There was a time when Seventh-day Adventists deliberately ignored Easter, claiming that it was a pagan celebration. “The name ‘Easter’ never appears in the Greek New Testament,” writes retired Biblical Research Institute director George Reid. “It is derived from the Anglo-Saxon Eostre, the name of the goddess of spring.” But he is quick to admit that “to ask where and when practices originated is only partially valid [because] most of our practices in everyday life have antecedents in the ancient world, often from nonbelievers. … Even the 60-minute hour came from the pagans.” He states that “Sunday morning services for Easter” in Adventist churches can serve an evangelistic purpose.
“Many of our churches have Good Friday evening services and plan special music or messages for ‘Easter Sabbath’ … but perhaps we should be more conscious of Easter Sunday,” writes Tim Garrison, a pastor in the Southern California Conference, in the most recent issue of Best Practices, an official Email newsletter for pastors published by the North American Division of the General Conference. Nearly two thirds of Americans attend church on Easter points out Rajkumar Dixit, a pastor at New Hope Adventist Church near Baltimore, in the same issue. “This is a lost opportunity in reaching the people … who are searching for God.”
There is strong evidence that this kind of thinking is being adopted many places in the denomination. Adventist Todaychecked a random sample of local church web sites this week and found that at least one in four in North America have posted announcements of Easter events. The Aldergrove Adventist Church in British Columbia started last night with the first of five performances through Sunday of “The Choice … a dramatic musical for Easter.” Tickets must be obtained in advance to assure that large numbers are not turned away. An Easter sermon series began six weeks ago.
The La Mesa, California, church has formed an Easter Choir that will present the musical, “Come, Touch the Robe.” The Standifer Gap church in the Chattanooga area has scheduled an “Easter service on Friday night in the Fellowship Hall [with] tables in the shape of a cross … covered with grapes, crackers, bread, sandwich spread and sweet cakes. A cross with a crown of thorns in the middle of the room … singing … music … testimonies … washing each others’ feet … communion.”
The Hinsdale Seventh-day Adventist Church has scheduled “It All Happened in the City, an Easter musical celebration … at 10 a.m. Easter Sunday,” according to the Chicago Sun-Times. The Kelso-Longview (Washington) Adventist Church has been producing “Journey to the Cross [on] Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings” for 15 years, reports The Daily News. The story was published with a picture of Pastor Mike Speegle dressed like a Roman soldier helping to take an actor dressed like Christ away from the Garden of Gethsemane. Last year more than 4,000 people attended three events in Spokane, Cheney and Coeur D’Alene organized around Easter by four local churches in the Upper Columbia Conference. The Clifton Church in Cincinnati will begin its Easter weekend with a Passover Seder on Friday and end it with a service on Sunday.
Sharon Seventh-day Adventist Church in Portland, Oregon, a historically African-American congregation, has a “Special Resurrection Service” planned. The Napa (California) Community Seventh-day Adventist Church will have its Second Annual Family Easter Brunch on Sunday. “Bring your kids for a great egg hunt” and “bring 1 dozen plastic eggs with prize inside per child.” The Redlands church will present “The Voice” and “Easter play” from the perspective of John the Baptist, reports the Redlands Daily Facts.
Many of the churches on the campuses of Adventist colleges and universities stage major productions on Easter weekend attracting as many as 10,000 visitors in some cases. “SonRise Resurrection Pageant” will be presented on Sabbath by the Collegedale Church and Southern Adventist University, “an interactive, put-you-there-at-the-scene trip through Christ’s final days leading to His death and resurrection” with a cast of more than 500. This has happened each year since 1996. At Andrews University an “Easter Passion Play” has been presented each year since 2003 and “draws thousands,” reports the Lake Union Conference web site. The Resurrection Pageant organized by the Keene (Texas) Church on the campus of Southwestern Adventist University had 4,800 in attendance last year. Pastor Mickey Thurber is the pageant director which includes up to 250 actors.
Adventist congregations in Europe and Australia have similar events. Pine Rivers Church in the Brisbane area advertizes “The Easter Experience” as “the celebration of an amazing historical event when an innocent man gave his life to save mankind, but that wasn’t the end of the story.” An Easter event “Behold The Man” is planned this weekend at Heathcourt Seventh-day Adventist Church, Clacton-on-Sea, Essex in the United Kingdom.
Throughout the South Pacific Division many local conferences conduct Easter Camp Meetings. Despite inquiries, Adventist Today could not determine if this is a long-standing tradition or a more recent development. These are scheduled in Australia, New Zealand and in some of the island nations.
The Hope Channel, the official television outlet of the General Conference, has announced Easter programming this weekend. Three hours of live, call-in programming will be produced on Friday evening (April 6) and rebroadcast on Saturday and Sunday, starting at 7 p.m. Eastern time each day. It will be available on DirectTV Channel 368 and Glorystar Channel 104, as well as on the Internet at www.HopeTV.org.
Adventists may not have embraced every aspect of the Easter tradition, but clearly the number has increased significantly who “are fearful we will be misunderstood … in parts of the world [where] the public is so oriented to Easter observance,” as Reid describes it on the BRI web site.