What does Easter mean?
Like most festivals Easter has its origins in pre-Christian times. Our ancestors believed that the sun died in Winter and was born anew in Spring. Winter was a time of hardship and hunger when trees and fields were bare and animals were hibernating. When the days started to lengthen and the sun regained its warmth and power, the Spring festival was a cause for great celebration.
Different Gods – the Roman Attis and the Eastern Adonis – were thanked for bringing the earth back to life. In Europe the goddess Eostre was credited with the arrival of Spring and many believe it was she who lent her name to our festival of Easter.
The word for Easter in most European countries comes from the Greek “Pasch”, which means Passover. The Passover is the feast when the Jews remember their flight from captivity in Egypt. It is also the time when Christ was crucified.
Easter and Spring don’t always go together. Here in the Southern Hemisphere Easter falls in Autumn. But the world over Easter is felt to be a time of new life and new beginnings because of Christ’s rebirth. It isn’t hard to see why the early Christians in the Northern Hemisphere felt the Spring festival was especially fitting to celebrate Easter. Jesus himself pointed to the lesson of nature: that all things must die in order to be reborn to new life.
The Christ told us that unless an ear of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies it produces many seeds. (The Gospel of St. John).
Many of our Easter traditions still echo this truth. The sun rising on Easter morning, the new-born chick breaking from its shell, the light of a candle banishing darkness around, all point to the joyful news of Christ’s resurrection. Taking this festival to heart means finding the joy of the new life of the Christ today and living out that joy in all existence every day.