By the accounts of many religious leaders and scholars, Easter is the most important festival in the church’s calendar.
Christmas is actually part of the preparations for the Easter festival, dating back to at least the second century after the birth of Christ.
However, over the centuries the holiday has become more controversial in meaning with emphasis becoming increasingly about consumerism that goes well with modern capitalism and less about religion where it initially came from.
Some observers of religion say that secularism and its extensions, like commercialism, has increasingly taken the space that may not have been properly filled by spiritualism.
From the beginning there were controversies around the holiday, including about the dates, its origins and justification.
Meetings were held without reaching unanimity of how the rite should be observed.
“The first recorded World Ecumenical Council, the Council of Nicaea in AD 325, sought to set a uniform date of Easter celebrations something that has remained controversial ever since.
There have been more recent calls however, for ecumenically-based Churches to reach common agreement on the date for Easter.
The most notable is the Aleppo Statement, issued in 1997. The Aleppo Statement received general support and yet for all that appears, the search for unity on this issue has essentially been put on the back burner,” says Dr Ng’ang’a Gichumbi, a scholar of religion and a psychotherapist.
Some scholars and enthusiasts of ecumenism say that it has reached a point that some people no longer associate the holiday with religion but with commerce.
Glitzy advertising and selling are the hallmarks of the holiday rather than worship and remembrance of what Jesus Christ was supposed to have gone through.
Consumerism, marketing frenzy and uncontrolled spending have come to be associated with the holiday.
Only that merchandising is not as it was in the Jerusalem Temple of Jesus’s day, but is now physically outside of the church.
And yet Jesus himself drove out money changers, robbers and other merchants from the Jerusalem temple in which these had made their station.
Capitalism had attempted to seize the festivals for their use and benefit, something that Jesus was against and therefore whipped the merchants from the temple on the day following his triumphant entry into the town.
Perhaps, this is one of the major reasons the people around Jerusalem thought Jesus was a more loathful character who should executed than the notorious prisoner Barabbas whom they choose to be released. How could he dare bring to an end a tradition that had been going for years?
Good over evil
Dr Gichumbi says that consumerism is an extension of secularism that has taken hold of the event or festival.
“But why is Easter increasingly being taken over by secularist commercial interests which relegate it to the periphery and override its central message of triumph of good over evil? It is easier to blame secularising forces for this ‘diabolic crusade’.
"However upon serious interrogation, it becomes clearer that churches are generally failing to provide semantic innovations in regard to the Easter event and because nature abhors a vacuum, gallant secularising forces are filling in the glaring void.”
It could very well be the same forces that have led to the prosperity gospel that chases after wealth.
A marketing manager at a commercial bank said that it is inevitable that companies will use the Easter event to drive uptake of their products as people are normally in a spending or a party mood and a more willing to splurge on goods that they would not otherwise spend a lot on at that time.
For example, he said the bank was using its mobile banking application to encourage people to send money to their relatives or dependants.
This may be seen as an indication that the religious festival makes people more generous.
But some religion scholars have no problem with secularism or commercialisation of Easter, saying that it was part of the tradition of the religion at the time of Jesus.
They say that at Jesus’s time, the selling and buying or even the exchange of cash in the temple was not unusual.
James F. McGrath, a professor of New Testament language and literature at Butler University in Indianapolis (US), wonders why anyone should think that the presence of commerce and noisy animals being sold in the temple bothered Jesus that much, alluding to something else as having been the reason for his whipping of the merchants.
Others suggest that Jesus just wanted to cause commotion so that the predictions of the Bible on his persecution (and therefore proof he was the Messiah) could be fulfilled.
Prof McGrath says: “We should not think that the presence of noisy animals and commerce bothered Jesus just because they spoiled the worshipful atmosphere. An ancient temple was not supposed to be like a quiet cathedral.
"It was loud and bustling. The sale of animals was essential for the temple’s main function as a place for the offering of animal sacrifices… “The money changers were there to convert various currencies into one standard coinage, the Tyrian shekel, [which] was used for the payment of the annual temple tax.
"Both the selling of animals for sacrifices and the payment of the temple tax were activities required by Jewish law and central to the temple’s functions.”
In one story carried online by the BBC, Jesus is depicted as the architect of his own death. It says: “Many experts believe that, more than anyone else, the person responsible for the death of Jesus was Jesus himself.
There is a considerable body of evidence to suggest that everything He did was planned and that He knew what the consequences would be.
Jesus believed profoundly that He was on a mission from God and everything He did was to fulfil that mission.
In the events of Holy Week, Jesus seems to be deliberately acting out the prophecy in Hebrew scripture about Israel's true king, the anointed one, the Messiah, coming at last to be God's agent to redeem Israel.”
Dr Gichumbi however says that despite the Bible story linked to the holiday, commercialisation and secularisation has served to make more obscure as to the importance of the holiday and increase controversy around it.
He says: “The rise and rise of secularism and its relentless attacks on the Easter event, which really is the heart of Christianity has only served to raise the Easter controversy a notch higher.
Yet it would be reckless to dismiss secularism without any attempt at understanding its internal mechanism. Again.
To situate the relationship between the Easter event and its attacks by forces of secularism, it is important to understand it within the wider matrix of religion.
In general, secularism tends to place higher premium on rational thought than myth and ideology which it believes belong with religion of which Easter event is part.”