Easter is the biggest Sunday of the year for Christians—and rightfully so. It’s an occasion for us to celebrate the Resurrection, the victory of Jesus Christ over Satan, sin, and death.
It’s also when a few of the more “interesting” folks in the church, the kind who like to write end-times charts on ammo boxes in crayon, come out of the woods to rail against the day as a pagan holiday.
It’s most likely that the origins of Easter stem from early Anglo-Saxon inhabitants of the British Isles during the first millennium who celebrated a spring festival in the month of April in honor of their goddess Eostre, who represented fertility and the arrival of spring, light, and the rising dawn.
When Christian missionaries first arrived in Britain from the Roman Empire during this time, they incorporated some of the pre-existing traditional festivities into the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, which took place in the same season. Basically, since everyone had the day off and it was a fun time to celebrate, the Christians then were unsure exactly when Jesus rose from death and so they chose to add their celebrations to the day. Over the centuries, the celebration of Jesus’ Resurrection overtook Eostre in popularity, although the name stuck as “Easter.”
Some Christians, rather than celebrate the fact that a day that was once devoted to the celebration of a pagan god and is now devoted to Jesus, wish to be the conscience police and go around telling everyone how they should stop having fun and celebrating because of the day’s origins. If someone has a conscience issue with celebrating the holiday, they should abstain, but to rail against kids eating candy and having fun sounds more like the religious types who murdered Jesus than the kids who hung out with him.
When it comes to cultural issues like this, we as Christians should view them through a simple rubric: reject, receive, or redeem? In this case, the early missionaries to the British Isles sought to redeem Easter rather than reject it or simply receive it. As a result, it became one of the centers of Christianity for many centuries and Eostre the goddess was all but forgotten.
On the other end of the spectrum, for most people in our culture, Easter is more synonymous with fluffy bunnies, brightly painted eggs, kids hopped up on chocolate and a great meal with family and friends.
And while many Christians happily and freely celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus on Easter today, they don’t know exactly how to approach the whole Easter Bunny thing. So, I thought I’d take a moment to share how we do at the Driscoll house.
Just like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny is a hallmark of American culture. So, unless you live in a commune, you can’t pretend it doesn’t exist and that it’s not a significant part of our cultural observance of the holiday.
My wife, Grace, and I choose to tell our five kids that the Easter Bunny, while fun, isn’t a real, magical bunny that hops from house to house laying colored eggs, candies, and toys on Easter morning. That’s a make-believe story, and we have no objections to fun and imagination so long as the kids also know that the Resurrection of Jesus is a historical fact and not a fanciful myth. With the overt commercialization that comes along with the Easter Bunny, and consequently Easter, as parents we don’t want to lose sight of celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
But that doesn’t mean those things are bad in and of themselves. We simply want to enjoy them in their proper context. We are for fun. We are for Jesus.
As with many things, we redeem the idea of the Easter Bunny. We tell our kids that the Easter Bunny is a make-believe character from a non-Christian holiday. We tell them that years ago in Germany children would build a nest for the “Easter hare” to lay her eggs in, and that it wasn’t until Germans immigrated to the United States that this tradition was widely accepted and practiced here. We stress that Easter is a time for us to remember the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, but that the Easter Bunny is a make-believe character who has been adopted as the official Easter mascot.
We take the same approach to the Easter Bunny the way we do with Santa Claus at Christmas. We don’t demonize the Easter Bunny, but enjoy the tradition for what it is without making it the main theme of the holiday. Having your children’s pictures taken with the Easter Bunny or going on Easter egg hunts are all about having fun and making good memories. And there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the festivities as long as they don’t overshadow Jesus.
Just as early missionaries didn’t reject or receive the pagan holiday of Eostre but rather redeemed it for Jesus, we too seek to redeem the cultural practices we observe in the U.S. without letting them overshadow Jesus and his Resurrection, and without making us completely irrelevant or even antagonistic to culture and those weird Christians on the block, the ones everybody tries to avoid because they believe that being for Jesus also means being against fun.
Easter is this Sunday. Jesus is alive! One person has conquered death and is the savior for any person who trusts in him. That is reason to celebrate! I hope you enjoy the festivities, including the egg hunts and the chocolate bunnies. But more importantly, I pray you experience the true joy of knowing and living for the risen Jesus Christ.
Mark Driscoll is author, most recently, of “Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship, and Life Together.” He is pastor at Mars Hill Church, in Seattle, Washington.
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