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Should Easter Be Referred to as Resurrection Day?

CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Easter. Resurrection Day. They refer to the same event, the amazing day Jesus rose from the dead. However, some people prefer one or the other.

For the Gospels, the early church made sure to include the narratives of Jesus including the cross and the empty tomb. While Christmas may be a more popular holiday today, only two Gospels go into details of the virgin birth. For the death and resurrection of Jesus, all four spend ample time describing and commenting on the central event. Across the centuries, therefore, Easter has been the major holiday on the Christian calendar, even a source of controversy in the early church.

Regarding the season itself, what name should we use? Should Easter be referred to as Resurrection Day?

What’s the Biblical background for Easter? 

The biblical narrative of Easter is primarily documented in the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

The story begins with Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem for Passover, where He is hailed as the Messiah by crowds of people waving palm branches and shouting “Hosanna!” (Matthew 21:1-11). This event, known as Palm Sunday, marks the beginning of the final week of Jesus’ earthly ministry.

As the week progresses, Jesus preaches and teaches in the Temple. At the end of the festival, Christ shares a final Passover meal with his disciples, during which he institutes the sacrament of communion, symbolizing his impending sacrificial death (Matthew 26:17-30). Later that evening, Jesus is betrayed by one of his own disciples, Judas Iscariot, and arrested by the religious authorities (Matthew 26:47-56).

Jesus undergoes a series of trials before the Jewish religious leaders and the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, who ultimately condemns him to death by crucifixion (Matthew 27:1-26). Jesus is mocked, beaten, and crucified alongside two criminals, fulfilling the prophetic Scriptures concerning the suffering Messiah (Matthew 27:27-56).

After Jesus breathes His last on the cross, he is taken down and buried in a tomb belonging to Joseph of Arimathea (Matthew 27:57-61). The tomb is sealed and guarded by Roman soldiers to prevent any tampering.

On the third day, which Christians celebrate as Easter Sunday or Resurrection Day, the tomb is found empty, and Jesus’ disciples encounter Him alive again. The Gospels describe various appearances of the risen Jesus to His followers, including Mary Magdalene, Peter, and the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Matthew 28:1-20; Mark 16:1-20; Luke 24:1-53; John 20:1-31).

Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is the central focus of the Easter narrative, and Christianity, affirming his identity as the Son of God and the fulfillment of God’s plan of redemption for humanity. The resurrection demonstrates Jesus’ victory over sin and death, offering hope and salvation to all who believe in Him (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).

What is the history of the modern date for Easter? 

The modern date for Easter, observed by most Western Christian churches, is determined based on the Gregorian calendar and falls on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the vernal equinox. However, the history of Easter dates back to the early centuries of Christianity when the determination of the date was a subject of debate and disagreement among various Christian communities.

In the early church, two different dates for Easter emerged, primarily based on differences in calculation methods and cultural practices. The Eastern churches, following the tradition of the early Christians in Asia Minor, observed Easter according to the Julian calendar and the Jewish calendar, coinciding with the date of the Jewish Passover. This practice often led to Easter being celebrated on a different date than that observed by the Western churches.

Conversely, the Western churches, particularly those in Rome and Gaul, adopted a different method for calculating the date of Easter. Influenced by Roman customs and calculations derived from the Julian calendar, they established a fixed date for Easter, which sometimes differed from the Eastern date.

The discrepancy between the Eastern and Western dates for Easter eventually led to conflict and controversy within the early church. Known as the Quartodeciman Controversy, this dispute centered on whether Easter should be celebrated on the same date as the Jewish Passover or on a fixed date independent of the Jewish calendar. The Council of Nicaea in 325 AD addressed this issue and established a uniform method for determining the date of Easter.

Despite attempts to resolve the conflict, differences persisted between the Eastern and Western churches regarding the calculation of Easter. The Julian calendar, used by the Eastern churches, gradually fell out of sync with the solar year, leading to further discrepancies in the date of Easter.

Today, the modern date for Easter, determined by the Gregorian calendar and the traditional calculation method, is observed by the majority of Western Christian denominations, while Eastern Orthodox churches continue to adhere to the Julian calendar for determining the date of Easter. Despite historical conflicts and controversies, the celebration of Easter remains a central and unifying event in the Christian calendar, commemorating the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

What are the arguments for calling it Easter? 

One of the primary arguments for using the term Easter is its historical continuity and widespread recognition. The term Easter has been used for centuries to refer to the Christian celebration of Jesus’ resurrection, and it has become deeply ingrained in the cultural and religious traditions of many communities around the world. Retaining the term Easter helps maintain this historical continuity and connection to the rich heritage of the Christian faith.

Easter is also a significant cultural event celebrated by people of various faiths and backgrounds. The term is associated with a wide range of customs and traditions, including Easter eggs, Easter bunnies, and Easter parades, which have become integral parts of the holiday festivities for many people, even non-Christians.

