The Reformed tradition has a particular way to interpret the events of Holy Week. Our focus is not the cross or the suffering of Jesus but his resurrection. Easter is the center of the celebration. Good Friday and Maundy Thursday are meaningless without Easter.
The meaning of Easter is Jesus Christ’s victory over death. His resurrection symbolizes the eternal life that is granted to all who believe in him. The meaning of Easter also symbolizes the complete verification of all that Jesus preached and taught during his three-year ministry.
If He had not risen from the dead, if He had merely died and not been resurrected, He would have been considered just another teacher or rabbi. However, His resurrection changed all that and gave final and irrefutable proof that He was really the Son of God and that He had conquered death once and for all.
Historically, Easter did not always symbolize Christ’s resurrection from the dead, and the meaning of Easter was quite different than what Christians celebrate today.
Some say the word Easter is derived from Eostre (also known as Ostara), an ancient Anglo-Saxon Goddess. She symbolized the rebirth of the day at dawn and the rebirth of life in the spring. The arrival of spring was celebrated all over the world long before the religious meaning became associated with Easter.
As Christianity grew and spread throughout the world, it was common practice to adopt and modify existing non-Christian festivals and assimilate them into the Christian theology. Because Eostre was the goddess of spring and her symbolism dealt with renewal and rebirth, the Christian belief in the resurrection of Christ fit well with these themes.
In every language except English and German, the name Easter is derived from the Hebrew word pesach for ‘he passed over.’ So in Spanish and Italian Easter is Pascua; in French it is Paques; in Portugese it is Pascoa, and so on.
Since church proclamation at Nicea in 325 AD, Easter has been celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the Vernal Equinox. This date was determined by noting that the Last Supper, as Christians came to know it, was actually a Passover seder, and Jesus’ resurrection occurred on that Sunday. Passover occurs on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan on the first full moon on or after the Equinox.
A further connection to Passover is the fact that it celebrates the angel of death passing over the houses where the doors were marked with the blood of a sacrificial lamb. Jesus is seen by Christians as the sacrificial lamb whose blood was shed so that they would have everlasting life.
Today, the meaning of Easter for millions of Christians is that of honoring and recognizing Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead, and his glorious promise of eternal life for all who believe in him. Easter gives us hope for the future and strength to face the challenges of our lives.
Apart from the meaning of the word Easter and its historical background, there is a permanent message of hope and new life that is implicit in every Easter celebration. The image of Jesus’ triumph over death is a strong message that challenges our fears, pains and sorrows.
Some people say that New Year’s Eve is the time to make commitments for our future, but I believe Easter is the right time to think in the future with a positive attitude. After a year full of problems and difficulties, what we need is not a new beginning or fresh start — we need the example of Jesus, who proved with his own life that we have a new opportunity thanks to his death and resurrection. We can live because he lives!
It is my prayer that you may look at the future with hope because the One who triumphed over the death is our Lord and Master. Let us look at the future with optimism and trust because the Lord our God is still in charge and lives forever!