Sunday worship since it was a perversion of the original Sabbath, a sneaky takeover of the Chaldean day of worship for Sol Invictus? (Thanks again, Constantine.)
Few today would be so bold as to call it “idolatry”, as long as we remember our first love (Revelation 2:4). Symbols only possess the power we ascribe to them. Some presume that most people in our churches today don’t even realise these links to Paganism, and can therefore participate with a clear conscience without fear of stumbling (1 Corinthians 8).
But grace always comes with truth, for without truth grace is mere indifference borne of ignorance.
Ultimately, the truth is Easter is a wolf-in-sheepskin commemoration of another god – one commonly associated with temple prostitution. Which means that though acting in good faith, many of us have been deceived, the leaven secretly sprinkled into our mix through unquestionable tradition reinforced by Papal, Episcopal or pastoral authority.
But the real gospel must transcend culture, no? Moderns tells us that it’s about intent, even if blindsided, and besides, God knows our hearts, right?
God has judged before, and it’s not pretty. He searches and knows your innermost being. He sees your insistence on self-defined “spirituality” as an indicator of your stubborn idolatry – the desire to come to Him on your terms. We worship an image and call it “God”. Might as well get smashed at Zoukout, eat a rare bug, or burn a forest in dedication it to YHWH.
God’s principle of engagement is this: Come as you are, but on my terms.
Paul explicitly warns believers of mere participation in demonic rituals, not because an they have power in and of themselves, but because believers are not to have any association with demons (1 Corinthians 10:14-21).
In Deuteronomy 12, God prescribes the exact way He wants to be worshipped, and guess what: He’s especially brutal towards the “fusion” worship customs involving other gods.
“(Of the Canaanites) take care that you be not ensnared to follow them, after they have been destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods? – that I also may do the same.’ You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the Lord hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods. Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it.” (Deuteronomy 12:30-32)
So while it may be tempting to buy into the hype this Easter, let’s be mindful that God specifically doesn’t want to receive pagan-style worship. Though everyone else plays along, He calls you, His child, to be holy (Leviticus 20:26, 1 Peter 1:16).
I’m not saying we stop all celebrations at once, but we must, like Daniel, be intentional in not defiling ourselves in the presence of
a wider culture that doesn’t know God. That starts by getting rid of the bunnies and eggs, and stop celebrating it in any way but that which is about remembering the resurrection of the Messiah.
So while it may be tempting to buy into the hype this Easter, let’s be mindful that God specifically doesn’t want to receive pagan-style worship.
Beyond that, find your compass in Spirit and truth. This Lent, don’t just go through the motions. Watch and pray. Question everything.
In a world (and mainline church) so steeped in religious half-truth and ignorance, we look hopefully to the One who challenged true worshippers to worship in Spirit and truth (John 4:23). I pray we’ll have the grace to pull ourselves away from all we think we know and hold so dear, to dig deep in search of God’s heart, to hear the true Wind and follow wherever it blows (John 3:8).
Easter Resurrection Sunday to you. No bunnies needed – only love, joy and peace in our living Saviour.