By Nathaniel E. Hocker on April 4, 2021
Once again, Jesus has risen . . . Symbols of the cross with purple or red fabrics draped across it, the stone is rolled away, an empty tomb glowing with light, Mary is weeping at the entrance – it’s Easter. Christian churches have planned and programmed for months – amidst even a global pandemic – to house as many so-called “Christians” and “Creasters” (Christmas and Easter Christians who attend church only on these two holidays) as possible. It occurs every year . . . all to hear the wondrous message of the risen Savior. Right after services, if not occurring before, is the coveted Easter-egg hunt – slated to keep the children and adults happy. Although, there will be several unhappy little ones who did not discover as many, if any, eggs at all. Furthermore, there will be older kids whose strategy was to mow over the younger participants to get their fill of chocolate and taffy, sugar and sticky. But hey, it’s not about winning, right?
We’ve somehow ascended from the cross to a ground covered with an array of brightly colored egg-shaped plastic, bad for the planet, but filled with sugar-infused treats. Not to mention, the culprit behind the egg symbolism and even the leader of this coveted Holiday, is a rabbit. Yes. We have also ascended from ‘The Lamb’ to a rabbit – often scary too, just ask most babies . . . or was it in reverse – the rabbit to ‘The Lamb’?
What began in 13th century Germany has now become all that is associated with the Easter Holiday. The German folk – Teutons – worshiped Pagan gods and goddesses, as most cultures did of the time. In particular, the goddess Eostra was revered as the goddess of fertility and spring. The word: “Easter”, itself, finds its etymology embedded in her very name. The rabbit in fact, due to its breeding tendencies, became a symbol for Eostra. In AD 595, 40 Roman monks were given instruction – via Pope Gregory – to travel to England with a singular assignment to convert the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity. These 40 missionaries persuaded the pagan Britons to integrate or fuse their beloved ancient celebrations with that of the Christian Resurrection observance. These festivities would coincide on the same calendar day. The March Equinox would hold space for the worship of Eostra – holding celebratory feasts in her honor, while concurrently in Western Europe, Easter was marked to be celebrated on the first Sunday after the full moon following the March Equinox.
A victory for the Roman monks; they were able to persuade the Britons to accept the celebration of Jesus Christ’s resurrection at Easter, while at the same time, continuing their worship of the goddess Eostra – her fertility motif, the rabbit, included. Almost a century later, the first documentation of the Easter Bunny was recorded in the form of a myth in the 1500s. Consequently, the first fictional story of the Easter Bunny was published by the 1680s. And finally, the legend of the Easter Bunny was then fortified through the traditions of German immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania Dutch County in the United States, in the 1700s.
What would the Easter holiday be without these tropes – the bunny rabbit, candy-filled eggs, big dinners for some, and bright fabric wares for church services?
To The Point
I discovered that Christian and Pagan beliefs have been merged for centuries, yet one is deemed as “truth”, the other an assortment of various manmade religions and rituals that existed between Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Perhaps it is fair to submit: Christianity may very well be more “polyamorous” in its practice(s) than the “mono-culture” it is marketed to be – deity aside. If it were not for Paganism and the interested Christian parties seeking conversion into its court, most holidays, Easter, among others, would not be celebrated – at least not in the same way. New titles would certainly be applied to these many holidays – “Easter” derived from the Pagan-god: Eostra – for starters.
The integration of other religious and/or natural beliefs and rituals into Christianity often goes unspoken in order that the traditions of the church be upheld, yet the constant endeavor to maintain a particular brand of faith tradition yields a strong economy among its many denominations. This is nothing new, as religion has its many economic rewards, both crooked and/or justly pursued. The Easter we know today is as profitable as is the Easter of yesteryear. On the one hand, formerly, Easter was a way of converting non-Christians to Christianity, merging its message of the Resurrection with Pagan festivals, increasing its territorial grasp. On the other hand, in contemporary times, one could gather that Easter is an exclusive market toward increasing the economy of any singular church due to its historically Biblical significance. One cannot argue the increased populous on this day, as church attendees pack-out their respective houses for worship, gathering to catch a glimpse of the resurrected Christ. This is but one of two holidays in particular where the “plates runneth over” . . . Sad. Like any good marketing campaign – if done well, it pays. Do not be fooled; like Jesus, the Resurrection sells too!
If you couple candy hidden inside plastic-shaped eggs, led by a person wearing a scary bunny costume, and the Resurrection of one of, if not the most famous teachers in history; the masses have your attention. I cannot imagine the Jesus I know, after having endured much suffering, a crucifixion, to then be resurrected by God – reduced to a marketing ploy, just behind chocolate bunnies and bird-shaped marshmallows. Really? Really. We have missed the point altogether.
No End In Sight
It is certainly undeniable that Pagan ideas and rituals are indeed part of Christian-dom. And in varying degrees, every church has practices that are not entirely based in, near, or around the Hebrew Scriptures – in practice itself, or in its understanding even. While this does not mean that every practice is either Pagan or plain wrong, churches might embrace the justice that is re-evaluating their methods and reasonings to ensure they are not perpetuating missed opportunities toward enlightenment. It might be time to enhance tradition. For starters, why must we continually focus on the act of the resurrection, its meaning, when the real focus should be on what the message of the One who was resurrected continues to be. That message being: The transformation of life is what continuously renews hope for humanity. That transformation is what is exemplified in the Resurrection.
Jesus did not come to provide a so-called “belief system”, nor did He come to establish any collection of rigid-religious doctrine(s). The resurrection is much more than a mere reduction of a “significant moment” in history. Moreover, Easter is much more than a “propping up” of Christian theology. Let us then be spared from having to endure exhaustive explanations of the “Resurrection Miracle”; miracles are inexplicable by default.
May we be reminded that to live a life transformed, does not require a bunny nor an egg hunt. Rabbits are rarely mentioned in the Bible; they symbolize both renewal and abundance, among other things. It does not take a rocket scientist to discover that rabbits have very little to do with Jesus, aside from their Paganist symbolism. Paul uses this pagan symbol as a way to point non-Christians to Christ. He tells them about the God they do not know and creates a Gospel presentation from that. This is an example of a continued marketing ploy that like then, works today.
Until next year, when Easter is yet re-packaged, re-marketed, and then re-purchased . . . Happy Easter!