March 20, 2013 by Pastor Ben McIntire
I’m always fascinated by some of the weird things we do in our religions and traditions. There is so much symbolism; not just in Christianity, but in all religions and even secular traditions. And this season, I took it upon myself to learn about the Easter Egg. Why are these colorful eggs a part of the celebration of Jesus’ Resurrection?
As is often the case, the tradition of decorating and hiding eggs predates Christianity. It may seem fairly obvious to you that the egg is a natural choice as a symbol of new life, since lots of little critters hatch out of them to begin new lives. Ancient pagan religions abound with fertility rituals and celebrations, and at the center of many of these were eggs. With spring being the time of year when many animals and birds produce offspring, as well as dormant plant life coming back into bloom, most fertility rituals also took place in this season of new life. Zoroastrians in ancient Persia celebrated Nowruz, the spring equinox, with eggs. Ancient Anglo-Saxons exchanged decorated eggs with friends during April in honor of their fertility goddess, Eostre—whose name we take for the Sunday of Christ’s resurrection, Easter Sunday.
Eggs are also a part of the Jewish festival of Passover, being included in the Seder meal which commemorates the Hebrew Exodus out of Egypt where they were enslaved. At the Passover meal salty, hard-boiled eggs are eaten along with the roasted lamb, bitter herbs, matzah bread, and the other special foods. So at Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples, an egg would have been part of that Passover meal for him too.
In early Christian stories, there are a couple of legends about Mary Magdalene bringing eggs to the tomb to eat with the other women who went to finish the burial rites for Jesus. The legend says that when she met the Risen Lord, the eggs she carried turned blood-red. Other symbolism notes that the egg is the same shape as the stone that was rolled back from the empty tomb’s entrance, and that as a bird or chick hatches from such an object, the symbolism of resurrection or new life is complete.
Finally the Lenten tradition of the early church of fasting during this season, which continues in many Christian communities today, includes abstaining from eating meat, eggs, and dairy products. For this reason, any eggs that domestic chickens lay are often hard-boiled in order to preserve them until Easter brings the end of the fast, and eggs are again part of the festival meal.
I know that dying eggs bright pink, yellow, green, blue, orange, red and purple is fun and beautiful, and the candy eggs or plastic eggs full of jellybeans are yummy too; but I hope this Easter season, you will take a moment to ponder this symbolism, and to remember the New Life that we have because of Christ and this amazing miracle of the Resurrection. This Easter, and always, we celebrate this hope of victory over death—as well as a new chance at this life, here and now, as Christ’s followers called to live with gratitude, grace, and joy. May you have a blessed Easter!
Dear Heavenly Father, I praise you for this amazing gift of life and for the hope of the resurrection, that we may no longer fear death’s finality, but instead rejoice in the gift of eternal life because of Christ who was raised from the tomb. Help me to live each day as if I have died to the sinful desires of myself, and strengthen me to live a new life in Christ. In Jesus’ name, Amen.