From a linguistic standpoint, the term Easter is simple, familiar, and easy to understand. It requires no translation or explanation for English-speaking audiences, making it a convenient and practical choice for referring to the holiday. Additionally, the word Easter is likely derived from the Old English word “Ēastre,” which originally referred to the pagan festival of springtime and fertility, but was later adopted by Christians to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. By using the term Easter, Christians can reclaim and redefine this word within the context of their faith.

While there may be differences in opinion regarding the use of specific terms for the holiday, maintaining unity within the Christian community is essential. Using the term Easter helps foster a sense of unity and solidarity among Christians of various denominations and traditions, as it provides a common language and shared frame of reference for discussing the significance of Jesus’ resurrection.

What are the arguments for calling it Resurrection Day? 

The term Resurrection Day is sometimes advocated for use in place of Easter to emphasize the central focus of the holiday on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. While Easter has historical and cultural significance, there are several arguments in favor of using the term Resurrection Day.

Advocates for using the term Resurrection Day argue that it provides greater theological precision by explicitly highlighting the central event being celebrated—the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Unlike the term Easter, which has pagan origins and is associated with various non-religious traditions, Resurrection Day directs attention to the core message of Christianity: the triumph of Jesus over sin and death through His resurrection.

The New Testament frequently emphasizes the significance of Jesus’ resurrection as the cornerstone of the Christian faith. Using the term Resurrection Day aligns with the language and emphasis found in Scripture, particularly in passages like 1 Corinthians 15:20, which proclaims, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” By using the term Resurrection Day, Christians can underscore the biblical importance of this event.

In some contexts, the term Easter may be associated more with secular and commercialized traditions than with its religious significance. By using the term Resurrection Day, Christians can avoid potential confusion and ensure that the focus remains on the spiritual significance of the holiday rather than on secular customs and practices. Some proponents of using Resurrection Day believe that it helps to reclaim the focus of the holiday from secular and commercial influences and refocus attention on the spiritual significance of Jesus’ resurrection. By emphasizing the resurrection as the central theme of the holiday, Christians can deepen their understanding of its theological importance and its implications for their faith.

Advocates for using Resurrection Day argue that it is a more inclusive and clear term, particularly for those who may not be familiar with Christian terminology or the historical origins of the term Easter. Resurrection Day explicitly communicates the reason for the celebration and invites people of all faith backgrounds to reflect on the significance of Jesus’ resurrection.

What can Christians today learn from both? 

For Christians today, both terms carry meaning and have purpose. As believers all in the same family of God, we must strive for unity not controversy. We can each have our own preferences with valid reasons while respecting those who may feel differently.

Using Easter emphasizes the historical and cultural context of the holiday, rooted in ancient Christian traditions and practices. On the one hand, the term might trace its origins to an older pagan holiday. Yet since Christianity has been spread to other cultures and nations, per the Great Commission, the religion has often taken local languages and customs and adapted them to communicate important eternal truths. The first-century church dealt with whether or not to pass on a legalistic form of Jewish culture as part of Christianity, and after much-heated discussion, rejected ideas of passing on days of observance and Jewish holidays that even Jesus celebrated (Acts 15)/

Even Jesus used everyday cultural situations in parables to express something deeper and more meaningful. Missionaries have found ways to do this throughout the centuries, finding ways to connect.

Along with Easter, like modern Christmas, comes a great deal of secularization and consumerism, using non-Christian symbols like the bunny and Easter baskets to appeal to a wider audience. Christians are free and don’t have to participate in these traditions or decorations, much like Santa Claus and reindeer. However, we are also free to be creative and take these ideas to begin a conversation and begin speaking about what does matter, the story of Jesus, essentially becoming all things culturally to all people to save some (1 Corinthians 9:22).

At the same time, calling it Resurrection Day has immense value. We are called to be clear and bold about the things that matter, and the resurrection of Jesus changed the world. While modern academics might use BCE and CE instead of BC and AD, the historical origin point of history is the life of Jesus. And the Good News only matters because he rose from the dead. To remove the resurrection is to remove any reason to follow Christianity (1 Corinthians 15). The truth is simple, this is a Christian holiday and there doesn’t need to be any apologies for this, just as Hindus or Muslims don’t need to apologize for their religious holidays. Secularizing the celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus is misleading. Choosing to use the term Resurrection Day aligns with truth and transparency.

Either way, we aren’t to judge those who choose to use Easter or Resurrection Day. The central mission of every disciple of Christ is to point people to the revolutionary reality of the death and resurrection of Jesus, his sacrifice to conquer death, and reconcile all of Creation back to the Father. Let us be wise and discerning in fulfilling that mission for the good of all people.

Photo Courtesy: © Getty Images/jchizhe

Britt MooneyBritt Mooney lives and tells great stories. As an author of fiction and non -iction, he is passionate about teaching ministries and nonprofits the power of storytelling to inspire and spread truth. Mooney has a podcast called Kingdom Over Coffee and is a published author of We Were Reborn for This: The Jesus Model for Living Heaven on Earth as well as Say Yes: How God-Sized Dreams Take Flight.

Matthias David
Matthias David
Working in His vine, as He does even more at mine.
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