LENTEN CONNECTIONS: Cultural Perspectives

I love being Pastor of Intercultural Ministries at Foothills Alliance Church. My job is a wonderful mix of leading volunteers and programming that will serve immigrants linguistically, culturally, socially, and spiritually.

One of the many fun parts of my work is preparing explanations of cultural aspects of Canadian society.  For example, I’m in the middle of a ten-week stretch of teaching about Groundhog Day, Valentine’s Day, Alberta Family Day, Leap Year, Daylight Saving Time, Saint Patrick’s Day, the first day of Spring, April Fool’s Day, Palm Sunday, and Easter Sunday.

The interesting part of researching these fairly familiar aspects of Canadian culture is finding out stuff I didn’t know before.  For example, through research I discovered that Valentine’s Day is on February 14th because the Christian man Valentine was beheaded on that day (in the year AD 270). Also, do you know why Leap Year is called Leap Year?  I always thought it had something to do with the length of the year leaping ahead by one day.  Turns out . . . not so!   It’s called Leap Year because fixed special dates (such as Christmas Day always being on December 25th) normally move ahead by one day each year (Christmas 2009 was on a Friday, 2010 on a Saturday, 2011 on a Sunday), but when the year contains a February 29th, the day of a fixed special date will leap ahead an extra day.  (So Christmas day 2012 will not be on a Monday, but rather on a Tuesday.)

. . . Huh . . . that’s interesting, eh? . . . C’mon . . . it’s a little bit interesting, isn’t  it?!

Recently, someone asked me why we use the word Easter to name our observance of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  I thought, “Yay! Another exciting opportunity to explore the etymology of a word!”  (Ok, I didn’t actually think those exact words, but I do get a certain charge out of typing in ‘etymology of —-‘ on my Google page!)

Here’s what I found out:

The word Easter finds its origins in an Anglo-Saxon goddess named Eostre who was associated with dawn and was celebrated at the Spring Equinox as a sort of return of the sun god.  When I first learned this I thought, “Ew! Yuck!”   I didn’t want the word we use to denote an observance of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ to come from something pagan!  As I read further, however, I realized that the early Christian leaders, who adopted the word Easter, were not glorifying the sun god, but rathe,r were glorifying the Son of God as the Light of the world.

The history of the word Easter is actually an excellent example of something old turned into something new, of a pagan belief that brought death turned into teaching that brings true life.  Though the history of the word Easter is not rooted in Christ, we can claim it for the glory of Christ.  Whenever we think of the word Easter, we can remind ourselves that we are not worshiping a god of spring light, but we are worshiping the God who created light, and who brought Light into the world through Jesus Christ.

In John 8:12, Jesus said, “I am the Light of the world! Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” And the life that Jesus brings us is a new life of walking in his light. Romans 6:4 reminds us that We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

As we reflect on Jesus Christ through these Lenten weeks, let’s be reminded that Easter is a time to observe that the old has become the new.  We are in Christ, so we are new creations!  The old has gone, the new has come! (II Corinthians 5:17)

Could we also take a minute to pray for those who are still seeking for the Light of the world?  I’m sure you know people who are not yet followers of Jesus.  Just this past week I have met three different families who have all started attending one of the programs in Intercultural Ministries at Foothills.  One family has only come to social events for years, but they have been reading the Bible at home.  The dad asked me where he can begin to study the Bible with another Christian.  Another family just started attending Community Night, playing badminton and ping pong and making crafts with their young daughter.  The mom started asking a volunteer about God and church.  She has never attended a church service in her life, but is now asking for someone to do that with her.  The third family has just arrived from China a few days ago to start their new life here in Canada.  On their first Sunday in Canada, they were invited to attend the Bridges class at our church.  Let’s pray that they not only adjust to their new Canadian life, but that they find new life in Christ.

Prayer:   God, Creator of everything, including the gift of language and culture, we praise you for your holiness, your creativity, and your love.  Thank you for the amazing gift of Jesus Christ, for his death and resurrection, for light and new life through our Saviour. Thank you for turning bad things into good things.  Help us to see your renewing work in our lives this Lenten season.  And please help many seekers to find you this Easter season.  In the name of Jesus our Lord, Amen.  

Contributed by Patricia (Patti) Love

Pastor of Intercultural Ministries


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