We did a drama skit about the church going out and bringing to life those that were far from God - the destitute, the addict, abusers, the lost. I asked that it be done again for Easter. To me, that is the true meaning of Easter. Of course, Easter is about the resurrection of Christ, but if we stop there, we stop with an empty tomb. The emptiness of the tomb screams of life. Jesus didn't only rise from the dead. He rose from the dead to offer you and me an abundant life now and eternal life when we pass from this life. Christ followers are raised to life and are to go out and bring life.
I want to talk today about the images of Easter. Before I perhaps cross a line of sensitivity and defense that some have, let me share with you my evolution as a Christ follower. Early in my Christian walk, I learned that much of what we do during the special times of Easter and Christmas has their roots in the ancient world and pagan festivals. That offended me and I began a one man vendetta. I don't think I changed anything or anyone, but I did learn a lot. I went off the deep end. Festus once said (Acts 26:24) to the apostle Paul that much learning had made the apostle mad (insane). I was like that. Much learning had made me mad and I was beside myself on some of those issues. I made my family go several years without celebrating Christmas because I focused on the pagan aspects. I had a big problem with Santa and the Easter rabbit. Of course, Halloween was (still is) out of the question. I look at things a little differently now. I still have problems, but I have learned to look at things from a higher perspective.
So, lets talk about Images of Easter. Easter has a lot of images. We have Easter Lilies. We have Easter Eggs. We have Easter chicks. We have Easter Bunnies. We have Easter bonnets. We have the Christian Cross. We have the empty tomb. When you think of Easter, what image comes to your mind? Could it possibly be all, or many, of the above? That would not be surprising. As I thought about all the images of Easter, I began to see that a common thread wove itself through all those images. THAT THREAD IS THE CELEBRATION OF LIFE.
Every kingdom in heaven and earth experiences a refreshing and a rebirth during what is called the Easter season. The earth comes alive again. It's as though everything realigns with life. It's like the scripture we read from Genesis. WE SEE EVERYTHING AS IT WAS CREATED TO BE AND LIFE IS VERY GOOD (Gen 1:31).
Easter comes at the time of the Vernal Equinox. The sun aligns with the equator in such a way that both day and night are exactly the same in length. It is the time of the year when the heavens realign and seasons actually begin again. Even the earth's orbit is refreshed and experiences a re-birthing at this season that we call Easter. God created it to do that and he said it was good. The entire earth has been doing this since day number four. What I began to see was that this wonderful time of year goes back way before pagan worship.
Every kingdom is resurrected at this wonderful time of year. The plant kingdom is resurrected and lives again. We see that with the image of the Easter Lilly. It's as though their trumpets trumpet life. The plant kingdom rejuvenates during the Easter season. The dormant trees refresh their lives. Flowers and trees bloom. The dormant grass turns green once again. Gardens and crops are planted. Seedlings and new plant life appear all around and pollen fills the air. God created the plant kingdom to do this at this time of year and God said it was good.
The fowls of the air and their kingdom come to life at this time of year. Of course, chicks and baby ducks represent that kingdom. Birds pair off, build their nests, and celebrate life. We can walk around our homes and find bird nests in trees with the chirps of hungry little mouths. God told them to do that and God said it was good.
The animal kingdom comes to life in a refreshed way. We can observe that with the rabbit. The rabbit takes full advantage of this season. Of course, many animals mate during this time of year. It's not unusual to see baby rabbits in yards and along the roads. We see baby squirrels scampering across roads and playing in the trees. Life is refreshing itself in every kingdom under heaven.
I never thought about it before, but so much life comes from eggs. Eggs have long been images of life. Not only chickens and birds come from eggs, but much of the fish kingdom and insect kingdom and the reptile kingdom brings life from eggs. We see lizards around the house and snakes slithering across the roads at this time of year. God made it to be that way and God said it was good.
Every kingdom is enjoying life and celebrating life including the kingdom of man. From that kingdom, we see the Easter bonnet as the image. Why the Easter Bonnet? The Easter bonnet had its beginnings at the Easter Parades. Ladies would make bonnets of flowers to celebrate the season, not only Easter. We celebrate the Easter season somewhat today, but the ancient cultures literally rejoiced when the Spring season finally arrived. Our society today has central heat, lots of clothing, and plenty of food obtainable from numerous convenient sources. Our automobiles are climate controlled. Overall, our lives change little when winter comes. It was not that way in ancient societies. Cold winter months represented death because the majority of deaths came during the cold of winter. Survival was a serious issue for the ancient cultures during winter. So, when Spring came, there was sincere rejoicing about life. They had survived and would probably live until the next winter.
