As the death grip of winter loosens to the sunshine and rain of spring-time, creation reveals the glory of God and the celebration of Easter tells the rest of the story.
For Christians, Easter points to the cross and the empty tomb of Jesus Christ—the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords— who emerged from the grave holding in His nail-scarred hands the keys of death and Hades. So if Easter boils down to Jesus, how in the world did the Easter Bunny with his basket of eggs get caught up in the narrative?
Many of the traditions of Easter joined the story line long after Jesus conquered death and the grave. Some of the traditions actually have their roots in the pagan rituals of spring-time that date back through the ages. Take Easter Eggs as an example. For centuries eggs have symbolized new life and fertility. In Africa, the eggs of the long-legged Ostrich became the egg of choice. The Egyptians would bury eggs with their dearly departed as symbols of new life.
For early Christians the Easter egg symbolized the tomb of our LORD, and his victory over sin and death. In addition, legends circulated among the faithful about Mary Magdalene speak-ing to the Emperor of Rome declaring “Christ is Risen!” He replied, “Christ is no more risen than this egg can turn red”…and it did!
The Easter Bunny hopped on the stage in the 1500’s in Germany. Many scholars trace the Easter Bunny back to the German goddess Ostara, who personified the sun. This German goddess according to the myth had a pet bird she would change into a rab-bit, which would deliver brightly col-ored eggs to the children in the
springtime. Of course, I must confess I love the modern chocolate Easter bunny most of all!
The Easter Basket filled with eggs and treats finds its origins in the Lent tradi-tions of the Orthodox Church. During Lent, the faithful abstained from meat and dairy as a part of the fasting, so on the Saturday before Easter brightly decorated baskets of eggs and treats were brought to the Priest for blessing, so they could be consumed with great joy on Easter Sunday.
The Easter lily emerged on the plat-forms of churches across the land from the discoveries of missionaries in Ber-muda. The bulbs of these beautiful dainty flowers were brought back to Philadelphia and a florist “tricked” them into budding at springtime rather than summer and soon their simple beauty became the symbol of Easter for many.
Of course woolly little lambs at Easter find their origin in the sacrifice of Jesus and the words of John the Baptist who declared as he pointed his disciples to Jesus:
“Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.” (John 1:29)
Much like at Christmas, Jesus has to fight His way through the various sym-bols and commercialization of Easter to get His story of love and grace out to the people He came to save. Sadly, I fear that even the faithful can miss the point of Easter if we are not careful.
Easter bunnies, Easter eggs, Easter baskets, lambs and lilies stand out as mere shadows. If you really want to ex-perience the joy of Easter, one must look deeply into the face of Jesus who loves us so.