New Vision Christian Fellowship founder and pastor Willie Howard is still moved by Jesus’ sacrifice, he said.
“I can remember when I was coming up, we used to have the sunrise service, where we would go to church at about 5:30 a.m. That was beautiful, but Easter is my favorite because it does mark the resurrection of our savior. If not for that, we wouldn’t be where we are today. Before his trial, Jesus asked his apostles to come pray with him for an hour in the Garden of Gethsemane. They all went to sleep, but He asked if the cup could pass him by. But then He thought of us, and said ‘let it be your will and not mine.’
“His sweat was like great drops of blood. He was arrested, and Pilate tried to wash his hands of him and turn Him over to the people, but they chose Barabas instead. They beat Him and crowned Him with thorns and gave him vinegar to drink. He had to tote His own cross, and they nailed him to it. That whole time, as He’s being whipped and nailed to the cross, He could have stopped it at any time. But He didn’t. Instead, He gave us life, and gave us the opportunity to get into heaven. He did all that so we could be saved, and that is a priceless, precious gift.”
Barbara Embry, founding pastor of Christ Deliverance Christian Center, agreed. “Easter is the founding factor in our Christianity,” she said. “Jesus died and rose again for us. You know, I was looking at the mountain the other day, being thankful for all that we have. I thought, God put that into place for us, and Jesus was there with him when he did it. That power is the same power that allows us to live as Christians. The same power that raised Him from the dead lives in all of us. And it’s not life; it’s the life in abundance that He promised us. Throughout my life, I have seen the power to heal people, the power to mend broken hearts and to comfort troubled minds.”
Some Easter traditions are much older than Christianity, and were adopted by the early church later on, according to freethinker Hank Shriver.
“A lot of the rituals are from pagan mythology,” he explained. “Especially the eggs. The eggs and the rabbits symbolize fertility that people associate with spring. It was actually a couple of hundred years before the Christian Church adopted Easter as a holiday. As another example, Easter falls after the spring equinox, for the sun worshipers, after the first full moon for moon worshipers, and on the next Sunday after that, which was the Sabbath day for Mithra in the Zoroastrian religion. It was adopted as a holiday in about 300. The church then started incorporating pagan holidays for other purposes. Christmas originally was a festival honoring the winter solstice.”
Easter is an adaptation of the pagan rite of spring, Shiver continued. “It’s a season of birth and renewal and fertility, and the pagans used to practice mass fertility rites that involved elaborate costumes. In the early church, jewelry and finery were considered unchristian. It was only after religious holidays started becoming more commercial that the church started to pick up on it to keep up.”
Shiver also said that resurrection stories were common in many other religious traditions stretching back at least to ancient Egypt. “As Joseph Campbell wrote, its all a part of the Hero’s Journey,” he said.
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