I have a question about the origination of the word Easter. My husband is a former WELS member who says he cannot attend any church that uses the word Easter to refer to our Lord's resurrection due to the origin of the word being Ishtar, who was a Babylonian fertility goddess. He also says that man's tradition of Easter eggs and the Easter bunny refer to ancient pagan fertility rites and that Christians should never take part in this. I have tried to research this topic online and have come across explanations that both support and refute this viewpoint, but either way I am very sad that my husband does not want to attend my WELS church with me (I attend and participate regularly by myself) and I would like to know the church's view on this subject. Thanks!
It is difficult to determine the origin of the word “Easter.” Some people have tried to identify it with the name of the Anglo-Saxon goddess of Spring “Eostre.” Others see the word coming from the German “Ostern,” which means “East.” “East” points our eyes to the direction of the sun’s rising. “Rising” is certainly what Easter Sunday is all about: it is all about the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
It is unfortunate that your husband places so much emphasis on the word “Easter.” Regardless of the etymology of the word, Easter Sunday points to the empty tomb of Jesus Christ. And the empty tomb means that God accepted Jesus’ holy life and innocent death as the full payment of the world’s sins (Romans 4:25).
Christian churches that use the word “Easter” do not sanction pagan deities any more than people who use the days of the week and the months of the year in their vocabulary. It is very clear that the days of the week and several months have their origin in pagan deities and mythologies. Yet, Christians can use those names because they recognize that they are not endorsing the original meaning behind them.
Certainly, we want to avoid human traditions that obscure or deny Christian truths. Traditions that lie in the area of Christian freedom are available for Christians to follow or ignore. Scripture instructs Christians to be careful in their exercise of Christian freedom and their judgments of others (Romans 14; 1 Corinthians 8).
Perhaps your husband will feel better if he looks at the Christian church year calendar in Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal. On page 158 Easter Sunday is called “The Resurrection of our Lord.” Christian Worship: Manual uses the same terminology on pages 412 and 413. Using “Easter” and “The Resurrection of our Lord” interchangeably is common in Christian churches.
“Easter” or “The Resurrection of our Lord”? With either term, the emphasis is on the Son of God who said, “I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades” (Revelation 1:18). I pray that your husband is able to keep Easter terminology in perspective and that you can both worship together.