Over two decades ago this month, when my youngest son, Jonathan, was a second grader, I was having some after-school chat with his teacher. “It will soon be Passover,” she said, “so I’ll bring some matzo into the classroom so we can discuss the significance of the holiday.” She continued, “And Easter is just around the corner, too, so I’ll get some jelly beans….” I choked a bit, and said, “Marsha, you know there’s no connection between Easter and jellybeans at all, don’t you?” After a moment’s puzzlement, she answered, “Oh, really? That’s right, your husband is a minister, isn’t he? Well, would he like to come in to class and explain the significance of Easter to the class?”
[Pause a moment to rejoice in the multi-culturalism of the public school system….instead receiving handfuls of sugar and food coloring shaped like tiny eggs, a New York City classroom full of kids got to quiz my husband, Tim, for 45 minutes about substitutionary atonement, the crucifixion, and the resurrection of Christ, as Christians believe in them.]
All this to say that I’m not in the least surprised when asked to explain the significance of Easter eggs, the Easter bunny, or, for that matter, Santa Claus and the frenzy of present giving at Christmastide. While these figures may have had their origin with culturally-sensitive missionaries who chose familiar seasonal symbols of renewal and rebirth at the change of the seasons or the solstice to illustrate their message, they have long since come to entirely replace the message itself.
While bunnies and eggs may speak of the fecundity of new life, and bright lights and presents celebrate the turn of darkness back to light, they are now nothing more but another opportunity to exploit the consumer mentality-or as my financially savvy dad used to say “Make a few bucks.”
A more interesting question, if inquiring minds want to go so far, is this: Do we believe that Christianity and other rebirth-themed religions modeled themselves on the seasonal birth-death-rebirth cycle, or do we believe in a creator who fashioned the world in such a way so as to prepare our hearts and minds to see resurrection as the underlying theme of the universe? I have always thought that an anthropomorphic view of religion was a cheap scam. If one believed in a being powerful enough to deserve the designation “God,” then surely that artistic creator would have to be credited with enough sense to strew his creation with flashes and hints of his nature.
Rather than assuming that humans got the rebirth/resurrection idea from the natural world, why not ask whether the natural world bears the imprint and reflection of its creator? If you believe in a creator at all, surely he would leave behind the stamp of his personality and a hint of his plans no less than the clumsiest human artist.
Thus we have not just the change of the seasons in temperate climate zones, but relational metaphors, like shepherds and sheep, fathers and sons, husbands and wives, all neatly to hand when needed to reveal otherwise unspeakable truths about ultimate reality. The Easter bunny, not so much.