Symbols for Communication

Symbols for Communication - Ukrainian Pysanky
Ukrainian Pysanky

One thing that distinguishes humans is our extensive use of symbols for communication. The ancient Persians were amazed to see life come from an egg, a seemingly dead object. They presented each other with eggs at the spring equinox, marking the beginning of a new year. In the Western world, eggs became a symbol of spring and the start of a new year on April 1, until 1582, when the Gregorian calendar moved the New Year to January 1. People who refused to accept the new calendar were called “April Fools.”

It was a natural thing for religions to use eggs as symbols. In Judaism, eggs are an essential part of the Passover seder plate. People who celebrated Lent, when they could not eat eggs for 40 days, collected eggs and decorated them with vegetable dye. Crimson eggs honored the blood of Christ. In parts of Eastern Europe, people put intricate designs on eggs with wax resist technique before coloring. Those intricately decorated eggs are called pysanky and are still common in Ukraine today. In Germany, people pierce eggs and hollow them to hang them from trees during Easter week.

The New Testament shows the use of symbols for communication. In Matthew 26:26-30, Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, which Paul refers to as a symbol in 1 Corinthians 11:23-30. Peter tells us that baptism is a “like figure,” or symbol, of the kind of salvation that Noah received (1 Peter 3:20-21). Symbols can change their meaning. In Acts 18:24-19:5, we see baptism changing from a symbol of John’s baptism of repentance to Jesus Christ’s baptism to wash away sins.

Problems come when a symbol used in one culture is misinterpreted in a different culture or time. A classic example of that is in Revelation. Twentieth-century Christians often misinterpret symbols in that book that first-century Christians would have understood. Only by studying the symbols’ meaning when the author wrote the book can we get an accurate picture of what they meant. Using symbols for communication only works when we all understand the meaning.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

April Fools Day and Traditions

April Fools Day and Traditions

Did you get fooled on April 1? We have talked about traditions several times on this site, and April Fools Day is rooted in an interesting tradition. The battle between different religious belief systems has altered our calendar in various ways, and the start of the new year is one of them.

In the fifteenth century, many people celebrated Easter as the start of the new year. The problem was that Easter came on the first Sunday after a full moon after the vernal equinox. That meant that the new year started at a different time every year, making the calendar incredibly complicated.

With the Gregorian calendar in 1539, people began the tradition of celebrating New Years Day in January. However, some diehards wanted to keep it tied to Easter. The Flemish poet Eduard de Dene jumped into the discussion and wrote of playing jokes on April 1 on those who began the new year in April.

Celebration of the new year was a response to religious tradition, and it has no biblical basis. The Jewish calendar is based on lunar cycles measuring the years from the traditional date of Genesis. Independence Day for the nation of Israel was in the Jewish year of 5708 (May 14, 1948, on the Gregorian calendar).

January was named by a Roman ruler, in honor of Janus, the Roman god of beginnings. People have made significant alterations in the calendar based on human traditions and the position of the Sun and the Moon, but April Fools Day was a time of playing pranks on those who held to Easter as the start of the year.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Christ’s Resurrection Celebration

Christ's ResurrectionEach week as Christians meet we remember Christ’s resurrection and victory over death. Annually we remember that at the time of Passover Jesus became the sacrificial Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. (John 1:29) But without the resurrection, the sacrifice would be meaningless. As Paul wrote, “If Christ has not been raised your faith is worthless” (1 Corinthians 15:17). Our faith is not worthless, because Christ’s resurrection conquered sin and death.

How do we know that is true? Some unbelievers argue that the resurrection is just a myth that arose many years later. The evidence against that idea is numerous and strong. The apostles carried the message of Christ’s resurrection to the ends of the Roman Empire for the rest of their lives. That was even though they had nothing to gain except a life of persecution ending in execution. If they had not seen the resurrected Christ, they would not have spent their lives proclaiming the message of the resurrection.

The argument that the gospels were written years later has often been used to “prove” that the resurrection was a myth that developed during those years. However, Paul wrote his first letter to the church in Corinth in A.D. 57, before any of the four gospels were written. In it, he included an oral tradition which gives a summary of the gospel message.

