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In Theory: Does the Easter bunny mask Easter's message?

  • Easter bunny Rowena Emmett at the annual Easter in the Park event in 2010 at Memorial Park in La Canada Flintridge.
Easter bunny Rowena Emmett at the annual Easter in the Park event in 2010… (Raul Roa / Staff Photographer )
April 06, 2012

To Christians, Easter is the celebration of the resurrection of Christ three days after his crucifixion. The apostle Paul emphasized the importance of the event when he wrote in Corinthians, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”

To many, Easter is a more important celebration than Christmas, as it commemorates the central tenet of Christianity: that through Jesus' death, burial and resurrection, he paid the penalty for sin, thus gaining eternal life for all who believe in him.

But for some parents, there's a worry that the non-Christian symbols of Easter — the bunny rabbits, eggs and candy — could be masking the day's true significance.

Q: Is there a way of teaching the message of Easter to children without taking the fun out of it?

Of course there is! We seem to do fine with Santa Claus at Christmas, so why not do just as well with the Easter bunny? It is interesting how our traditions develop and evolve. Palm Sunday was this past weekend, and it is so named because some of Jesus' followers apparently waved “leafy branches” (see Mark 11:8) as he rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey.

So where do we get the idea that people waved palms? I don't know, because those “leafy branches” came from the fields, according to Mark. It probably doesn't matter what the people waved, but it is interesting that we celebrate Palm Sunday and not Leafy Branch Sunday.

And what does a fat old man in a red suit have to do with a babe in a manger? Nothing, or everything, depending on your perspective. If Santa Claus represents love and the spirit of giving, then the Easter bunny can represent new life, and lots of it. Again, how our traditions do evolve!

We all believe in the Three Wise Men, but nowhere in the birth accounts does it say the number three. There is mention of gold, frankincense and myrrh, and so we have assumed each wise man brought one gift, but the fact remains that Matthew's gospel (the only Gospel account containing the Wise Men story) says nothing about the number of Magi.

Switching to Easter, what a strange name for the day of the reason for the season. As I recall, the name may co-opt a pagan goddess by the name of Eostre, who was the goddess of the sunrise and the spring. And we celebrate the Resurrection when? In the spring.

I have no problem with the church's co-opting of the symbols of other religions, but there are Christians who cannot abide anything, fun or not, that comes from someplace outside the Judeo-Christian tradition. Some believers have a cow (another interesting expression) if their kids dress up in costumes on Halloween because to pretend to be ghosts and goblins is somehow sacrilegious.

In my opinion, people who think that way miss the point of religion, and the point is to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself. On those two ideas hang all the law and the prophets, said Jesus (Matthew 22: 37-40).

Happy Easter. And also, happy Passover!

The Rev. Skip Lindeman
La Cañada Congregational Church
La Cañada Flintridge

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We have always enjoyed fun activities with our children at Easter — egg hunts, Easter baskets and special dinners with our family and friends. But we’ve always made it a priority to communicate the central message of the day: Jesus Christ our lord rose from the grave after having given his life on the cross in the full payment of our sin debt. To help keep our focus on Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday, we’ve always done the egg hunt and baskets the day before. We leave an empty golden plastic egg for each of our children as an object lesson that Jesus’ tomb was found empty. Our Savior lives.

It might serve us well to understand that not everything needs to be about fun, anyway. The joy of knowing Jesus runs much deeper than passing amusement. The depth of his love and forgiveness moves our hearts more profoundly. And for people of all ages, the hope that Jesus’ resurrection gives our lives is sweeter than any chocolate bunny ever could be.

Pastor Jon Barta
Valley Baptist Church
Burbank

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Yes, it is difficult — once candy has been introduced — to convince children (and some adults) that there is more to look forward to in life than chocolate. The reader will be relieved to note that chocolate and Jesus are not mutually exclusive.

When I visited the Middle East, I was struck by the way humans “layer” their sacred spaces. Churches built on Roman temple ruins. Mosques on Jewish religious sites. Christian pilgrimage sites on ancient pagan springs. The ruins reveal a history of conquerors and competition, to be sure, but it also seems as though there are geographical “thin spaces” (to borrow from Celtic Christianity) where we come in contact with the divine, always seeking to understand, to worship, to transcend.

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