Thursday, April 16, 2009

Is Easter as Strange as I Think it is?

Last week we celebrated the most important Christian religious holiday of the year, Easter. Well, I use the word “we” lightly here. All I did was dye some eggs, eat too much and drink copious amounts of beer. Some people believe that the day is a somber one which marks the day that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, the pinnacle event in the entire religion of Christianity, while others such as I observe the more pagan-oriented themes of the holiday by truly embracing sloth and gluttony. It really seems like two religions just crashed into each other on this one. Hey! You got your pagan on my Christianity! Well, you got your Christianity on my pagan! Hmmm…two great tastes that tastes great together. I am an agnostic (TJ refers to agnostics as being “atheist light”), which makes this holiday all the more confusing to me, since I am essentially looking in from the outside on the entire event. So, I thought I’d try to educate myself a bit about this odd agglomeration of traditions and see where I end up mostly because the whole Easter Bunny thing really creeps me out.

In the Christian tradition, the events that unfolded on the holy week of Easter essentially form the cornerstone of the entire religion. In Western Christianity, Easter marks the ending of Lent, a 40-day period of fasting, repentance, moderation, spiritual discipline and general self-flagellation. The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer (through prayer, penitence, almsgiving and self-denial) for the annual commemoration of the events linked to the torturing death of Jesus and culminates in Easter, the celebration of his resurrection. I guess the idea is that you’ll pretty much believe anything if you give up booze, drugs, food and sex for 40 days. “He did what? Came back from where? Yeah, yeah. Whatever, Mac. Just gimme my smokes back…Jesus.” Lent starts on Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter Sunday. The holy week includes Maunday Thursday (also known as Holy Thursday or Great and Holy Thursday) which is the day falling on the Thursday before Easter that commemorates the last supper of Jesus Christ with the Apostles just before he was sold out by that bastard, Judas. This is immediately followed by Good Friday which I find an odd and marginally disturbing name for a day that memorializes the day someone was beaten to death. On Good Friday Christians commemorate the passion, or suffering, and death on the cross of the Jesus Christ.

Christians believe according to Scripture, that Jesus came back to life, or was raised from the dead, three days after his death on the cross. Through his death, burial and resurrection, Jesus paid the penalty for everybody’s sins, thus purchasing a ticket to eternal life for anyone that believes in him. So, essentially, if the resurrection never took place, then the Christian faith is based on a falsehood, and people have no true hope for life after they die. Apparently this bothers some people, which is why the holy week is so important to so many. Believers are hanging a lot on one small part of a very, very, VERY long book. The biblical account of Jesus' death on the cross, or crucifixion, his burial and his resurrection can be found in the following passages from the Bible: Matthew 27:27-28:8; Mark 15:16-16:19; Luke 23:26-24:35; and John 19:16-20:30.

In Western Christianity, Easter is always celebrated on the Sunday immediately following the Paschal full moon. It is rarely on the same date which is why Easter is called a movable feast. Why? Simple. Because they said so. The calculations to determine the date of the Paschal full moon are so easy and uncomplicated that even a child can do them: Nineteen civil calendar years are divided into 235 lunar months of 30 and 29 days each. The period of 19 years is used because it produces a set of civil calendar dates for the full moons that repeats every nineteen years while still providing a reasonable approximation to the astronomical facts. The first day of each of these lunar months is the ecclesiastical new moon. The fourteenth day is the ecclesiastical full moon. Exactly one ecclesiastical new moon in each year falls on a date between March 8 and April 5 (inclusive). This begins the Paschal lunar month for that year, and thirteen days later is the Paschal full moon. Easter is the Sunday following the Paschal full moon. In other words, Easter falls from one to seven days after the Paschal full moon, so that if the Paschal full moon is on Sunday, Easter is the following Sunday. Got it? Quick quiz: When will Easter be in 2015? Yeah, I don’t know either.

So where does the creepy guy in the bunny suit come in? What about the eggs and candy and gorging yourself on ham and potato salad? Mmmm…ham. Well, even the origins of the word “Easter” are all over the shop. I’ve seen it attributed to the goddess Ēostre of Anglo-Saxon paganism as well as a host of Norse, Greek and Babylonian gods and goddesses. All of them are gods of fertility and of the spring season, gods of rebirth and hope. In modern times we say that animals that are in estrous are ready to mate. Rabbits (the Easter Bunny) are an obvious sign of fertility as are eggs. It is no coincidence that Easter falls somewhere around the vernal equinox, and it is also no coincidence that the “resurrection of Christ” occurs in the spring – a time all of nature is essentially reborn after being dormant all winter. It’s just good marketing. After all there exist only a finite number of minds to invade in order to reach your prayer quota otherwise you’re out of a job, right? I gotta tell you, though, if a couple of centuries ago someone gave me the choice between celebrating feminine fertility and sex in a pagan feast and celebrating some poor bearded guy that was just trying to be nice who was then beaten to death for his efforts and chucked in a cave, I’d probably pick the former…unless thumbscrews and the rack kindly persuaded me otherwise. Which is probably why of all of the pagan holidays that Christianity has co-opted only Easter still retains many of it’s traditions. So I think we need a more-inclusive, more-modern motto for Easter, don’t you? I prefer: “Jesus dyed (eggs) for your sins!” A little irreverent, sure, but that’s Daniel P. in a nutshell.

Some people cry foul at egg hunting and Easter bunny traditions claiming that it is how the devil has prevailed and is trying to distract us from the real reason for Easter, the resurrection. Well, isn’t that special. Who could be responsible for generations of children being happy on a holy holiday? Oh, I don’t know. Could it be…SATAN?!? In fact a few churches do separate themselves from the pagan aspects of the holiday by banning Easter and the no-so-thinly veiled pagan traditions and calling the holiday Resurrection Day. I say, fine. Do whatever you want with your church, but nobody can deny that the Christian religion has a long and venerable tradition of absorbing the best parts of other religions and assimilating them with Christian orthodoxy. I believe that not only is there nothing wrong with this, but this very practice has made Christianity the diverse and vibrant tradition that it has become some 2000 years after the death of its founding father.

After all do you actually think God is concerned about kids getting together for an Easter egg hunt and getting wacked-up on peeps? If you truly believe that He is, then it’s time to make up another imaginary friend. No offense. I could seriously do without the 8 foot tall pink bunny, though.

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