Easter Eggs In The Year Of Our Lord
A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.
21st April 2011
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I love chocolate. I don’t think I’m unique in this respect. Most people I have met share this love. So the popular celebration of Easter with chocolate suits me. It combines so many loves at the same time – holidays, chocolate and Christ.
Jesus should be associated with chocolate, for he made every good thing for our enjoyment. He created the world, including chocolate, to be received with thanksgiving. If you like chocolate then eat it with gratitude to the creator of all good things – Jesus Christ our Lord.
I love eggs as well. Again this pleasure is not unique. All that I’ve said of chocolate can equally be said of eggs. They too are to be received with thanksgiving.
Eggs are wonderfully constructed and highly symbolic objects. They are designed to be broken and yet have considerable strength – especially when hard boiled. They are great to roll, as on the White House Lawn, or to hide in the backyard. They can be colourfully decorated and made objects of art or used in games like egg-tapping or egg-dancing.
But it is the symbolism that makes them attractive to people at Easter time. For eggs are great symbols of new life and new beginnings, especially after a long northern European winter and as the spring thaw commences. The humble egg is such an obvious symbol of new birth and of the commencement of a new life.
The commercial interests of Australia have overwhelming turned Easter into the chocolate season. Australian Easter eggs are not really eggs but chocolate eggs. Our decoration is not the painting of hen’s eggs but the printed foil in which we wrap the chocolate. These are not the eggs to dance around, or roll down the hill and certainly not much use in egg-tapping (or “egg-jarping” as some call it). The best game that can be thought of is the egg hunt, which, given the prize is chocolate, is enough to gain enthusiastic involvement from young and old.
Christians can utilise the chocolate egg to speak of new birth that comes through the resurrection of Jesus. We can speak of the emptiness of the egg as symbolic of the empty tomb. But the bunny, who is supposed to lay such eggs, is really beyond the pale. Rabbits and hares may have been a welcome sign of spring’s new life in Europe but in Australia they are just pests that have nothing to do with chocolate or eggs. It is very hard to see any joy in them leaving little brown deposits around the back yard!
So what do we make of the whole Easter egg commercialisation? Well, it gives one industry a vested interest in supporting Easter holidays, and some governments are more likely to listen to commercial concerns than community concerns. It is great to have an excuse to celebrate Christ with one of the most popular foods that he created. And eggs can be used to explain the gospel – both by the decorations and the image of the empty tomb and new birth.
But basically, the Easter egg celebration is symbolic of the pathetic intellectual and spiritual poverty of modern Australian community life. It reduces Easter to the lowest common denominator of public agreement – we all like chocolate and don’t mind eggs. The White House can celebrate Easter with an egg rolling competition, the local kindergarten can have an Easter egg hunt, but woe betide those who would celebrate Easter with a reminder that Jesus, having died for our sins, is now sitting at the right hand of God in all power and authority, soon to return to judge the living and the dead. To celebrate that would be to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection and we would not want that to interrupt Easter.
The resurrection of Jesus is more than new birth. It is about sins forgiven, death defeated, the lordship of Jesus over heaven and earth, the establishment of the Kingdom of God and the arrival of the judgement of the world. None of these themes is in any way a reminder of the seasonal new birth - especially in Australia where we are entering autumn not spring.
The death and resurrection of Jesus is spectacular, amazing and central to the whole of human history and eternity. We do not live AC (After Christ) but AD (Anno Domini: in the year of the Lord) because he has risen from the dead to live and rule for evermore. This is an event far too important to trivialise with bunnies laying chocolate.
I am more than happy to celebrate Christ’s victory with a chocolate egg, as I am with barbequing the fatted lamb or celebrating any other anniversary. I love eating and celebrating - chocolate is towards the top of the list of favourites. But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that chocolate eggs are the Christian symbol of Easter, lest we reduce Easter to the old pagan rite of the annual renewal of the seasons and miss the wonder of the risen Lord.