April 6, 2009

Easter—The Sizzle and the Steak
by Pastor George Van Alstine

A popular marketing technique is summarized by the phrase “Sell the Sizzle instead of the Steak!” Through 2000 years of Christian history, this is what has happened to Easter. The basic fact that, “Christ died for our sins, he was buried and he was raised on the third day” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4), is the steak, but all kinds of sizzle always seems to capture the public’s attention as this event rolls around each year.

Actually, the Early Church celebrated Christ’s resurrection weekly, not annually. That’s what the new day of worship was all about, Sunday (“the first day of the week,” Matthew 28:1), instead of the traditional Jewish Sabbath on Saturday. Some believers during the first few centuries kept the annual Jewish Passover, which for them became a commemoration of Christ’s death, but the third-day resurrection was not separately celebrated with a yearly holiday.

It was Paganism, rather than Christianity, that inspired the annual holiday. Most cultures have a springtime religious festival, marking the new beginnings of life after a long, hard winter. These traditions have usually involved an emphasis on human fertility as part of the spring revival.

The word “Easter,” comes from the name of the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring, whose festival took place in April. Rabbits (“Easter bunnies?”) legendary for their rapid reproductive rate, were symbols of fertility. To own a rabbit’s foot would increase the likelihood that a couple would have a healthy baby. Eggs were also symbols of fertility in Rome and in other nearby cultures. All of these ideas were already attached to Easter when, in the fourth or fifth century the holiday came to be associated with Christ’s resurrection.

Modern materialism has also contributed to our Easter traditions. The wearing of the finest new clothes for this spring holiday developed out of Medieval superstitions about how old garments can carry with them failures and sorrows of the past. In late nineteenth century America, this tradition was amplified during prosperous times into the Easter Parade on New York’s Fifth Avenue, which was popularized by Irving Berlin’s 1933 song “Easter Parade,” and the 1948 Fred Astaire/Judy Garland movie of the same name.

Today, it’s easy to see how the Easter sizzle outsells the resurrection steak. People are just more attracted to bunnies, decorated eggs and fancy new clothes than to an ancient symbol of religious belief. For some of them, the idea that a person rose from the dead is irrational. To others, it might seem irrelevant, since this man lived two-thousand years ago. Some may even find it irritating to suppose that this resurrected man may require some belief response from them. It’s not surprising that such people settle for the Easter sizzle.

But for those who really want to get their teeth into something this Easter, the steak is there for you—right in the Bible. Read Matthew chapter 28 as if you’ve never seen it before. Let the nourishing solid food of Jesus’ resurrection fill your soul with hope and rejoicing.