Easter Bunnies and the Empty Grave
Have you ever stopped and wondered what the Easter Bunny and Easter eggs have to do with Easter? According to the Venerable Bede1 the name "Easter" came from an Anglo-Saxon2 goddess Eastre. She was the goddess of spring and fertility. In a sense, she was the goddess of the resurrection of life.
Through the cold of winter all life seemed to cease. Winter brought death. But with spring came the resurrection of life. Trees that were barren budded new leaves and fruit. The earth which lay dormant throughout the winter came alive again with a brilliant cover of green sprinkled with the rainbow of colours from the flowers that dotted the fields. Eastre was the goddess who gave this new life to the earth. She brought the warmth of the sun’s rays, and she dropped the spring rains which caused the seeds to germinate. Prayers were offered to her, and it was in her that men put their trust for a productive season. Her festival was celebrated on the day of the vernal equinox, 3 which marked the beginning of spring. The Festival of Eastre had various traditions, vestiges of which still remain. The rabbit became a symbol of this fertility goddess. We hardly wonder at the choice of this symbol, for which animal is as prolific in breeding as the humble hare? According to one source they can produce four to eight litters a year, with three to eight young in each litter. Rabbits reach sexual maturity in about six months, and have a life span of about ten years. This means that a rabbit could bear as many as 576 young.
Another fitting symbol used in this fertility celebration was the egg. An egg contains the principle of new life. After three weeks of apparent lifelessness, the shell is broken and a new life comes forth. Eggs were painted bright colours as a reflection of the rainbow of flowers that bloomed in spring, which also testified of new life on earth.
How ironic that those who worshipped this goddess of new life were themselves still dead in sin. Those who served this goddess of fertility possessed minds filled with futility. They did not understand why there was death on earth. They had no knowledge of their sin, and the curse that their sin brought upon themselves and upon this world at large. They had no knowledge what it would take to remove this curse of death. They did not know about God's plan of redemption in Jesus Christ, who would take upon Himself our sin and suffer hell in order to give new life to us and to this world. How poor their symbols were, symbols of rabbits and colourful eggs. How rich are our Christian symbols – the cross upon which our Saviour died – the empty tomb from which our Saviour arose! How joyful our feast – eating of the broken bread and drinking from the cup of wine! How happy are those who worship Jesus Christ. He is the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Him, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Him shall never die (cf. John 11:25,26).
Now I may ask the question that I started with: what does the Easter Bunny and Easter eggs have to do with our celebration of Easter? Not much at all. In fact, all that the two have in common is the date and the name, and I find even the latter lamentable. I find it a pity that the name of a pagan goddess has been given to the commemoration of the resurrection of Christ from the dead. A pity that we could not call it "Egersis" 4 instead of "Easter.”
Vestiges of the pagan worship of Eastre are still found in our times – the Easter bunny, Easter eggs. It speaks ill of our nation that the Easter Bunny is more popular today than the crucified Christ, and Easter eggs more cherished than the empty tomb. In this season we do well to remind ourselves and our children of the emptiness of these vestiges of a pagan religion, and of the importance of the atoning sacrifice of our Saviour and His triumph over death.