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Faithful Living

"What do you know about Easter's historical beginnings? And how might our celebrations best honor Christ, who gave us the gift of life?Questions like these have daunted me this week, especially as I continue to honor a commitment I made on New Year's Day to spend this year reading the Bible from cover to cover. Such a task is made easy by the book Seasons of Reflections. Published by the International Bible Society and given to my husband and me by pastor and friend Ross Rettig, it offers 365 daily readings from the Old and New Testaments, as well as a portion from the book of Psalms and some interesting help on prayer.During the last couple of weeks I have been reading in the book of Exodus and Moses has been one busy man of God. He has assembled the whole Israelite community and begun instructing them on the things the Lord has commanded them to do.In this portion of scripture God makes His wishes known with precise instructions. For example, He lays out in minute detail how His people should build their first tabernacle, sew their priestly garments, and conduct their worship services. The detail is astounding and not the most compelling reading, to be honest. I want to race through the readings and get to those Old Testament historical accounts, for they are full of adventure and human angst.One would think that Easter, as important as it is to Christians, would be given as much detail. But the truth of the matter is, yearly celebrations of Easter began long after scriptures were written. It began, in fact, as a pagan Anglo-Saxon festival, celebrated each year to honor their goddess of offspring and spring they called Eastre.After second-century Christian missionaries to the Anglo-Saxons had converted some of the people, they realized it would be suicide for them to worship openly. They cleverly combined the Christian holiday with the existing festival. The remembrance of Jesus Christ's resurrection was therefore celebrated at the same time as the festival for Eastre and over the years it has become a treasured part of the traditional Christian calendar. Even the name, Easter, only slightly altered over the years, serves as a reminder of its humble, secretive beginnings.Prior to A.D. 325, Easter was haphazardly celebrated on different days of the week. In that year, Emperor Constantine convened the Council of Nicaea. It issued the Easter Rule which states that Easter shall be celebrated on the first Sunday that occurs after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox, or first day of spring. Therefore, Easter must be celebrated on a Sunday between the dates of March 22 and April 25. Its date is tied to the lunar cycle and so it remains to this day.Does God honor this man-made holiday? I know He does. And does He frustrate that the symbols of spring and Easter intermix? I doubt that He does. I believe God always looks at the heart of the matter. What are we teaching our children? Are we living like people who have been given the gift of eternal life?I am endeared to several Easter symbols and the legends that are attached to them. Take the dogwood tree. Legend says that at the time of Jesus' crucifixion, the dogwood was large and strong, ideal for construction purposes. Because it felt such horror at being used as the material for the cross, Christ promised the dogwood it would never again grow large enough to be put to such a use. As a memorial to Christ's passion, its blossoms would grow in the shape of a cross; its petals bear brown and red nail prints; and a crown of thorns grace the center of each of its petals.According to another legend, when God created the robin redbreast He told the bird it must remain plain and gray until it earned its red badge of courage. At Golgotha, the robin, seeking to relieve the sufferings of Christ, overcame its fear of the angry crowd and flew to Christ, pulling a thorn out of His head. The blood from Christ's wound dripped onto the robin's breast and has caused it to be red ever since.Whether we talk about lilies, decorative eggs, bunnies, or any other image of Spring that invariably blends into Easter celebrations, it is important to remember that they are not modern creations. They stem from Old World customs and I believe add richness and further the meaning of our holiday. "

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