The word “Easter” does not appear in the entire Bible. The word was not Christian, and was not even used in church literature until late in the church’s history. “Easter” is the name of the goddess of the spring.
Hundreds of years before Jesus was born, the spring festival was celebrated honoring “Easter,” the goddess. The church borrowed the festival, and kept the goddess’ name.
Even older than Easter as goddess of spring was a much wider worship and adoration of her as goddess of the dawn. In our language, the root of “easter” is “East” — the place of dawn; and in nearly all of the languages of Northern Europe the words for Easter come from a root meaning the dawn.
Three thousand years before Jesus was born, poetic and pious Hindus kindled their morning fires, made their morning sacrifices, and sang their morning song of praise to the goddess of the dawn in ancient India. Many scholars consider the “hymn to the dawn” as among the finest of the Vedas. How they praised her, reborn in beauty in every dawn, coming with radiant face to drive away the darkness and its dangers and arouse all creatures to the joys of another day.
This was the original Easter worship, the daily praise and adoration for the dawn. It survives to this day. We still have our Easter sunrise services in every village and hamlet, a vestige of a celebration to the dawn that began 5,000 years ago, maybe longer. And 5,000 years later, we will still sing as our processional hymn on Easter Sunday in Christian churches, “All creatures of our God and King, lift up your voices… thou burning sun with golden beam, thou rising morning… in praise… rejoice… alleluia.”
Today we cannot even speak the word “Easter” without remembering when the Eastern sky was alive with the presence of a glorious goddess, robed in gold and purple and radiant with beauty as she rose to wake the world and call all to their morning worship.
It is worth remembering in this Easter season. It makes it far larger and more significant for me to remember how millions of people, from Iceland back to India have shared in this same worship. It places me within the larger context of the human family and brotherhood.
I like knowing that worshippers of the Christian Jesus, the Roman Jupiter, the Greek Apollo, the Norse Odin, to the Vedic Indra have all been sharing similar feelings: praise for the morning and for the spirit behind it all.
I think we can very well keep that deep feeling of praise and adoration for the miracle of the dawn. “This is the New Day which the Lord God has given us. Let us rejoice,” wrote the psalmist.
In time, Easter became not just the goddess of the dawn, but the goddess of resurrection, springtime and new life.
The original celebration of the Hebrew passover celebrated by Jesus at what we know as “The Last Supper of Holy Week” was a festival of spring. And so, in the Christian church we still keep the name and keep the time every year. At the first full moon after the sun reaches the vernal equinox, the Jews still keep their ancient spring Passover. The next Sunday, Christians keep the ancient Easter. Does it not make it all far more significant and more meaningful to celebrate all of the miracles of resurrection, the mystery of life and light in this season of dawn and springtime?
God provides annually a Passover feast for every living thing on the Earth. As Jesus put it, “God makes his sun rise daily and shine on the just and the unjust alike.”
God provides a feast for all of us on this Earth in swelling bud and seed. God provides a spring feast for all with a divine impartiality and allows all to feast on the glories and beauties of the resurrected earth. What a beautiful time to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and other human spirits. Not the resurrection of a body (not even Paul went along with that), but a “spiritual” resurrection far greater than a bodily resurrection would have been.
The same truth found in that resurrected spirit can be found in countless other spirits. Albert Schweitzer was once asked the question, “Do you think that anyone has ever lived who was a good a person as Jesus?” And Schweitzer replied, “Millions.”
If Christmas is symbolic of biological birth, then Easter is symbolic of spiritual birth. Easter is symbolic of the fact that the life of the spirit is timeless. There comes to me from time to time the feeling that resurrected unseen spirits, still active, still influencing, are on more solid ground than we, and that all are safe in the dimension and realities of something we can call only “eternal love.”
A hundred thousand years ago somewhere on an African savannah, an eye filled with a first tear, staring past a freshly dug grave. Whence came that tear, but from the source of love, that which is eternal?
Was “Love” the origin of the first dream of immortality? I think, perhaps. Love sheds its radiance upon peaceful tombs saying, “Why seek the living among the dead? They are not in tombs.”
We can genuinely sing on Easter Sunday:
“All creatures of our God, lift up your voices
and with us sing…
thou burning sun with golden beam…
thou rising morning… in praise, rejoice.