Many times as we are out and about in our ministry, Jehovah's Witnesses hear people say to us "You don't believe in Jesus because _______________" Fill in the blank with assorted reasons ranging from "You don't celebrate Christmas" to "You don't celebrate Easter." With Easter fast approaching, I thought I would take the time today to set matters straight.
We do believe in Jesus. We don't celebrate Easter.
You were hoping for more? Oh, Okay. You forced me.
Easter is commonly regarded as the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. We are all familiar with the traditional Easter Bunny and Easter Baskets, Egg hunts, etc which are described as being non-religious, or secular elements of the holiday. The name of the holiday itself is quite interesting.* The book The Two Babylons traces the name back to the Babylonian goddess Astarte, also known as Ishtar. The hot cross buns of Good Friday, the dyed eggs of Easter all came from Babylonian rituals in her honor. The Catholic Encyclopedia states: "A great many pagan customs, celebrating the return of spring, gravitated to Easter. The egg is the emblem of the germinating life of early spring...the rabbit is a pagan symbol and has always been an emblem of fertility." Easter, as celebrated today, is a curious combination of Christian and Pagan elements.
I now pose what may seem a strange question: Would Jesus want his followers to celebrate his resurrection? Does he ever say anything about it? It is a significant thing that Jesus only commanded his followers to do one thing in his remembrance. You may already know it was during his last observance of the Passover that he broke the bread and shared it with those present at the table, directing "Keep doing this in remembrance of me." (Luke 22:19) Paul cites such precedent when he says at 1 Corinthians 12:23, "For I received from the Lord that which I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which he was going to be handed over took a loaf and, after giving thanks, he broke it and said: "This means my body which is in your behalf. Keep doing this in remembrance of me." He did likewise respecting the cup also, after he had the evening meal, saying : "This cup means the new covenant by virtue of my blood. Keep doing this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." For as often as you eat this loaf and drink this cup, you keep proclaiming the death of the Lord until he arrives."
Are you surprised? The first time I saw that I was taken aback. The only observance/celebration that Jesus directly commanded was to proclaim his death until he comes again. And that is exactly what Jehovah's Witnesses do. Each year, on the anniversary of his death, we hold the solemn observance which we call The Memorial of Christ's Death. We remember his sacrifice, we reflect on the meaning of the New Covenant and we look forward to what his death makes possible for those who put faith in him.
In short, Jehovah's Witnesses don't celebrate Easter not because we don't believe in Jesus, but because we do.
*The word Easter appears once in the King James Version in the 12th chapter of Acts. There are arguments aplenty over whether the word Easter was meant or the word Passover. I think if we examine context we see several clarifying events:
1. Herod wanted to mistreat the Christian Congregation
2. He did away with James the brother of John by the sword
3. He saw that this was pleasing to the Jews, so he went on to arrest Peter. The verse specifically says that these were "the days of unleavened bread", identifying this as the time of the Passover.
4. He puts Peter into prison, intending to 'bring him forth to the people' after Easter?
The context would certainly indicate the Passover. He's focused on the Jews, pleasing the Jews. We have the celebration of Passover specifically identified in verse 3. There is no good reason to think anything other than the Passover was meant in verse 4.
We will not speculate on why the word Easter appears here, we will merely state that it is not a "proof" of the celebration being in existence at that time.