Once while serving in a church with a retired Army colonel and his native Korean wife, a conversation about the basics of the Christian faith led me to ask her, “Do you have any questions about our celebration of Easter?” She replied, “I get most of it, but what I don’t understand is, what is so important about the bunny?”
I had to admit, it is often a stumper for me, too. Plastic grass, chocolate bunnies, colored eggs and marshmallow chickens seem a far cry from our annual “Alleluias” proclaiming Jesus’ victory over evil, sin and death.
A quick Internet search will tell you that these popular expressions of Easter are symbols of springtime and fertility with ancient, even pagan, roots in the Germanic goddess Eostre (or Ostara), from whom the word “Easter” is derived. These practices easily merged with the arrival of the Christian story in developing traditions and customs that go back hundreds of years.
Another quick Internet search will reveal many other purported pagan origins to common Christian names, symbols and practices and the sincere desire from many for an unadulterated devotion. It is nothing new. We Baptists, along with other radical reformers of the church, belong to what began as a project to purge from the faith all customs without scriptural validation.
This is an ever-vigilant, but ultimately impossible, endeavor. For example, despite my supposed and educated sophistication by which I might prefer to call this high holy day of our faith “Resurrection Sunday,” I will slip up and still say “Easter.” I’m sure this is just one of numerous examples, both known and unknown, where my faith parallels tradition more than the authentic meaning of a particular statement or practice. Meanwhile, the heavens have not collapsed and the greater task of being a disciple continues.
If we have to boil our faith down to something simple, why not focus on the greater, far-reaching and clear instructions from Jesus? Things like “Love your enemies.” “Pray for those who persecute you.” “If you want to be great, be a servant to all.” “Be not afraid, I have overcome the world.”
If we can focus our attention on these truths and others like them, we find a timeless and transcendent direction less prone to petty and superficial differences. Instead, how much time have we squandered fighting over traditions rather than embracing the new life Christ came to win?
Like Easter candy, we humans are colorful and messy. But we don’t always color outside the lines because we are bad. Often it’s because we are restless, if not courageously and creatively adventurous. Sometimes, today’s new insights become tomorrow’s orthodoxies.
So maybe the bunny does fit in. Break the Lenten fast, pass the chocolate and proclaim with the innocent recklessness of a young foal: The enemy is vanquished. Christ has made it so. Let us not be afraid. Let us not be divided. May we walk with joy into Resurrection’s breaking dawn. The light has come. The darkness cannot overwhelm it. Alleluia. Alleluia. Amen.
Mark Johnson is senior minister at Central Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky.