About Christmas

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January 12, 2009

How much we take for Granted.


Every year the Easter season comes around with Palm Sunday, followed by Good Friday, followed by Easter Sunday.


And Easter has the sunrise service, new bonnets, Easter eggs, and Easter Bunnies.


I hope we all realize that the First Christians didn’t do anything like that.

The connection of the sunrise service isn’t hard to connect.


          After all, the women were at the tomb of Jesus at the crack of dawn, only to find the stone rolled away and the body of Jesus gone.


          It has been so long since I went to a sunrise service that I forget what happens. It probably varies depending on who is doing the service.


          you don’t have to feel guilty about not going by the way. The First Christians didn’t do a sunrise service as far as we can tell.

But a stranger who came upon our customs would surely have some questions to ask.


          For example, what do the rabbits and eggs have to do with the resurrection of Jesus.


          And for that matter, what does the name Easter have to do with it?

It is really interesting if you take the point of view of an uninformed observer and look at what the first Christians actually did, you run into some fascinating questions.

Take Palm Sunday as an example.


          There are far too many variables to be certain that the events of that day took place on a Sunday at all.


          Here is the scripture that forms the basis of it.

(John 12:1-20 KJV) Then Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was which had been dead, whom he raised from the dead. {2} There they made him a supper; and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him. {3} Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment. {4} Then saith one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, which should betray him, {5} Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor? {6} This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein. {7} Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this. {8} For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always. {9} Much people of the Jews therefore knew that he was there: and they came not for Jesus' sake only, but that they might see Lazarus also, whom he had raised from the dead. {10} But the chief priests consulted that they might put Lazarus also to death; {11} Because that by reason of him many of the Jews went away, and believed on Jesus.

That took place six days before the Passover.

The events celebrated on Palm Sunday took place five days before the Passover.

{12} On the next day much people that were come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, {13} Took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried, Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord. {14} And Jesus, when he had found a young ass, sat thereon; as it is written, {15} Fear not, daughter of Sion: behold, thy King cometh, sitting on an ass's colt.


          This is a very significant part of the symbolism of Jesus as king.

          He comes, not on a horse, that would be threatening.


                      (Zechariah 9:9 KJV) Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.

{16} These things understood not his disciples at the first: but when Jesus was glorified, then remembered they that these things were written of him, and that they had done these things unto him. {17} The people therefore that was with him when he called Lazarus out of his grave, and raised him from the dead, bare record. {18} For this cause the people also met him, for that they heard that he had done this miracle. {19} The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, Perceive ye how ye prevail nothing? behold, the world is gone after him.

All this happened five days before the Passover.


          Now we come to a problem.


          What day of the week was the Passover?


                      The Palm Sunday tradition assumes it was Friday, the day Jesus died.


                      But Jewish tradition placed it on the day after Jesus died. That would inconveniently take us to Palm Monday.


          Sometimes, when issues are in doubt, a tradition grows up around a practice, and that isn’t necessarily wrong.

In this case, though, there is yet another complicating issue.


          Some scholars hold that Jesus was not crucified on Friday, but on Wednesday.


                      They see that you can’t get three days and three nights, the time Jesus was to be in the tomb, between Friday sunset and Sunday sunrise.


                      This point of view holds a Wednesday crucifixion with burial at sunset, and places Jesus’ resurrection at Saturday sunset.


          That really throws a monkey wrench in the works, giving us, what, Palm Wednesday?

There is something to be said for recognizing that tradition and history may be two very different things.


          And there is yet one more fly in the ointment.


          The Passover is on a day of the year, and thus, cannot always the same day of the week.


                      It is like the fourth of July in that respect. The fourth can happen on any day of the week.


          The Passover lamb, like Jesus, was killed on the 14th day of the first month of the Hebrew Calendar.


          One year it might be on a Friday, another year on another day of the week.

Now it is easy enough to say that the really important thing about Palm Sunday is not the day of the week, but the fact of the event.


          I agree entirely. But sometimes, we have a thirst to know, as best we can, what happened, and how it played out.


                      And it is a good idea to know what is tradition and what is scripture.


