Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

March 23, 2008


Pagan traditions distort the true meaning of Easter


          Earlier than usual, Easter is here again. A few years ago I used this space to comment on the many ways our culture has paganized the event known as Easter. Indulge me please as I share some of those concerns again.

Many seemingly innocent ideas obscure the true meaning of Easter. If we are honest, most of us will admit that we have been victimized by some of these pagan concepts that have no biblical support in Christian doctrine. In many ways “Easter” is merely an adjective used to describe things that have nothing to do with the resurrection of Jesus. The word “Easter” is not found in the Bible.

          Easter shoes are one example. Growing up, if I got a new pair of shoes, they were bought for me to wear on Easter Sunday. It was a family custom. Mama took us to Sears Roebuck and got us new shoes for Easter. If the farming had been good the year before, we might get a new outfit – dresses and bonnets for the girls and new suits for the boys.

          What do shoes have to do with Easter? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

          Rabbits are another appendage to Easter. One can hardly imagine celebrating Easter without seeing cute little (and BIG ones also) bunny rabbits everywhere. Stores display huge bunnies to attract customers to sales. Children pester their parents to buy them a live rabbit though most will settle for a chocolate bunny.

          Chocolate bunnies are my favorite. My wife likes jalapeno peppers. I like chocolate bunny rabbits. Easter is simply not Easter unless a delicious chocolate bunny comes my way.

          As a boy I raised rabbits.  Daddy bought me a pair and soon I had a dozen. A few months later we had fried rabbit for supper. The project had nothing to do with Easter. What do bunnies have to do with Easter? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

          The list can go on.  Everywhere we look there are Easter eggs, Easter baskets, Easter lilies, and Easter sales. Pastors and church leaders ponder where to draw the line. Just how much of this Easter madness should the church “baptize” and go along with?

Many churches sponsor Easter egg hunts for the children though no mention is made of the resurrection. Easter eggs are pretty. They taste good and children have fun hunting for them. The key word is fun.

 While an egg hunt may be harmless fun, for large churches it can become quite a production. One church “hides” three thousand Easter eggs annually. You have to wonder if the time and money could be devoted to a more significant project.  One tired but happy volunteer remarked with a smile, “Two hundred of those eggs will never be found by the children; we will uncover them weeks later while tending to the lawn.”

          Florists are crazy about Easter. They sell thousands of Easter lilies.  Churches can make a little profit adorning the chancel area with lovely lilies. Buy them for five dollars apiece, sell them for ten, and clear five dollars for the missions’ fund. After all, it is for a worthy cause.

          Easter lilies hold sentimental value for me. When I was born in the spring, my dad picked some wild Easter lilies in the woods behind our house. He put them in a Mason jar beside my crib, or so I was told years later. Wild lilies still grow in the woods behind the old home place. I hope my grandsons Jake and Josh will pick a few and bring them to me to celebrate Easter, and my birth, one more time.

          Easter occurs in the spring of the year because the death and resurrection of Jesus happened in springtime, at the time of the annual Jewish Passover. So we associate Easter with the budding of flowers, the new life of nature.

          Spring is indeed a delightful season. Winter is past and the earth is bursting with the glorious beauty of green leaves, spring flowers, and budding trees. New life is everywhere as what appeared dead comes suddenly to life.

          But what happened to Jesus on Easter morning was much more than the changing cycles of nature. His resurrection was in no way like the spring birth of flowers. His resurrection was qualitatively different. Flowers born in spring will die. Next spring new flowers may come from the seed or bulbs that have lain dormant in winter. But as much as we delight in the beauty of spring, this process of nature is not what the Bible means by the resurrection of the dead.

          The dead body of Jesus did not "sprout" buds from which a new person grew. God infused life into his dead body and he was physically alive again. God transformed his old body into a new glorified body. The tomb was opened so the women and the disciples could look inside; the Risen Christ was already out! He had conquered death! The grave could not hold him!

          Gorgeous flowers and butterflies are wonderful gifts of God. We can enjoy their exquisite beauty and embrace them as expressions of God's love. Those who like chocolate can enjoy a chocolate bunny. The kids can hunt eggs. Buy the children some new shoes – if they need them.  But do all this without including these Easter parasites in the same breath with the resurrection of Jesus. Butterflies and bunny rabbits cannot save us from our sins!
          Some say that the grave is the end. Beyond the death of the human body, there is nothing more, only dust. The resurrection of Jesus was God's way of saying, "Don't be afraid. There is more, plenty more. So much more that you cannot imagine in your wildest dreams what a wonderful eternal life I have planned for you - if you will only trust my Son!"

          Enjoy the wonders of bulbs, seeds, and cocoons. Celebrate the coming of spring. But remember that the resurrection of Jesus has done something for you that bunnies and butterflies can never do. His resurrection has opened the gates of heaven and offered you blessed hope that you will see your loved ones again when the Risen Savior welcomes you home.

          This is the faith God’s people enjoy when the true meaning of the resurrection is divested of all the sweet pagan embroidery. That is why most of our churches are filled on Easter Sunday. We must raise our voices and shout with conviction: "Up from the grave He arose!"

          Because He did, nothing less than a glad “Glory Hallelujah!” can adequately express the joy of this morning! Amen and Amen!  

          FOOTNOTE: The church was not packed last Sunday. We did have a few empty seats but not enough for the choir to come down! Glory! + + +