The Herald Bulletin

March 31, 2013

Easter brings new life, joy

By Nancy R. Elliott
The Herald Bulletin

ANDERSON, Ind. — Fanciful eggs, bunnies, chicks and candy are everywhere today. It’s Easter, a holiday that reminds us it’s springtime, a time of joy and new life.

For Christians, it’s more than baskets full of candy. It’s a spiritual promise of new life secured for them by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

“It is the resurrection of our Lord and the most important day in the Christian church,” said the Rev. Dr. Gary J. Carstens. As senior pastor of Christ Lutheran Church, Carstens shepherds about 140 faithful worshippers at a church that’s had a home in Anderson for over 100 years.

As times have changed throughout those years, however, Carstens noted the meaning of Easter has been consistent.

“It’s always been about the resurrection of our Lord. ... The defining essence of Christianity is that Jesus rose from the dead,” said Carstens. That steadfast belief gives hope to a community regardless of the difficult times in which we live.

Alan Overstreet, chair of the Religious Studies Department and professor of Christian Education/Ministry at Anderson University, said that although celebrations of Easter have occurred in some form from the beginning, “I think some form of special Easter commemoration … started to break out in the 3rd or 4th century.”

Secular motifs like bunnies and eggs that touch on new life and fertility crept into the religious holiday and have ultimately been adopted and imbued with spiritual connotations.

“It’s a way to tell the story,” said Pastor Don Billey of Main Street Church of God in Anderson as he described his church’s use of ‘resurrection eggs’ that are filled with symbols rather than candy. “It’s a matter of taking a pagan tradition and resurrecting it to tell the story of Christ.”

Churches of many Christian walks host Easter egg hunts.

“It is a way of drawing people in and letting them know the church is there,” said Senior Associate Pastor Donna Goings at First United Methodist Church.

Even the name of this important religious Christian holiday apparently has its roots in pagan tradition, as described in “The Oxford Companion to World Mythology” by David Leeming.

“A Germanic fertility goddess, Eostra, is perhaps a source for the term ‘Easter.’ She was said to have owned an egg-laying rabbit. A more generally accepted theory is that ‘Easter’ comes from the German Ostern, which comes from the Norse Eostur for ‘spring.’”

The Easter celebration is the culmination of a solemn period during which worshippers of various Christian walks have devoted themselves to the story and the meaning of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.

Many spent the last 40 days fasting, sacrificing and praying as Easter approached. On Easter Sunday, members of the Church of God culminate Focus 40, a period of prayer and fasting that this year explored God’s “Extreme Love.”

“It’s a time of devotion and focus,” said Billey. Other churches similarly mark the end of Lent.

The days prior to Easter, Holy Week, gave the faithful pause to consider the great sacrifice that Jesus Christ made, in dying through crucifixion. Three days later, grief turned to joy upon the discovery of the great stone rolled away from Christ’s tomb and the realization of the resurrection.

“It’s a triumph of life over death,” said the Rev. Robert Williams at St. Mary’s and St. Ambrose Catholic churches. Williams has been a busy man this week. He and his congregation celebrated a Passover supper, a ceremony commemorating Jesus’ washing of the feet,  the passion of the Lord and veneration of the cross.

“It’s the cross we carry in our hearts,” said Williams. On Saturday there was a prayer service and the solemn Easter vigil. Today there are baptisms, confirmations, and the celebration of the Eucharist, followed by a party.

“The celebration of the Lord’s resurrection … takes on deep meaning after Lenten penance and fasting,” said Williams.

It’s a celebration happening at Christian churches all around Madison County and beyond.

“It’s just so joyful,” said First United Methodist Pastor Goings. Like others, the church today is decorated with Easter lilies, and enjoying special music with brass instruments and choir. “It’s very awe-inspiring … triumphant.”

Because of Christ’s resurrection, Carstens said, “We have hope and confidence … that we will share eternity with him, too.”

As Christians mature and grow in their faith, that hope and assurance is ever more relevant.

“For every year of life, as we grow in our Christian faith, it becomes more meaningful,” said Goings.