          And, if we thought the crucifixion took place on Wednesday, we might observe and Palm Friday and good Wednesday


          So Palm Sunday is like the song from Fiddler on the roof. It is tradition.

          And the important thing about it is not the day. It is Jesus as king.

On the other hand, there are some other things that have intruded on the story of this week, that a stranger might wonder about.


          For example: Why Easter? Why not Passover.


          I don’t remember when I first noticed it, but in all the early writings, in Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, and even Latin, the word Easter, in any form, is absent.


          And it is the English translations of the early church fathers that wander off down that road.—The German travels that way as well, and Easter appears to have been derived from the German.


          The King James Translators made a strange choice when they came to


                      (Acts 12:4 KJV) And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people.

You can be absolutely certain that the First Christians did not observe Easter, as such. They would have been horrified at the term and the practices connected with it.


          It is interesting that Latin and all the romance languages to this day do not know “Easter” For them it is the same word as Passover.

What makes this interesting is that the Greek word is Pascha, and is rendered Passover 28 times in the NT, and once as Easter.


          How did this happen?

I can’t trace the origins of the word, but something interesting happened in the early churches that bears on it.


          First, realize that at the beginning, this was not a Passover/Easter controversy.


          It was a calendar controversy.


          It was a question of when the church would observe Pascha,


          This gets confusing when you read up on church history, because even modern English works, when citing early Greek and Latin documents, translate Pascha as “Easter.”


          When discussing the Jewish observance, they render Pascha as “Passover.”


                      Remember, it is the same Greek word in both cases.

What was at issue late in the second century was whether they would observe Passover on any day of the week, as the Hebrew calendar allowed, or only on a Sunday. Later the issue became which Sunday.


          Considering it solely as a calendar issue, you could end up with Palm Friday.


          Remember, the first Christians were almost to a man, Jewish.

          For them, the symbolism of the Jewish observance was seen to point directly to Christ.


           The connection was clear and strong from the start. The early church had not adopted a calendar different from that of the Jewish majority in the first century, so the comparison between liturgy and events was, to them, even more apparent.

Thus, that first Sunday after the crucifixion of Jesus was important, as a day of the year.


          In the Hebrew calendar, it was not the first day of the week, but the first day of the weeks, the seven weeks of harvest leading up to Pentecost.


          This Sunday was celebrated early on as the day of Christ’s first appearance after his resurrection. It was an anniversary that appeared on the Jewish calendar on the first Sunday after Passover every year.


          It was, for want of a better term, “wave sheaf Sunday.” How it got confused with Easter is an interesting story.

It is well established, both in the Bible and in history that late in the first century the entire Christian church still observed Pascha on the 14th day of the first month of the Jewish calendar.


          This meant that Pascha, the Christian Passover, could fall on any day of the week.


           Meanwhile, much of the visible Christian church observed “resurrection Sunday” on the Sunday following the Passover. Endnote And, because it was the Passover season, they called the Sunday observance Pascha.


          The Jews used the term for the seven days of Unleavened Bread—i.e., the seven days of Passover.

A controversy arose between the Western Christians, who observed Pascha on wave sheaf Sunday and the Eastern Christians who observed it on the 14th day of the month. It is called the Quartodeciman controversy and is discussed at some length in the Catholic Encyclopedia. The controversy became important around the end of the second century.


          But Easter is still not in the picture.


          These people were writing in Greek and Latin, and the word in both languages was Pascha, Passover.

The Sunday observance of Pascha won out in most of the known churches but early in the fourth century, a second controversy arose. They had mostly settled on Sunday, but now the question was which Sunday.


          Through the intervening years, the churches had increasingly distanced themselves from the Jews, dropping as many links as they could. Endnote


                      Some thinks this grew out of the persecution of the Jews in Rome around the beginning of the second century.

