Word Play: Easter

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Friday, April 19th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Today is Good Friday, and Resurrection Sunday is almost here. George Grant’s been thinking about Easter.

GEORGE GRANT, COMMENTATOR: Easter is upon us. According to John MacArthur, “The resurrection is the pivot on which all of Christianity turns and without which none of the other truths would much matter. Without the resurrection, Christianity would be so much wishful thinking, taking its place alongside all other human philosophy and religious speculation.

Or as Tim Keller has asserted, “If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all that he said; if he didn’t rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said? The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like his teaching but whether or not he rose from the dead.”

That is why, this week and next, untold tens of thousands of Christians around the world will exult, “Christ is risen!” Then they’ll hear the joyous response, “He is risen indeed!”

Now, I say “this week and next” because while today is Good Friday and Sunday is Easter for most churches in the West, Eastern churches won’t celebrate until next week.

Unlike Christmas or the New Year, Easter is a “movable feast” and does not have a fixed date. Instead, at the First Ecumenical Council at Nicaea in 325, the church fathers agreed that Resurrection Day would be observed on the first Sunday after the first Full Moon occurring on or after the Vernal Equinox. But they counted March 21 as the equinox date in the ecclesiastical calendar, rather than the actual astronomical date, which varies between the 19th, the 20th, and the 21st.

And, if all that were not complicated enough, the Gregorian Calendar replaced the Julian Calendar throughout most of the West between the 16th and 19th centuries—but the Eastern churches maintained the old calendaring system. As a result, Easter only very rarely falls on the same Sunday for all Christians around the world.

Even the name of the Resurrection Festival is inconsistent from country to country and from language to language. In nearly all the Romance Languages, the name is derived from the Latin word Pascha, which is itself a transliteration of the Aramaic word meaning Passover.

The English word Easter is a bit of an oddity. Its exact origin is unclear. It may be derived from the Old English Easterdæg, which in turn is derived from the Proto-Germanic Austron.

The early monastic historian, Venerable Bede, asserts that Anglo-Saxon Christians adopted the name from a goddess of fertility or sunrise whose feast was celebrated at the spring equinox—though modern linguists and etymologists have cast considerable doubt on that theory.

In any case, whenever we celebrate it, and whatever we call it, all of us who name the name of Christ can join with Charles Wesley to sing, “Christ the Lord is risen today! Earth and heaven in chorus say, Alleluia! Raise your joys and triumphs high! Sing, ye heavens, and earth reply, Alleluia!”

For WORLD Radio, I’m George Grant.

(Photo/Creative Commons)

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One comment on “Word Play: Easter

  1. Elizabeth Edgren says:

    Thank you so much for bigger picture of Easter observance, including our eastern brethren’s different name and timing of it. We in the west are typically so ignorant of this branch of our church family! Part of my (very western) family has converted to eastern Orthodoxy, and I appreciate your including them in this informative piece.

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