Early Christians used “alleluia” as an exclamation of joyful praise. For millennia on Easter morning, congregates greet each other and respond to the greet with the following words:
The greeting, “Alleluia, Christ is risen!
The response, “He is risen indeed, Alleluia!”
Many decades ago, I heard a story set in the former United Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR). It was Easter morning. A large crowd was gathered to hear a speech by the regional Communist Party chief. The man was an imposing figure with great oratory skill. He explained to the crowd why religion was a waste of time and energy. All were better off living in Communist Russia, where there was no belief in God. When he finished his speech, he received a standing ovation. After the party chief spoke, a Russian Orthodox priest stood up. He was short, rotund, and had little presence. The priest said four words, “Alleluia, Christ is Risen.” The crowd roared back, “He is risen indeed, Alleluia.”
Christians don’t ignore what Jesus did for them. He died for their sins and rose again on Easter morning. This central belief about Jesus’s saving acts aren’t lessened by 1st, 20th, or 21stcentury attempts to repudiate them.
Easter is the oldest and most important festival in the Christian church, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God. The modern controversy over the origin of the name Easter, blossomed at the beginning of the 20th century. Examining this question is important to many Christians who don’t want to mix the worship of false gods with their worship of the true God. The crux of the problem is whether or not “Easter” is named after a pagan goddess.
One perspective is that Easter has its origin in the name of the Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre. She was the dawn goddess and worshiped in the spring by pagans in Northern Europe and the British Isles. Contrary to suggesting a connection between the word Easter and the Saxon goddess, other scholars suggested Easterfinds its root in the old Teutonic (German) word for resurrection—auferstehung. Ester meaning first, and stehenmeaning to stand. These two words combine to form erstehen, first resurrection which describes that Jesus was the first born of the dead.
When Martin Luther translated the New Testament into German (1522), he used osterto refer to Passover references before and after the Resurrection. William Tyndale’s New Testament (1525) used the same German word. From translations of Luther and Tyndale we learn that as early as 1500, oster/estersimply referred to the time of the Passover feast.
Luther was comfortable referring to Christ as the Osterlamm. Likewise, Tyndale was comfortable referring to Christ as the esterlambe. The meaning of words change over time; however, the testimony of Luther and Tyndale in applying the names “Osterlamm” and ”esterlambe” to Christ as the sacrificial Lamb can bring us peace that Easter had no association with pagan worship.
An alternative for individuals who remain concerned about the origins of the word “Easter,” and don’t want to wish each other a Happy Easter is to use Happy Resurrection Day.
In 21stcentury United States there are two dominant symbols of Resurrection Sunday (Easter): the resurrection (Easter) lily and the Easter egg.
Although the Easter lily is the pre-eminent symbol of the resurrection of Jesus, most of us don’t know its origins. What we think we know is tradition or legend. One legend is that lilies sprang up in the Garden of Gethsemane after Jesus prayed there during his final hours. Another is that after Mary died, white lilies were found at her empty tomb, despite lily flowers or bulbs not being placed there. The white petals represented Mary’s body and the golden anthers represented her soul.
Although Jesus named the lily of the field when he urged the crowd to not worry (Matthew 6:25-34), the field lily isn’t the resurrection lily found in churches at Easter. A minor prophet, Hosea, identified the resurrection lily. Hosea averred that Israel’s idol worship was spiritual adultery (Hosea chapter 14). Through Hosea, God said that if Israel repented, God would cause Israel to blossom like a lily. The formerly adulterous kingdom would once again become innocent.
Probably, the custom of Easter eggs originated in the Mesopotamia Christian community. At times, this community stained chicken eggs red in memory of Jesus’s blood. The egg shell was an ancient symbol of the tomb where Jesus was buried. The egg shell is dead, as Jesus’ body was dead in the tomb. However, in that tomb as inside the dead shell of an egg, there is the potential for new life to break out. On Easter morning Jesus walked out of the tomb and left the tomb an empty shell. When Christians die, their body is an empty shell in the grave; but; their spirit lives. The spirit goes to be with God forever.
In my family home several days before Easter, mother boiled chicken eggs in their shells until the egg yolk was hard, removed the shells, and placed the eggs in red-beet juice in a large jar. The juice permeated the white layer of eggs and turned them pink (red) by Easter day. As children, we had no idea there might have been a religious significance to these “red-beet eggs.” We just knew that they were always served with the Easter meal and tasted good.