If you lived during the middle ages, not only would you have given up meat for all of Lent (not just on Fridays), you would have also given up eggs and dairy as well. To this day, many in the Eastern Orthodox tradition abstain from eating all meat and animal by-products during Lent, but in the West it has been a long time since we routinely gave up eggs or dairy. It is no wonder then that the tradition of Easter Eggs may seem a bit odd to us. For years I have observed people fumble around trying to explain the significance of Easter Eggs to their children or to other adults (Christian and non-Christian alike). Most of the time the best answer we can come up with is that “eggs symbolize new life,” and are therefore a symbol of resurrection and of spring. This is partially true, but in order to appreciate the true significance of the Easter Egg we also need to remember that for most of Christian history, the faithful had given up eggs for all of Lent. The eggs that were decorated and celebrated on Easter Sunday morning, were done so by people that had lost them for a time. This wonderful and nutritious food had been forbidden to them during Lent, and now at last they could feast on them again, along with everything else that they had given up.
Easter Eggs are symbolic of life, but they symbolize life that has been lost and regained. They represent a natural gift of God, that because of our sinfulness and broken human nature we have had to give up for a time (during the penitential fasting of Lent), but now because of the grace and forgiveness of God has been restored to us. The Christian celebration of Easter is not about new-birth; it is about re-birth. It is not about the discovery of something new; it is about the recovery of something that was lost.
We have a tendency to lose things in this world: we lose our innocence, we lose our joy; we lose our sense of wonder. Sometimes we lose things because they are actually taken from us: like our loved ones, or even perhaps, our health or our own lives. Easter is a festival when we as Christians proclaim that we have a God who restores things that have been lost. Because of what we witnessed at Christ’s tomb, we believe that God has the power and the will to restore life, even to our mortal bodies. This is our unique hope as Christians: finding that which was lost.
This year we will, like many churches, have an Easter Egg hunt in the garden following the Easter Sunday Mass. We will have a special visit that morning from the Easter Bunny as well. Despite what many people say about the Easter Bunny, there really is no evidence that rabbits or bunnies ever had anything to do with ancient pagan customs. The same is true of the Christmas Tree. Historians and theologians are equally reluctant to admit when they do not know something, but when it comes to the origins of the Christmas Tree and the Easter Bunny, the real truth is: we just don’t know. What we do know, is that for the past few hundred years, Christians have used both the Tree and the Bunny to inject a bit of joy into their lives. They have used them to inspire their children to wonder and marvel at a world that is sometimes magical and mysterious.
On that first Easter Sunday, Mary Magdalene found what she was looking for, but it wasn’t in the tomb. May our celebration of Easter help us to find what we are looking for too: our hope, our joy, our innocence, our loved ones, our childhood or even our own lives. May we too discover that what once was dead, through God’s grace, is now alive and well.