Today we have access to writing materials, books, and computers. We are accustomed to writing things down. In the first century, there were no computers or printed books or pamphlets. Even simple writing materials were scarce and precious. People memorized important things by summarizing them efficiently and then passing them on as oral traditions. The early Christians used that method. Here is the first part of an oral tradition that Paul wrote down in that first letter to the church in Corinth:

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to…”

The oral tradition then goes on to list some resurrection appearances of Christ. Then Paul adds himself to the list of those who saw the resurrected Christ. (You can read it for yourself in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8.) Of course, the “Scriptures” that Paul refers to are the Old Testament prophecies of Christ since the New Testament was not yet written.

When did Paul receive this tradition? He probably received it no later than A.D. 36 when he first visited Jerusalem. (See Galatians 1:15-18.) It is possible that he received it earlier than that in Damascus when, as Saul the persecutor, he encountered Ananias and received his sight. Ananias preached the gospel to him and “Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus.” Whether in Jerusalem or Damascus, Paul received the oral tradition of Christ’s resurrection no more than five years after the event. That tradition was not a myth that developed years later after the eyewitnesses had died.

As we celebrate Christ’s resurrection each week and especially at this time of year, we can trust the story is true. We have that oral tradition written down, but we would do well to memorize it as the early Christians did.
— Roland Earnst © 2019

Easter and Passover

Easter and PassoverA major “Christian” celebration of the year is Easter which is a special day in the Christian denominational world. Easter and Passover are linked together not only by tradition but also by history.

“Easter” comes from a Germanic festival of the vernal equinox. The equinox is when the Sun is exactly over the equator, so day and night are equally divided. The vernal equinox is the start of spring. The barbarian tribes in Europe of the first centuries dressed up in their best clothes and had a festival celebration of spring. Modern Easter is not linked to the equinox, but to the Passover. The word “Easter” is found in the Bible only in Acts 12:4 and only in the King James version. The Greek word that was mistranslated “Easter” actually means “Passover.”

The Passover was “The Feast of Unleavened Bread” described in Exodus 23:15. This was one of the annual festivals God commanded, and it was held on the 14th day of the first month of the Jewish calendar. The Jews ate unleavened bread for seven days, and they made sacrifices on the first and last days of the festival (Numbers 28:16-25 and Deuteronomy 16:1-8). The night before Jesus was crucified, he was observing the Passover (Luke 22:1-7).

The Catholic Church connected Easter and Passover so Passover Sunday became Easter Sunday. This was a way for early Christians to celebrate the events of the death and resurrection of Christ without being conspicuous to the opponents and persecutors of Christianity.

So Resurrection Sunday is commonly called Easter, and it follows Passover. What we should remember is that every Sunday should be a celebration of the resurrection of Christ.
— John N. Clayton ○ 2019

Celebrate the Resurrection Every Sunday

Celebrate the Resurrection Every SundayPalm Sunday, Good Friday and Easter are all valid historically. All of the events surrounding the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ are factual, so should we celebrate Easter? We suggest that we should celebrate the resurrection every Sunday.

The communion was established to assist us in doing that (1 Corinthians 11:23-30). The first century Church worshiped every Sunday. Giving (1 Corinthians 16:2) and celebrating the Lord’s Supper to remember the death and resurrection of Christ were part of that worship (Acts 20:7). We should copy their example. It is good that at least once a year the whole world recognizes the activity of God in sending His son to die as a sacrifice for the sins of all. We would urge everyone to look into the significance of the resurrection and the witnesses that give credence to the story.

Another aspect of the Easter season is that many human inventions have sprung up around the historical event. Lent was instituted as a way to focus on the Easter event. It was a reminder of the forty days Jesus fasted in the desert as He began His ministry. Abstaining from eating eggs to celebrate Lent resulted in people preserving eggs by boiling them. German Lutherans began decorating the eggs and invented the Easter Hare as a judge of children allowing gifts to be given to good children. Eastern Orthodox believers dyed the eggs red remembering the blood of Christ. The special days of Palm Sunday and Holy Friday were added to aid believers in focusing on the season.

Like Christmas and Santa Claus, these Easter additions to the simple biblical message have a long history, but the Bible message is clear. Passages like 1 Corinthians 11:23-29 and Matthew 26:26-28 give us a guide that we can follow no matter what the local traditions. While we may enjoy the human inventions, let us worship as God has called us to worship, and let us do so with understanding and reverence. Celebrate the resurrection every Sunday.
— John N. Clayton ©2019