It came up again this year, as it does most every year.
Some friends, who are young parents, explained to me that they don’t let their children celebrate Easter with Easter eggs, Easter baskets, and so forth. While I absolutely respect the right of parents to raise their children as they see fit, and respect their willingness to go “against the current” in their efforts to follow Jesus Christ and be godly parents, I think they’re missing out on a great opportunity to teach their children a basic truth of Christianity: redemption.
The rationale for not using these “pagan symbols” to celebrate the resurrection goes back to the belief that Easter is basically the Spring celebration of the Saxons to honor their fertility goddess, Eostre (sometimes spelled Estre), which [celebration] was hijacked by enthusiastic 2nd century Christian missionaries attempting to convert the Saxons. The Saxon feast included immorality and depravity of the worst kind, and employed the image of a rabbit, the goddess’ earthly representation.
The Christians’ celebration of the resurrection of Christ roughly coincided with the dates of the pagan festival, so the missionaries took the opportunity to ‘turn it around’ and merged the two into one spring celebration with the focus on Jesus’ resurrection — replacing the flagrantly immoral aspects, but leaving some of the pagan customs intact — including the exchange of eggs, an obvious symbol of fertility.
So, many Christians reason, to celebrate the Lord’s resurrection with Easter baskets, Easter eggs, etc. is to “taint” the remembrance of this landmark event with pagan symbolism and irreverence. But I respectfully choose to disagree. Just because eggs were used in the second century to honor a pagan “goddess”, that doesn’t mean the goddess gets exclusive rights to eggs as a celebratory symbol until the end of time — or exclusive rights to the rabbit, for that matter. The eggs were never really hers anyway.“The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.”, the apostle Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 10:26, and in this exact cultural context. This imaginary goddess (who never really existed anyway) doesn’t get the eggs. The eggs are God’s.
I love that these missionaries hijacked a pagan festival and turned it into a celebration of the most important event in human history. To me that is just reclaiming territory for the Lord that is rightfully His. What is all this “fertility festival” stuff about anyway? It was people like us, trying to eke out a living from the land, calling on the “deity” they thought could help them most to produce crops to live on, and sons and daughters to work the land, in the way that they thought that deity would respond to.
That doesn’t make the immorality and idolatry okay, but it was, for the most part, honest misdirection of the same desires we have — to honor the Power that controls life and to invoke its blessing. And that’s why “turning it around” is so cool. It points the celebration in the direction it was intended to go all along.
Christianity is a faith based upon turning what was intended for evil into good. Pagan cultures didn’t choose idolatry on their own — they were led into it. There are, after all, powers at work in this world whose intention is to lead us away from the One True God.
In Genesis 50, after Joseph’s brothers had sold him into slavery, and his life had spiraled downward for many years, he was elevated to the highest position in Egypt next to the Pharaoh — saving thousands of people from famine. In verse 20, he says “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.” That is an anthem for all of Christianity. God takes the evil intentions of powers of darkness and misdirected people, and turns them into something good. That very concept is at the heart of the biblical concept of redemption. A couple of the dictionary definitions of redemption (the act of redeeming) are: to offset the bad effect of; to make worthwhile.
There are few more gruesome or insidious torture and execution practices than those of the Roman Empire of the first century: 39 lashes with a Roman flagrum, a leather whip of three thongs with small bits of sharp metal along each strand; and crucifixion. There is nothing good about betrayal, injustice, undeserved punishment, or execution, in and of themselves. These are horrible things. Yet it was these very things that God used to bring about our redemption. The cross, a horrible means of torturous execution, has become something good — the means of our atonement, and the gateway to new life in Jesus. Christians see the cross as a symbol of something good, and we are instructed to “remember the Lord’s death until He comes.” God took torture and execution — intended for evil by men and the powers of darkness — and turned them into the greatest good possible.
Which brings us back to the eggs. What about the eggs? Is there any reasonable connection at all with the resurrection of Jesus Christ? I think that eggs present a great picture of the resurrection. The chick, at just the right time, bursts forth from the egg full of new life! What a great likeness of Jesus bursting forth from the grave! And certainly the whole season of springtime with its flowers, leaves, grass, and sunshine speaks of life and release from the “dead” of winter. So painting the eggs vibrant colors just adds to the meaning.
Easter eggs will always speak to me of resurrection power and the joy of new life. (I am also, by the way, a fan of fertility.) No, the “goddess” doesn’t get to keep the eggs. The eggs are God’s. Just like we are.
Just one tip, though, if you celebrate with a true Easter egg hunt (with real eggs). Make sure that ALL the eggs get found. 🙂