We are now two weeks into Lent, and every supermarket and gas station convenience store has their shelves piled high with Peeps and Cadbury Creme Eggs. The explosion of pastel colors and barrage of fish dinner advertisements have me pondering the whole Easter holiday. Over the past few years my wife and I have been growing increasingly convicted about how we celebrate holidays. Easter and its many traditions, family and religious ones, have me asking myself many questions. My process of questioning, which I tried to lay out in my first blog post, has brought me to the following question that I think needs to be addressed:
How should Christians celebrate Easter?
First of all, I have to confess that my Easter traditions growing up consisted of dressing up for church, eating potluck meal with extended family, and an egg hunt. I don't remember ever getting an Easter basket or doing an egg hunt in the house or anything. Really, now that I think about it, Easter was pretty much a drag depending on what food was brought to the potluck and how many eggs I could find with money in them. My wife, however, fondly remembers the Easter baskets her mom would make for them, and the egg hunts through the house, the fancy dresses, and all of the other things that bring kids joy on holidays. As we began having kids and started figuring out exactly how to raise them, we also had to start figuring out how we were going to celebrate holidays as a family.
With Easter, the questioning and convictions started a couple of years ago during a time of spiritual upheaval. We were beginning to have our eyes opened to many areas of our faith where we were being disobedient to the Gospel we said that we believed. During this time, I noticed something odd about how Easter was being celebrated by the Church. I came to realize that Easter Sunday was to Christianity what the Super Bowl is to the NFL. Attendance at church services, like Super Bowl TV ratings, peaks at Easter. We all know those people who turn up at church on Christmas and Easter and then disappear until the next year. Easter services are looked at by many pastors and churches as the best opportunity to help fill their pews by reaching out to the un-churched, the back-sliders, the so-call "seekers", and those who are dissatisfied with their current church. Churches often spare no expense when it comes to reaching out to these people too! I have seen or heard of amazing, if not ridiculous, things that churches do for their communities around Easter. Churches serve community meals, have public egg hunts, children's programming, petting zoos, giant inflatables, prize giveaways, clowns, magic shows, helicopter egg drops, and just about anything else you could think up. As I noticed, and even participated in a few of these types of "outreach," I began to wonder what the point of it all was.
How did we...forget that the Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected is the most powerful tool for bringing people into the Church?
What is the point of having a community egg hunt? What is the point of eggs being dropped from a helicopter? How did we get to here? How did we get to the point where we forget that the Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected is the most powerful tool for bringing people into the Church? At some point we stopped trusting that there is power in the Gospel to draw people into a relationship with the Father and have substituted it for cheap entertainment that has little, if anything, to do with the death and resurrection of Christ. As I thought about my observations and talked about them with my wife, I began to realize that the reason our churches have traded the Gospel for gimmicks is because we have already done so in our homes.
...Churches have traded the Gospel for gimmicks...because we have already done so in our homes.
From my observations, I quickly began to be convicted and felt like I needed to do something about what I was seeing. I started by asking myself basic questions about Easter, and tried to honestly compare my answers/beliefs about Easter with my actions, traditions, and celebrations. Below I am including a small sample of the questions I asked myself, the answers I found and the implications of truly believing what I say I believe.
- What is Easter?
- Easter is the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ on the third day after his crucifixion. Easter is closely related to the Jewish observance of the Passover, both in placement on the calendar, and in symbolism.
- What are the origins of Easter celebrations?
- Good luck trying to get a straight answer to this question. Do a quick Google search and you will find that there are just as many articles discussing the pagan origins of Easter as there are discussing all of the evidence against any connection with paganism.
- There is some evidence that Easter could have its roots in a pagan fertility festival held in honor of the goddess Eostre. As Christian missionaries spread throughout Europe there is evidence that they used *contextualization*, or adapting local religious customs to fit within the context of Christianity. If so, then adapting the fertility festival of Eostre into a celebration of Easter doesn't seem like a baseless conclusion.
- There is also evidence that Easter celebrations were happening in the 2nd century, well before Christians would have had contact with pagan worship of the goddess Eostre. There is also evidence that the word used for Easter in the English language is Germanic in origin. Whereas, the rest of Europe uses variations of the Greek word for *Passover* that sound nothing like Eostre.
- Where did the Easter Bunny and the eggs come from?
- The Easter Bunny and eggs are both ancient symbols of fertility and new life. Rabbits because of their very high reproductive rates (females can conceive a second litter while still pregnant with the first), and eggs because of their association with Spring and new life.
- Eggs have been used as symbols of fertility in many religions that were around well before Christianity. Within Christianity, especially the Roman Catholic Church, it is taught that the decorated eggs represent the empty tomb.
- The Easter Bunny first appeared in Germanic myth as a Santa Clause type figure that would give presents to good children and beatings to the bad children. It makes our traditional idea of the Easter Bunny seem more like the rabbit from the movie Donnie Darko:
In the end, the key question that I ended up asking myself, discussing with my wife, praying about, and listening for guidance on was: "What do I do with this information?" I hope that you spend the time going through these questions, doing some research, and reflecting on what your priorities for holiday traditions are, but I know that you are probably wanting to know what my wife and I have decided about our family and how we will be celebrating Easter.
For my wife and I, we are very convicted that we should be very intentional about making sure how we celebrate Easter matches up with what we teach our children about Easter. In this way we hope to avoid the paradox of current Easter celebrations having little to do with the reason for Easter. For us, the litmus test is that whatever we do must very clearly point to what Christ did for us by dying in our place on the cross to pay the price for humanity's sin, as well as the gift of eternal life that we receive freely in his victory over death through his resurrection. This means that we are no longer comfortable doing egg hunts with our children. I have yet to hear a convincing explanation of how hunting decorated or candy filled eggs has anything to do with the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This also means that we don't even entertain the idea that characters like the Easter Bunny are real. The traditional Easter Bunny described above is further from the Gospel message than even Santa Clause. I also do not think that we would feel comfortable attending a church that goes crazy putting on celebrations that have more to do with packing the pews than they have with Christ's death and resurrection.
At this point you probably think that my wife and I are borderline abusive towards our children for taking away all of the fun, magic, and candy of Easter festivities. So, I would like to wrap up this post with a description of what my wife and I have started doing with our daughters instead. I hope that is able to show that it is possible to actually celebrate what Christ has done without adding in anything else that is unnecessary and confusing.
First, we gathered a small bucket full of rocks that were roughly the size of golf balls. We then prepared an empty Easter basket/pail for each of our daughters, as well as a basket for Jesus. Since our three daughters are still young, we start the next step about 2-4 weeks out from Easter Sunday, but when they get older I imagine we may go for all of Lent. Once we decide to start, then we sit the girls down and read the Story of how God created the world, how sin and death have marred His perfect creation, and that our sin separates us from being able to be with God. From this point on we have the girls pick out a rock every time that they sin and using a marker they have to write the sin on the rock and place it in their basket. They do this everyday for every sin that my wife and I catch them in. We use each opportunity to explain that the sin they are writing down and putting in their basket is making it impossible for them to be with God and we explain that they cannot take it out of their basket. After a few days, they are practically in despair when they have to put another rock in their basket. On Good Friday, we sit the girls back down again and tell them the next part of the Story: Jesus' crucifixion and how it paid the price for our sins. We then have the girls take all of the rocks out of their baskets and put them into Jesus' basket to illustrate this to them. If the girls are caught in any sins we have them add a rock, but this time they add it to Jesus' basket instead of their own. This causes confusion because they are unsure why the stone isn't going in their basket. This allows for a great teachable moment as we explain that Jesus' death paid the price for all sins, even the sins that we will commit. This makes them happy, but they also start to become heartbroken each time that they add a rock to Jesus' basket because we talk with them about how He didn't do it but that he is taking it.
As soon as possible, we take the girls and Jesus' basket full of rocks (sin) to a lake that is near our house. We go to the edge of the lake and we explain to the girls that Jesus didn't just pay the price for our sins and take them on Himself, but that He destroys them and throws them in the deepest sea (Micah 7:18-19). We then have the girls reach into the basket, grab the rocks and start throwing them as far out into the lake as they can. We try to tell them that it is like what Jesus does with our actual sins, but that He is able to put them so far away that no one could ever find them or even know about them. We then spend the day hiking around the lake and pointing out all of the beauty in nature that we see along the way. We try to make it a real celebration and a happy time for the girls as we truly find joy in the knowledge of what Christ's death actually did for us even though we didn't deserve it. When we get back home we cover Jesus' basket and the girls basket under a white sheet to symbolize that Jesus' burial. On Easter Sunday we rush upstairs and wake the girls up and tell them to come down quick and look at what happened to the tomb that Jesus' basket was in. When the girls come down they are greeted by the sight of the sheet pulled back like the rock rolled from the tomb. Jesus' basket is gone, but in its place are the girls' baskets that are filled with candy and small gifts. We capitalize on the excitement of the moment to tell the girls the rest of the Story of how Jesus' friends found the tomb was empty and He was alive again. We explain how because He rose again, that He has defeated Death and that He not only paid for our sins by dying but now gives us life through His resurrection.
My wife and I had an amazing time doing this with our daughters and found that it brought us so much joy to use Easter to walk through the Gospel with them and experience all of the emotions that the Gospel message should elicit in us. We should despair over our sinfulness and inability to earn righteousness. We should feel joy and thankfulness for the removal of our sins. We should feel heartbreak when we continue to sin and joy when we know that the sins are removed from us farther than the east is from the west (Psalm 103:10-12). We should feel joy and thankfulness for His grace and steadfast love for granting us eternal life with the Father through His resurrection.
This Easter I pray that you can avoid the Easter paradox of meaningless celebrations and traditions. I encourage you to ask yourself hard questions about what you, your family, and your church do to celebrate Easter. I pray that you are convicted and that you are led to create new traditions and celebrations that intentionally point to Jesus.