The council of Nicea, in the year 325 made the following rulings—This from the Catholic Encyclopedia:


          Easter [Note: in the original, this was Pascha] must be celebrated by all throughout the world on the same Sunday;


          This Sunday must follow the 14th day of the Paschal moon;


                      [If you ever wondered how the moon got into the picture, the Hebrew calendar was a lunar calendar]


          That moon was to be accounted the Paschal moon whose 14th day followed the spring equinox;


          That some provision should be made, probably by the Church of Alexandria as best skilled in astronomical calculations, for determining the proper date of Easter and communicating it to the rest of the world (see St. Leo to the Emperor Marcian in Migne, P.L., LIV, 1055).

Note that the equinox is never mentioned in connection with the Hebrew Calendar. There, it was the time of the first ripe grain that controlled.


          So the Nicean council took its authority to itself and established the tradition of the day of Paschal observance.

What they had done at first was to move Pascha to the Sunday following the Jewish Passover.


Now they moved Pascha to the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox.

It was still, to them, the Pascha,

but they had, by accident or design, moved the Passover to coincide with an ancient pagan festival called Easter.

The name, Easter, comes from the Anglo-Saxon goddess of the dawn. In pagan cultures, an annual spring festival was held in her honor. She was also a fertility goddess, hence the fertility symbols of eggs and rabbits.

So the celebration of Easter, with a sunrise service for the goddess of the dawn, and all the Easter egg hunts, and bunnies and stuff, is an entirely different holiday from the Passover.


But because the church moved the Passover from its original date to the date of Easter, the two holidays have become conflated to this day.

And the profound symbolism of Passover has been all but lost to most Christian folk.


          Easter, as such, has absolutely nothing to do with Christianity.

          Wave Sheaf Sunday has somewhat to do with Christianity, because it is the day Jesus first appeared to his disciples, and it is the day when Jesus was presented to the Father as the firstfruits from the dead.


          Wave Sheaf Sunday is the day when the priests in the Temple waved a sheaf of the firstfruits of the barley harvest before God. It is on the day after the Sabbath following Pascha, regardless of when the equinox takes place.

How did the first Christians see this?


          Paul wrote a letter to the Corinthian church at this time of year, and had to deal with a serious error.

(1 Corinthians 5:1-8 KJV) It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father's wife. {2} And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you. {3} For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed, {4} In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, {5} To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

{6} Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? {7} Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us:

{8} Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.


          It is plain enough that the first Christians observed, not Easter, but Pascha—Passover.


          They kept the seven day feast with unleavened Bread.

It seems a shame, somehow, that the connection with the Passover has been lost to most Christian observance.


          The last supper was a Passover service.


                      The bread and the wine were introduced as symbols of Christ’s body and blood.


                      It would have been, for the First Christians, a once a year observance.

But in time, someone decided that it would be called Communion or the Lord’s supper and observed weekly, monthly, or quarterly, and the Paschal connection was lost.


          In the same vein, the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus as the firstfruit from the dead, got moved to the day the goddess of the dawn was worshiped,


          And in time, her name was attached to the festival.


          Instead of Passover, the church was observing Easter.


          It is a crying shame.

I suppose tradition has its place. But it seems strange that we should allow pagan customs and symbolism to replace the central meaning of the Christian faith.


          The resurrection of Jesus Christ.

(1 Corinthians 15 KJV) Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; {2} By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. {3} For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; {4} And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: {5} And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: {6} After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. {7} After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. {8} And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. {9} For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. {10} But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. {11} Therefore whether it were I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed. {12} Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? {13} But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: {14} And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. {15} Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. {16} For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: {17} And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. {18} Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. {19} If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. {20} But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. {21} For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. {22} For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. {23} But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming. {24} Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. {25} For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. {26} The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. {27} For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him. {28} And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all. {29} Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead? {30} And why stand we in jeopardy every hour? {31} I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. {32} If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? let us eat and drink; for to morrow we die. {33} Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners. {34} Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame. {35} But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come? {36} Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die: {37} And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain: {38} But God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body. {39} All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds. {40} There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. {41} There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory. {42} So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: {43} It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: {44} It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. {45} And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit. {46} Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. {47} The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven. {48} As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. {49} And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly. {50} Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. {51} Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, {52} In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. {53} For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. {54} So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. {55} O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? {56} The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. {57} But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. {58} Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.

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