Because of the thrill of seeing spring come, many pagan festivals began. All were built around the theme of life and the celebration of it. The Mardi Gras held in New Orleans began this way. We don't do Easter parades much now, but the Easter parade was another celebration used to celebrate life.
People are happy today when spring comes, but the ancients were thrilled. They were so thankful for Spring that they created a goddess. Her name and her festival was called Oestre (spelled many different ways - 'Ostra,' 'Ostern,' 'Ishtar,' 'Asherah,' 'Eastre'). Wiccan continues some Oestre observance today. It is from Oestre (and its forms) that the word Easter evolved. Instead of saying it was Easter, as we do today, they said it was Oestre.
If is because of that many believers have a difficult time with the word "Easter." They know the history of the word prefer to call this day "Resurrection Day." In their defense and for the record, we have a false goddess link to Oestre in the Bible. Her name is Asherah.
1 Kings 14:23 They also set up for themselves high places, sacred stones and Asherah poles on every high hill and under every spreading tree.
1 Kings 14:24 There were even male shrine prostitutes in the land; the people engaged in all the detestable practices of the nations the LORD had driven out before the Israelites.
Asherah, or Oestre, was a fertility goddess worshiped for the rebirth of the earth each spring. The pagan false goddess incorporated some of the images we use today when we do Easter. As the verses from 1 Kings shows, the false religion became temple prostitution of both men and women. Of course, God hates false gods and goddesses. HE DOESN'T HATE THE CELEBRATION OF LIFE UNDERSTAND. Life is his gift to each of us. God loves it when we celebrate life.
Every kingdom celebrates the season of Easter. As we are seeing, images have been used as part of the celebration of life. Knowingly or unknowingly, the images speak of every kingdom. So is it with the kingdom of heaven. Our icons and images are the empty cross and the empty tomb. Every year at this time, people all over the world refresh and renew their life of faith because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Something spiritual happens within people all over the world. Something happens that causes us to want to go to church on what we call Easter Sunday more than any other one day during the year.
The hope of the kingdom of heaven went dormant and died when Jesus died on the cross that Friday two thousand years ago. His lifeless, bloody corpse was wrapped and placed into that tomb. But on Sunday morning, life came back into Jesus and since that time, his kingdom celebrates life. People all over the world are renewing and refreshing and birthing again the kingdom of heaven within their hearts.
Isn't it interesting that Father God planned Resurrection Day smack dab in the middle of when every other kingdom is celebrating life? Why was that do you suppose? Would it not have been better to separate it from all those other celebrations? That way we could give our undivided attention to the celebration of the resurrection. Here is my take on it. Jesus said,
(KJV) John 10:10 The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.
(NIV) John 10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
I believe that everyone - believer or nonbeliever - can and should celebrate life. Life is precious. Every breath is to be cherished by Christ followers and by those who do not follow Christ. As we have seen, people have done exactly that since time began. But that empty cross and that empty tomb tell me that if I receive Jesus as my Lord and savior and serve him, I can enjoy life to the full. I can enjoy life abundantly. Resurrection Sunday - Easter Sunday - reminds me and tells me once again that I not only will go to heaven when I leave this side, but I can have life to the full today.
Spring has been around longer than Christianity. Life has re-birthed itself at this season of the year since the beginning of time. Easter has been around longer than Resurrection Day. Pagan festivals have been around longer than Christianity. All those images go back to creation and speak of the celebration of life. However, nothing will bring a person more fullness of life than the empty tomb. Nothing can guarantee eternal life other than belief in Jesus Christ. Life is wonderful and is to be celebrated, but only through Jesus Christ is there a guarantee of your personal resurrection.
Where are you today with your Images of Easter? Do you only do what the ancients did and recognize the Easter Lilly, Easter Rabbit, Easter Eggs, Easter Bonnet, etc.? Or do you recognize and receive the meaning of the empty cross and the empty tomb? Have you received life that can be experienced to the full? Is life eternal that only Jesus Christ can offer in your future? I pray it is. If not, I pray that today will be the day that your primary Image of Easter becomes the empty tomb.