What does the Easter Bunny have to do with Easter?
It seems like the stores have been stocked with Easter merchandise since before Saint Patrick’s Day. I’ve hurried my kids past the mountains of candy, hoping to avoid any grief ridden meltdowns about the injustice of not purchasing a chocolate bunny. I’ve seen the cute pastel baskets in the $1 section and thought “How cute; I have to get those!” only to stop a moment later wondering if I even want to give my kids Easter baskets. And what’s the deal with the egg-hiding rabbit anyway?
It turns out, the origin of the Easter bunny is somewhat debated. The association between Spring and the bunny (actually it’s relative, the hare) began in pagan cultures that saw the hare as a symbol of fertility and new life. One festival in particular honored the goddess Eostre or Eastre, the goddess of dawn, whose sacred animal was said to be the hare. However, this specific association between the goddess and the animal has been written off by many as folklorish, stating no actual historic evidence to back it up. The fact that the association was first made by none other than Jacob Grimm doesn’t help.
Regardless, we know that the hare was formally associated with the Christian holiday Easter by the 1600s amongst German Lutherans. Early writings from this time describe the “Oschter Haws” as a hare who visits your home the night before Easter and leaves a nest of colored eggs for good boys and girls. The tradition was brought to North America in the 1700s as German immigrants settled in Pennsylvania. Over time, the hare was swapped out for the more common bunny rabbit and the nest of eggs turned into the basket of eggs, treats, and toys we have today.
So as we get ready to observe Easter in a few weeks, how should we decide what our celebrations will looks like? Is it even worth celebrating? I would suggest looking past the bunny to the actual substance of the holiday. Easter is the day on which Christians all over the world joyfully remember the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The story is well known. The man Jesus, who went about the last three years of his life performing all sorts of miracles (John 21:25), also professed to be the Son of God who could forgive sins (Matthew9:2-7; 16:16-17). Additionally, he condemned the religious leaders of the time as hypocrites (Luke 20:45-47). Out of anger for these criticisms, jealousy over Jesus’ popularity, and doubt that he actually was the Son of God (John 5:18), the Jewish leaders led the way for the execution of Jesus. Jesus was put on trial and though no evidence stood against him, the leaders and crowds demanded Jesus be crucified. Jesus was beaten, berated, nailed to a cross, and left for dead.
The man who claimed to be Son to the living God was now dead, his body laid to rest in a tomb. What did this mean for his followers? Was their hope in vain? The story continues. On the morning of the third day, some of Jesus’ friends came to visit the tomb, but, to their shock, found it empty. Jesus had indeed risen from the dead, just as he said that he would (Matthew 17:22-23)!
This is a pretty bizarre story. Claims of divinity, miraculous healings, and a man coming back to life. And it’s old, 2000 years old. So why still celebrate it today in 2017? The fact of the matter is that, if it’s true- if God really did come to earth in the form of a man to live a perfect life so that he could lay it down as a payment for the sins of the world- then this changes everything!
If Jesus was just a good guy who lived a life worthy of emulating, then we could take him or leave him. But this is not who he claimed to be and not how he called people to respond to him. Jesus Christ came to earth to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). And who is part of “the lost”? It’s the selfish, the lonely, the anxious, the proud, the fearful, the indulgent, and the hopeless. It’s me and it’s you. When we come to him in faith, God the Father allows the death of Jesus to count as payment for our sins (Matthew 26:28) and gives us the credit of Jesus’ perfect life (2 Corinthians 5:21). The forgiveness offered by Jesus doesn’t just wipe our slate clean; it offers a new identity. We become adopted children of God (Romans 8:15) and this has implications not just for this life, but for eternity!
With the magnitude of this earth shattering reality in view, I would say the Easter bunny has very little to offer us, though there’s nothing inherently bad about the fuzzy guy. If the happiness you get from seeing your kid tear through her Easter basket increases your Easter joy, by all means, go for it. If the tradition of squeezing all of your siblings on the Bunny’s lap for a family photo reminds you of cheerful celebrations gone by, that’s great too. The reality is that the implications of the resurrection of Jesus Christ for our life and death are far too complex and glorious to be captured by a furry mascot or this article. My desire here is to have simply piqued your interest. Won’t you visit one of our services, and find out more?