What is the origin of the word Easter?
Just as there are many traditions surrounding the celebration of Easter, there are many stories and legends surrounding the origin of the word Easter. To some, it is the history and celebration of spring; for others it is a day to remember deliverance; for many it is the celebration of new life in Christ. Let's look at a few explanations:
Eostre - a pagan Anglo-Saxon Goddess
This mythical figure is said to have been the goddess of the sunrise and the spring. She is the Teutonic goddess of the dawn. The direction of the sunrise, East, is named for her. In Norse mythology, the name is spelled Eostare. Another considered the Norse/Saxon goddess of spring is Ostara. Eastre is believed to be an ancient word for spring.
Pesach - the Passover
While pagans celebrated the rites of spring, the Jews celebrated Passover, the anniversary of the day God delivered them out of Egyptian bondage. God had demanded the firstborn male from every household, but had promised to pass over any house with the blood of a perfect lamb smeared on its doorpost. He then commanded the Jews to remember their deliverance through the ceremony of the Passover. Pesach is the Hebrew word for Passover. Its position in the Jewish calendar coincidentally corresponds to the beginning of Spring.
Easter: An Early Celebration of Christ's Resurrection
Another idea involves the history of the Frankish church (Germans who settled in Rome during the fifth century). Their the celebration of Christ's resurrection included the word alba, which means white (the color of the robes worn during the resurrection festival). Alba also meant sunrise. So when the name of the festival was translated into German, the sunrise meaning, ostern, was selected, likely in error. One theory is that Ostern is the origin of the word Easter.
Throughout Scripture, God speaks of the Sacrificial Lamb. Beginning in Genesis 22, we read of God's command to Abraham that he sacrifice his son Isaac, the son of God's promise. When Abraham obediently raises his hand to sacrifice Isaac, God stops him. He is satisfied that Abraham is a man of great faith. When Isaac asks his father "where is the lamb for the sacrifice?", Abraham replies, "God will provide Himself the sacrifice." Many believe this was the first foreshadowing of the time when God Himself would become the sacrifice for all the sin of man, through the person of Jesus Christ.
Christians believe the deeper meaning of the Passover involves this sacrifice, as Jesus himself was crucified on the Friday of Passover week and resurrected on Passover Sunday. Because He is seen as the ultimate Sacrificial Lamb, anyone who accepts the gift of His sacrifice is said to have His blood on the doorposts of their hearts. Therefore, when the final judgment comes, God will pass them over. In Christ, those who believe are set free from the power and penalty of sin.
Origin of the Word Easter: What does it mean today?
More important than the question of how the word Easter originated is what it means to us today. When you think of the word Easter, what do you see? If you see bunnies and baskets of chocolate eggs, you are missing out on the richness of this day, considered by many Christians to be even more significant than Christmas. Easter, to Christians, is actually Resurrection Day - the anniversary of the day Jesus rose in triumph from the grave, claiming victory over death. Because He lives, so can you and I, through simple faith in Him. God provided Himself the sacrifice. Thanks to Him, you and I have the hope of eternal life with Him. Won't you trust in Him today?
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