Reflections

Christmas questions... Easter questions…

Eleanor Deckert

I am well known for asking questions,


and I encourage the children I volunteer with to ask questions. Adults aren't usually as open to share what they are confused or curious about. When delving into clusters of questions around religious topics, I have noticed that some questions can be answered with historic or scientific facts. Some answers are right there in the Scripture text. Some answers stretch the mind to understand the meaning of symbols, or a search is necessary to cross-reference texts, or I must take the time to examine several translations.

It seems to me that there is only one main question connected with the celebration of Christmas: “Did a virgin really conceive?”

Questions about other customs can be easily answered. Bethlehem is a real place. King Herod did exist and was a cruel tyrant. The date we choose to celebrate is artificial and connected to the solar year. The angels sang, so we sing. The Magi brought gifts, so we bring gifts. Mary and Joseph were poor and outcast, so we give to charity.

Only Scripture claims the virgin birth. Each person has to answer that one question through a thing called faith. Faith believes “Yes.” Doubt says “No.”

Either way, the days and weeks before Christmas are filled with preparations, parties, decorations and music.

However, at Easter-time, there seems to be a great many more questions, and a lot less hoopla on the TV, in shopping malls, and even in our homes. I wonder about this. Is Christmas a more important day to celebrate than Easter? And I collect questions.

“First of all, did Jesus really exist?”

“What is the origin of the word 'Easter'?”

“Why is the date for Easter different every year?”

“Did Jesus know what was going to happen?”

“What is 'good' about “Good Friday”?

“Why didn't Jesus just get down off the cross?”

“Did Jesus really rise from the dead?”

The first-century Romano-Jewish scholar and historical writer, Josephus, names Jesus. So, even if in doubt about the authenticity of the Bible, the historic record is there.

The word 'Easter' may have come from a Germanic, later Saxon word associated with 'east, dawn and springtime' recorded in the writing of the 7th to 8th-century English monk named Bede. He wrote that the English month of April "was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month."

The dates for Easter shift because the Jewish lunar calendar is used to calculate the correct time. Passover is the first Sabbath after the first full moon after the spring Equinox. Jesus' activities during the last week of his life were intertwined with Passover. In fact, Christians believe that the meaning of the sacrifice of the Passover lamb (when the Children of Israel were set free from slavery in Egypt) directly points to Jesus' sacrifice (when all of mankind is set free from the 'slavery of sin and death').

As a child, I was haunted by this question. “Did Jesus know what was going to happen? Or was the whole betrayal, arrest, torture, and early death a huge mistake?

As an adult, I have come to find the answer in the Old Testament, written some 1000 years before crucifixion was even invented. Jesus, like all boys in his time and place, would have had large parts of this text memorized.

Reading the description in Psalm 22 is like having a front row seat. “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” The victim is scorned by people, tortured and exhausted, pierced in his hands and feet while bystanders cast lots for his clothing.

My heart ached, begging my parents for an answer. “What is 'good' about “Good Friday”? It is a huge and heavy concept for a child to begin to grasp.

Isaiah describes 'The Suffering Servant' in several passages, most clearly in chapter 53.

“He is despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief... Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows... He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities... and by his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all... He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he opened not His mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment... and they made his grave with the wicked - But with the rich at his death, because He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. He was numbered with the transgressors, and He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” (NKJV)

Here is the answer to several questions. He did know what was happening. This is good news. And also, why Jesus did not come down from the cross. He came for a purpose, and He finished what He set out to do.

He didn't get down off the cross because He wanted to show even more wonderful evidence of his authentic power. He raised from the dead!

Really?

Other than the women who reported the empty tomb, and Peter and John who ran back to see for themselves, do we have any other witnesses? Is the fact of the growth of Christianity 'proof' of the Resurrection? Is the lack of a tomb site 'proof' that Jesus is no longer in a grave?

Matthew 27: 62-66 and 28: 2-4, 11-15 records how the Roman soldiers (requested by the Jewish chief priests and Pharisees) were commanded by Pilate to guard Jesus' tomb so that no one could steal the body and claim the miracle. These soldiers were also witnesses! While on watch, there was a great earthquake and the guards fell down. While they were unconscious, the stone was rolled away and the women saw that the grave was empty. The guards ran to the religious leaders who bribed them to say, “While we were asleep, the disciples stole the body.”

My husband recently brought out one single point that clarifies the question of the empty grave for me. By Roman law, if a soldier falls asleep on duty, he would face the death sentence. Why would the soldiers admit to failing at their duties and face capital punishment? (Google “Guards at the tomb: the discipline of the Roman soldier”)

Why would the highest authorities in the land, both religious and Roman, agree to lie about what happened? Unless it really did happen!

So many Easter questions!

Doubt says “No.” Faith believes “Yes.”