1 March, 2024

A Curious Start to Easter ‘Coverage’

by | 18 April, 2019 | 0 comments

“Coverage” of Easter in Christian Standard seems to have started rather slowly. The magazine began publishing in 1866, but the first original articles topically categorized as “Easter” didn’t appear until the 1890s.

There were essays about Jesus’ resurrection, to be sure, but the lagging start to “Easter” references in the magazine’s centennial index seems curious.

One might wonder, did the magazine opt not to write about “Easter” each spring because the Bible offers no description of annual observances of Jesus’ resurrection . . . and certainly not by that name?

These two articles seem to offer some enlightenment. The first item is an editorial from 1896, and the second is from J.W. McGarvey’s “Biblical Criticism” column from 1911.

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An editorial from April 4, 1896; p. 16

We are happily far removed from the paschal controversies which formerly and for so long disturbed the Christian world. The Jewish Christians of the first age continued to observe the Passover, connecting it in thought and worship with Christ who is “our passover,” and this they did, of course, on the fourteenth day of the Jewish month Nisan, on whatever day of the week it might fall. In this they were followed for many decades by the churches of Asia Minor—the celebration having exclusive reference to the crucifixion of Christ. But in the churches of the West, composed mainly of Gentiles, the resurrection became the predominant idea, and the day of the week, therefore, acquired an overshadowing importance; and so what we now call Easter day was fixed upon us “the Sunday immediately following the fourteenth day of the so-called Paschal moon, which happens on or after the vernal equinox,” i.e., the 21st of March.

It is difficult for us of this age to enter sympathetically into the spirit of earnestness with which this divisive question was discussed. Both sides entered into it as though it involved matter of supreme and vital importance; and there were thrust and counter-thrust, charges of heresy, withdrawals of fellowship, excommunications; and there were grave deliberations of Synods and Councils, and solemn pleadings of dignitary with dignitary, and church with church—the Sunday-men on the one side, and the “Fourteeners” on the others; and we are afraid that some of them, in their fervid zeal for their day, lost sight of what the day signified.

We have learned that neither the Saviour nor the apostles enjoined the observance of either day, or any other day. And still it is a sweet and beautiful thing to do it. What if the mode of calculation, prescribed by the Council of Nice, and which all Western Christians follow, misses the exact day a little, still it is certainly about right; and there is something impressive in the fact that the whole Christian world, with perhaps the single exception of the Greek Church, will soon lift up one heart and one voice, on the same day, to commemorate with praises and rejoicings the resurrection of Christ. And well they may, for it is the most stupendous and significant fact in all the history of this world.

But for this the coming of Christ would have had no adequate results, his divine power and Godhead no conclusive proof. But for this no apostles would have been sent into all the world, no gospel have been preached, no church established, no New Testament written; and that saddest and most sorrowful of Sabbaths, when he lay dead in the tomb, would have spread its somber gloom over all time and all life. But he rose again from the dead, and liveth and reigneth forevermore—head over all things, and crowned with all power—the Prince of peace, and the Lord of life—ruling over us and in us, and ruling over all things for us.

Whatever, then, may be our several conclusions respecting the anniversary of the resurrection, or our sense of obligation to observe Easter or any day in commemoration of it, let us not fail in this budding spring season, when all nature is rising to new life, and singing with dumb but eloquent voices the praises of Him who is the Fountain of all life, to lift our glad and grateful hearts to Him in humble thanksgiving and adoration. If we observe the day, let us do it not in vain earthly show to be seen of men, nor yet with hearts occupied about gaudy attire, but unto the Lord; and he that observeth not the day, should not pique and compliment himself upon his non-observance, nor criticize and condemn those who differ from him, but to the Lord let him not observe it, and let him give God thanks.

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And now, here are thoughts about Easter from J.W. McGarvey from June 17, 1911. (Note that this appeared two months and one day after Easter that year. Also, this was the third of three unrelated items McGarvey wrote about that week.)

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About Easter Sunday

By J.W. McGarvey; p. 7

I am requested by J.A. Young to tell him “why they call the Sunday of Christ’s resurrection Easter Sunday. Why did they add the word ‘Easter’ to Sunday?”

The word ‘Easter,’ originally Eoster, was the name of the heathen goddess of spring in England and in Germany. As her annual festival came about the same time with the annual celebration of the resurrection of Jesus, the two came to be blended by common consent of the people. The name is therefore of heathen origin, and its use by believers in Christ was a compromise with heathenism.

You call it “the Sunday that Christ rose from the dead.” This is the claim that is made for it; but it is so only once in seven years. Easter Sunday is the first Sunday for the first full moon after the vernal equinox, according to the decree of the Council of Nice, which was held in 325 A.D. But the Sunday of Christ’s resurrection was the second day after that full moon; for the Jewish Passover always began with that moon which was full at the time on the night between Thursday and Friday, and Jesus arose the second day afterward, as we count time, the third day as the Jews counted it. Now, an annual observance of the day would not fix it on Sunday, for if a certain day of the month fell one year on Sunday, it will fall the next year on Monday, the next on Tuesday, and so on for seven years ere it falls on Sunday again. You may as well attempt to observe the Fourth of July on Monday every year, or Christmas on Saturday, as to observe the day of the month on which Christ arose always on Sunday. What is the use of an anniversary that misses the right day six times out of every seven? The Lord appointed every Sunday as the day to celebrate his resurrection; let us be content with that, and not attempt an impossible substitute. The Dissenters, as they are called in England, and the Presbyterians in Scotland, have been right in refusing to observe “Easter Sunday,” though many of all the sects in America have yielded to the influence of Romanism in making it a great day, and in many instances a day of great folly.

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While it’s true that we celebrate our Lord’s resurrection every Sunday, the staff of Christian Standard—21st-century edition—is also happy to wish our readers and Christians around the world a very joyful Resurrection Day this particular Sunday.

Jim Nieman, managing editor, Christian Standard

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Image: A chromolithograph titled Easter Lily Cross by Olive E. Whitney. The print was published by L. Prang & Co. in the late 1800s. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.


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