In our culture, Easter is a pretty big holiday but isn’t nearly as big as Christmas, and it falls behind Halloween, Independence Day, and Mother’s Day. I guess culturally speaking; Easter is on par with Labor Day and Memorial Day. The symbols most often associated with Easter are the bunny, eggs, jelly beans, chicks, and lilies, none of which have explicitly Christian significance. In fact, a few years ago, the city council of St. Paul, Minnesota, felt it necessary to remove Easter Bunny decorations from its premises because they were afraid non-Christians would be offended!
The rabbit has long been regarded as the herald of spring in ancient cultures throughout the world. He has been seen as a symbol of spring’s promise of new life and fertility. Sixteenth-century Germans incorporated the old pagan view of the rabbit into a slightly modified role as Oschter Haws, who was believed to actually lay a nest of magically colored eggs for all the good boys and girls. Eggs also are symbols of new life and fertility (thus answering the question of how did a bunny and eggs get connected).
So, while the Easter Bunny and eggs aren’t Christian by definition, they do share a similar symbolism that at least on the surface, the religious celebration of Easter is all about: resurrection and new life. In so many ways, the cultural celebration of the day (or the season) has been mixed with the religious celebration. Indeed, for children, searching for eggs and sitting on the bunny’s lap for a picture are fine things indeed, and sensitive parents can certainly use the same symbolism to begin to teach about Jesus.
I’m quite certain, however, that for diligent, mature Christians the simplistic correlation between the annual return of warmth and spring and the once-in-history resurrection from the dead of the very Son of God is a less than faithful response. The resurrection is an event that defines for us everything else and should not be reduced to the lowest common denominator of a fertility festival.
“Without the Easter Bunny, there are no Easter egg hunts and… well, that’s pretty much it. Without Jesus……there is no salvation!”
Jesus was crucified, died, buried, and resurrected. In doing so, Christ assured the promise of our salvation in this life and in the life to come, and for all time demonstrated God’s great love for not only humankind but for each and every one of us as individuals. Not only does this merit a holiday, it merits a radical change of life so that we might become disciples – followers of His Way. Without the Easter Bunny, there are no Easter egg hunts and…well, that’s pretty much it. Without Jesus, there is no church (the home of the practice of our faith), and what is more, there is no salvation!
Now don’t get me wrong: I’m a big fan of chocolate rabbits and Cadbury eggs. But it doesn’t take long for me to realize that the more valuable gift is the one purchased on the cross and fulfilled in the empty tomb. The cultural celebration of Easter doesn’t ask that much – some new clothes for the kids, a hidden basket of goodies, and brunch. After that, life returns to whatever passes for normal. But a faithful response to the true significance of Easter calls us to reorder our lives after the example of Christ, that all that we do and all that we say might reflect our love for God and love for our neighbor. It is Lent now. But Easter is coming! Thanks be to God!