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Bunny Rabbit or Unleavened Bread?

by George Carter
Photo by Bee Felten-Leidel on Unsplash
 

People like to think that they have good reason for what they do. Why then do they observe Easter with coloured eggs, chocolate rabbits, and sunrise worship? Why do we in the United Church of God do otherwise, eating bread only of the unleavened variety for seven days following the Passover?

The world has its reasons, but in most cases people have forgotten where their traditions came from. We, on the other hand, have the origins of our traditions in the Bible, which also explains why we observe them. Jesus Christ said that "true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth" (John 4:23,24). In distinction to the world's holidays, God says that the holy days listed in Leviticus 23 are His feasts, and that they are holy convocations.

Holy Convocations and Pagan Practices

Holy means that it is sacred, set apart for religious worship or observance. It comes from the Old English halig, which is derived from hal, or "hale" as we use it today, and it means whole or healthy. Convocation is literally "a calling together" (from the Latin) and refers to an assembly of people coming together in response to a summons. God Himself has set apart these Holy Days so that we may come before Him and learn more of the Way of salvation.

Easter effectively hides Biblical truth. It is supposed to celebrate Jesus Christ's resurrection, but does it? No. The word Easter comes from "Ishtar" (or Astarte) the name of a Chaldean goddess who was worshipped as the Queen of Heaven, and as the goddess of Spring and fertility - hence the bunny rabbits and easter eggs. Many pagan nations adopted the idea that the God of fertility (husband of Astarte) died in the Winter and was reborn in the Spring.

Complementing this myth was the representation of the God of fertility as the sun—which "died" at the winter solstice and was resurrected at the vernal equinox, or first day of Spring, and that is the source of sunrise worship on Easter Sunday. Thus, they thought, was fertility restored to the earth. Apart from rabbits (the most reproductive animals known to the ancients) and eggs (the obvious symbol of impending birth) Easter was also celebrated with temple prostitution. Is it any wonder that God was angered by such pagan practices?

And Solomon went too

Almost as soon as Joshua was dead the tribes of Israel forsook the Lord and went after the gods of people round about them. We see this commencing in the second chapter of Judges where, in verse 13, it tells us that "they forsook the Lord, and served Baal and the Ashtaroths." There were many centres of worship for Ishtar or Astarte in the nations all around Israel, and soon there were many among the tribes of Israel as well.

It is explained a little further in Judges 10:6 where it says: ‘Then the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord, and served the Baals and the Ashtaroths, the gods of Syria, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the people of Ammon, and the gods of the Philistines; and they forsook the Lord and did not serve Him.’ Ashtaroth (another form of Ishtar or Astarte) was the consort of Baal (also called Tammuz) and so the two often went hand-in-hand. The religious practices associated with them have been adopted in an amazing variety of ways in many countries down through the centuries; only the names have changed.

Even wise old Solomon was turned aside by his foreign wives and went after other gods, including Ashtaroth, as we can read in 1Kings 11, and the results were catastrophic, going far beyond what is given in this chapter, but notice that Ashtoreth is mentioned prominently in verse 5. We see some small part of the result in the time of Ezekiel where we are told that Israelites brought their idols into the Temple of God, that their women were weeping for Tammuz, and some of their men were standing in the inner court of the Temple, but turned their backs on the Temple and faced east to worship the sun (Ezekiel 8:6-18). The Easter traditions go back a very long way amongst our peoples!

Enter Constantine

Jesus Christ and His disciples kept the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and the Church continued to follow that example long after His resurrection (1 Corinthians 5:7, 8 and 11:23 - 29). Not until the Council of Nicaea in 325CE was Easter enforced on the churches in Asia Minor, they being accused of "Judaising" for keeping the Passover. Other issues were settled at that Council, including the question of Arianism (the assembled bishops decided in favour of the Trinity) but the Emperor Constantine was promising to make Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire if the bishops could quit squabbling amongst themselves and become unified. It was a strong incentive!

Polycarp, who followed the apostle John, had insisted that Passover be observed by Christians in his debates with Rome in the middle of the second century, as did Polycrates several decades later. They said that it was the custom of the apostle John and the other apostles to observe Passover and Unleavened Bread.

They themselves continued to keep "the day when the people threw away the leaven," which was the 14th of Nisan on the Church calendar, the day of Preparation. We in the churches of God follow the same apostolic tradition to this day. We remember the atoning sacrifice of Christ and the agony He endured for us, His blood being shed as the Lamb of God at the same time that the paschal lambs were sacrificed. Passover is the memorial of His death, not the resurrection. His terrible sacrifice was caused by our sin. Only by repentance and reconciliation to God our Father can we be assured of resurrection in turn, being baptised into the death of our Saviour.

Hence the Days of Unleavened Bread. We see that leaven is symbolic of the sin which so easily puffs us up, and that these seven days are symbolic of our desire to keep sin out of our lives.

The realisation of our desperate need of help to do this points to the next great Feast of the Lord, which is Pentecost.

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