I think that some Jewish believers tend to feel more comfortable celebrating Christmas than they do celebrating Easter. I think this is because Christmas in America has become secularized to the point where it is more acceptable to many Jewish people, even those who are not believers. Christmas seems to be a more popular holiday than Easter among nonbelieving Gentiles, as well. This is probably because the birth of Jesus is no threat, even to those who believe that he was merely a good teacher or an important leader. And even nominal Christians who intellectually believe some facts about the gospel but do not want to let it have an impact on their lives feel more comfortable remembering Jesus as a helpless baby than as a resurrected, living Lord.
My family celebrated both holidays in a secular way. But when I became a believer, they took on totally different meanings for me. Actually, my feelings about Christmas did not change that much, but my feelings about Easter did. They changed from considering it a fairly irrelevant religious holiday to seeing it as a celebration of the most amazing truth—JESUS IS ALIVE! And I knew him, and because he was alive, I would also live.
I can still remember the excitement I felt as a new believer attending my first sunrise service.” It was 6:00 a.m. and windy, cold and rainy, but I felt like I was in heaven. No one else in my family knew the Lord at that time, but it didn’t matter to me. I just wanted to celebrate the fact that Jesus had won the battle over Satan and death—that the God of the universe had triumphed over the powers of darkness, and that because of Jesus’ life, I, too, could live. It was something that had not made any sense to me before I knew him, or that would make any sense to any unbeliever, whether or not they called themselves Christians.
Now I understand that throughout the centuries some unbelieving Gentiles, who named the name of Christ, used the events leading to Jesus’ death and Resurrection as an excuse for persecution and hatred of innocent Jewish people. (I feel that this proves that they understood neither the meaning of his death, nor his resurrection.) I can sympathize with Jewish people for whom Easter holds connotations of dread as they remember horrors like pogroms, blood libel and other atrocities. I also understand why this holiday is shunned by Jewish people, even those who are fairly Americanized and do enter into secular Christmas celebration. And I can even understand why Jewish people who do know the risen Messiah still might feel a bit uncomfortable about Easter, thinking that there is something “unJewish” about it that they cannot quite define.
Their feelings about the “unJewishness” of the holiday are confirmed to me when I see the Easter bunnies and chocolate eggs and some of the other insipid holiday “folderol” of our culture. To those who do not believe, Easter is as much folly as the gospel itself. The trappings are merely our society’s attempt at making the holiday into a non-demanding, non-threatening secular tradition. I do not find any reason to try to compel anyone not to be uncomfortable with that. I think of the passage in Romans 14:5-6: “One man esteemeth one day above another; another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it.…”
I am a believer in Jesus who did not grow up with the memory of things that would make Easter an uncomfortable time for me. However, because I have decided to cast my lot in, whatever way possible, for better or worse, with the people who do have those unpleasant memories, I have had to do some thinking as to whether I, too, should now feel uncomfortable about Easter. At first, I did. When it was pointed out to me that it was foolish to celebrate a holiday named after a Babylonian goddess (an idea I had never considered before), the meaning I had found in Easter as a new believer began to fade. Then, too, I am so busy at this time of year with Passover, which has become so very significant to me, and two or three Passover seders, that I tend to forget about Easter until it actually arrives—a symptom of my being like Martha, who was so busy preparing food that she lost sight of who it was for. I guess that is a problem that must be dealt with during any busy holiday.
Anyway, as I stop to reflect on all this, I come to some important conclusions: I hate the secular traditions that have become associated with the supremely non-secular reason for this holiday. (God forbid that I should ever let my children think that the significance of Easter is candy and colored eggs.) Besides, I find the name Easter inappropriate. Yet despite all of this, and no matter how busy I get preparing to celebrate God’s deliverance of his people Israel from bondage, both to Pharaoh and to sin, and no matter how much I empathize with those who feel uncomfortable about Easter, I cannot let myself forget my joy at that first sunrise service as a new believer. I must remember what I felt years ago when I had only known the Lord for a week, and I was rejoicing for the first time in my life in his—and my—resurrection from the dead. I cannot let myself forget that because it would mean forgetting the joy of my salvation. I need a time to remember not only the death of the Passover Lamb, but also his life. HE IS ALIVE!
EDITOR’S NOTE: Amy Rutt sings soprano and plays guitar with our Chicago Liberated Wailing Wall. She’s been a volunteer with our ministry for over three years and is employed in the computer department of Moody Bible Institute.