Although the weather suggests otherwise, spring has arrived and Easter is here. We’ve made it through the long, cold, winter and the dry barren season of Lent. Now we rejoice and celebrate God’s love in the world, made known to us in the hope of the resurrection and the promise of new life. As Christians we have adopted a number of symbols to help us celebrate the day, celebrate spring, and celebrate new life. For example, we have the Easter bunny, Easter eggs, and my favorite, jelly beans.
I can say with certainty that the Easter bunny does not make an appearance in any of the stories in the Bible. So, how rabbits came to be a symbol for Easter is a bit of a mystery. Some suggest that it has to do with ancient fertility rites. Rabbits are very fertile, which made them a natural symbol for new life to ancient people. Later, Christians adopted the rabbit as a symbol for the new life of the resurrection. The tradition of an egg-laying rabbit came to this country by German immigrants in the 1700’s, who settled in Pennsylvania. The children made nests in which the creature could lay colored eggs and they left carrots for the rabbit in case it got hungry. Eventually the tradition of the rabbit and the colored eggs spread through the country.
Easter eggs are also a symbol of new life which were used by ancient people in festivals to celebrate spring. Christians adopted the symbol of colored hard boiled eggs to symbolize Jesus’ emergence from the tomb and his new life in the resurrection. You can see that symbolized here at the altar. During the season of Lent, the box, which we call a tomb, held the alleluias that the kids made. Now that box, that tomb, is tipped on its side, and the alleluia’s have been released and are on display in the hall outside this door. Colored eggs now pour out of that tipped over tomb of a box.
Decorating Easter eggs dates back to about the 13th century. Then, eggs were a forbidden food during Lent. At the end of Lent eggs were decorated and then eaten to mark the end of the Lenten fast. Every year on Good Friday we offer a Stations of the Cross for children. It’s a fun event and very popular with kids and adults as we learn about Jesus’ last hours in simple child appropriate meditations and prayers. We move around the building, each place representing part of Jesus’ last day of life. We learn about foot washing and the last supper, about being kind to others. We talk about the pain of being teased and bullied and the importance of saying sorry when we’ve hurt someone’s feelings. We talk about spring and new life, and God’s love. The final station is the coloring of Easter eggs, symbolizing new life.
Easter eggs hunts and egg rolling events have become popular Easter traditions. The White House Easter Egg Roll is a race in which children push decorated hard boiled eggs across the White House lawn. It takes place on the Monday after Easter.
The first official White House egg roll occurred in 1878, when Rutherford B. Hayes was president. The largest Easter egg ever made was over 25 feet high and weighed over 8,000 pounds. Someone constructed a steel, egg-shaped frame and then covered it with chocolate and marshmallows.
Did you know that Easter is the second best-selling candy holiday in the United States, after Halloween? Chocolate eggs, which date back to early 19th century Europe are favored by many of us. Another egg-shaped candy, the jelly bean, my personal favorite, became associated with Easter in the 1930s. The jelly bean’s origins may, however, date back to a Biblical-era concoction called a Turkish Delight. Over 16 billion jelly beans are made in the U.S. each year for Easter. That’s enough jelly beans to fill this entire church space. The top-selling non-chocolate Easter candy is the marshmallow Peep, a marshmallow bird covered in a sugary casing. A Bethlehem, Pennsylvania-based candy manufacturer called, “Just Born” (founded by Russian immigrant Sam Born in 1923) began selling Peeps in the 1950s. The original Peeps were handmade, marshmallow-flavored yellow chicks, but other shapes and flavors are now available.
Although Easter has not quite become a secular holiday like Christmas, there are clearly some Christian Easter traditions that have become part of the culture at large. It’s helpful to remember that rabbits, and colored eggs, and egg-shaped candy, all have a link to what we are celebrating this day, Easter, the resurrection, and the many signs of new life God offers us in creation.
Life always throws us curve balls, unexpected challenges, but, sometimes, within the challenges we can also recognize signs of hope, love, and new life.
Regardless of the challenges that life brings my way, I am learning to trust God. It’s a lesson I have to learn over and over. Somehow, when I am really willing to try, I feel deep within or just on the periphery of my being, that God is present. I can sense God’s presence because even in the midst of anxiety, I might feel peaceful. I might feel hopeful. I know that all things pass in due time and the challenges of life serve to help me grow as a person and in my faith.
This is the journey of Holy Week into Easter - the journey of life through the challenges that come my way, moving through them into a new place of wholeness. Jesus’ death on the cross is transformed by God into new life, like winter is transformed into spring, like even a bad day can hold within it something good. Because God’s love always has the final word. God’s love prevails. Rabbits, colored eggs, and candy are just symbols of the creative, life-giving, sweetness of God. Our delight as we enjoy these symbols remind us of God’s abiding presence and never ending love for us, today, and every day.