These last few weeks of seclusion have given me more time than usual to watch commercials. One of the ones that struck me is the one for the Lindt Gold Bunny. They show the bunny being made and the ad ends with this quote:
“Bring home the Lindt Gold Bunny and watch the magic of Easter come alive”
Really? The Magic of Easter comes alive with a… chocolate bunny?
What do chocolate bunnies have to do with the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection?
Almost everyone knows when Christians celebrate–December 25th. It can be on any day of the week. Almost everyone knows when Thanksgiving is. It’s the last Thursday of November. It’s always a Thursday, but the date can be any number over 20. But like the elusive risen Christ, appearing here and then there, we cannot tie down Easter to one specific numeric date but it s always on a Sunday. Why? Because it was on a Sunday that Jesus rose from the dead.
It was on a Sunday that Jesus shifted the calendars of the world. It was on a Sunday, the day AFTER the Sabbath day of rest that Jesus raised. For the people of Jesus’ day, Sunday was their Monday. Sunday was the first work day of their week the day after their weekend. Jesus’ resurrection moved the weekend!
Since the Council of Nicaea in 325, Easter has been celebrated on the Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox. In the West, only the Celtic church in Britain and Ireland refused to accept the date until 664 because of their own Celtic calendar. Until 1582, New Year’s was celebrated the world round on April 1st with the arrival of spring. To me, it makes much more sense to celebrate the beginning of a new year with the bursting out of new life all around.
It’s true that many of the current Easter customs we celebrate had their beginnings in the pagan celebrations of the rebirth of the earth in the spring. In fact, the English word for Easter is taken from the name of a Teutonic goddess of spring or the dawn. In the same way that the early Christians adopted and adapted pagan celebrations in the dead of winter to mark the birth of Jesus, they also adopted and adapted pagan celebrations to mark the resurrection of their Lord.
In one sense it was out of a heart for evangelism that the church did this. Rather than try to convince pagans to give up their celebrations, the Christians added their meaning on top of the celebrations that were already going on. What’s the old adage, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em?” Apparently that was the plan.
After Christ’s resurrection, rabbits were used as images of Christ’s post-resurrection appearances. These appearances were likened to the rabbits being seen and then disappearing and then being seen again somewhere else. (because of their tunnels)
The gospel accounts of Jesus’ appearances after his resurrection are quick and darting, here and there, like the comings and goings of a rabbit. First, he’s in the garden by the tomb, then he’s in the Upper Room, then he’s on the road to Emmaus, then he’s back in the Upper Room when the men from Emmaus arrive to tell the Disciples what happened to them, then he’s cooking breakfast for the Disciples in Galilee, then he’s appearing to over 500 people, then he’s on a mountain ascending to his Father from whence he came.
Since then, the Easter rabbit has become as traditional at Easter time as the Easter egg. It may have been intended to symbolize the fertile life that the risen Christ would send His followers. Rabbits were also a pre-Christian fertility symbol among the Egyptians and other ancient peoples. We know how fast rabbits can reproduce. Not only were rabbits a symbol of fertility and new life so were eggs.
In ancient Egypt and Persia friends exchanged decorated eggs at the spring equinox. Eggs have always been symbols of creation, fertility and new-life and the beginning of the New Year. These eggs were a symbol of fertility for them because the coming forth of a live creature from an egg was so surprising to people of ancient times.
Christians of the Near East adopted this tradition, and the Easter egg became a religious symbol also. It not only represented new life but it represented the tomb from which Jesus broke forth. The chick bursting forth from its shell became a symbol for Jesus bursting forth from his tomb. In Luke 13:34Jesus did describe himself as being one who would love to gather his followers like a mother hen gathers her chicks.
In medieval times eggs were traditionally given at Easter to all servants, and to the children (it was one of the foods forbidden during Lent), along with other gifts. The eggs were often colored red to represent the blood of Christ by which all believers were given a share in this new life of Christ. (Ask Jo Ann to show you a picture of her decorated egg.)
The butterfly is also an ancient Easter symbol. Just as the butterfly which emerges from the cocoon is the same caterpillar in new form, so Jesus, emerged from the tomb the same person – yet glorified.
In the early church, those who were baptized at the Easter Vigil were dressed in a white robe. They would wear that robe throughout the whole Easter week as a symbol of their new life. Those who had already been baptized in prior years, did not wear white robes, but would wear new clothes to indicate their share in the new life of Christ. So, the wearing of new clothes at Easter was an external profession and symbol of the Easter grace.
During the Middle Ages in Europe, people in their new Easter clothes would take a long walk after Easter Mass. This was a kind of procession preceded by a crucifix of the Easter Candle. The tradition evolved into Easter Parades. .
In early Christian art the lily is a symbol of purity because of its delicacy of form and its whiteness. They did not exist in North America until about 100 years ago. The white trumpet lily, which blooms naturally in springtime, was brought here from Bermuda. They are popularly called “Easter Lilies because they bloom around Easter time. The American public quickly made it a symbolic feature of the Easter celebration. For some, the term “Easter Lily” has become a euphemism for folks that only show up at church on Easter: those who only come out to church once a year!
Early Christians customarily celebrated Easter Week as days of joy and laughter. They would tell jokes, play pranks, feast on lamb, dance, sing and express humor and joy over this “final joke” on the devil, death and evil. They would add fragrant oil or perfume to the Easter water they had brought home with them from church. This water was used to sprinkle and bless food, pets, gardens, homes and more. In some countries you could get soaked this week. Baptism was recalled with the custom of “dousing”. On Easter Monday men wake women with a spritz of the perfumed Easter water while they whisper “May you never wither.” On Easter Tuesday, women wake men with a bucketful of the scented water. I’m sending this article out on Wednesday to spare our guys from being treated to that baptism.
The Sunday after Easter in some circles is celebrated as Holy Humor Sunday. If you are not familiar with that concept, it is only because we are not in the Eastern Orthodox branch of Christianity. It is based on the understanding that the resurrection of Jesus is the ultimate joke on death, Satan, and all the forces of evil. It is a testament to the God who, as the psalmist says, “sits in the heavens and laughs” (2:4) at the foolishness of humanity and any forces that might seek to thwart divine purposes. Word has it that one tradition is for priests to gather on the Monday following Easter for cigars, brandy, and jokes to celebrate the God who does this surprising, transforming thing.
So, now you know what bunnies, eggs, baskets, parades, lilies, buckets, cigars, brandy and jokes have to do with the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. If you hurry and put on your mask and gloves you might make it to the grocery store in tine and be able to take advantage of their half price sale and
“Bring home the Lindt Gold Bunny and watch the magic of Easter come alive”
I got one…but there was no magic. Only calories.
God be with you…..till we meet again.