It will be all over the place at the moment as we are celebrating both secular and Holy Easter. I used to ‘go on’ about such things, but I don’t any more. It may be a certain softening as I approach ‘bus-pass’ age, or maybe even weariness at pushing against the inevitable. Or perhaps it’s something more. Anyway, alongside all of the above there is another element this year.
Foolishness. This year Easter and April Fool’s Day 1st April, coincide. Once this would have brought forth much more of a groan from the Vicarial home. But no!
For us the coincidence of April Fool and Easter is a happy one in that it can help us to understand something more about the Feast of the Resurrection.
Rabbits are an ancient symbol of fecundity. The Christian tradition of the Easter Bunny has distinctly Christian origins.
The ancient Greeks thought rabbits could reproduce as virgins. Such a belief persisted until early medieval times when the rabbit became associated with the Virgin Mary, who we know became pregnant without knowing man. (Did you know. there is a rabbit depicted in our Lady Chapel?) During the medieval period, rabbits began appearing in illuminated manuscripts and paintings where the Virgin Mary was depicted, serving as an allegorical illustration of her virginity. The Easter Bunny was first popularized as a symbol of the season by the German Protestants. It is likely they were the ones to invent the myth of the Easter Bunny for their children. Even in earliest folklore, the Easter Bunny came as a judge, hiding decorated eggs for well-behaved children.
The notion that the Easter Bunny is a pagan symbol developed in the 19th century. In 1835, Jacob Grimm, the popular collector of fairy tales, suggested that the Easter Bunny came from primitive German pagan traditions.
Once Grimm started the rumor, it began to spread, refined to suggest the Easter Bunny comes from the Saxon Goddess Eostre. However, there is no direct evidence of a pagan correlation. The first intimation of a connection arose from Jacob Grimm, and although he was a folklorist, he had no hard evidence other than his own speculation. Conversely, there is considerable documentation that the rabbit was once associated with virginity, the Virgin Mary, and with the season itself, in a Christian context.
As a result, we must conclude, the Easter Bunny is a distinctly Christian symbol, and does not have pagan origins as occasionally claimed by those who despise the popular children's myth. The Easter Bunny reminds us of the Virgin Birth of the Jesus who is brought back to life in the resurrection. Our God is the God of Life.
The chicks remind us of that too. The obvious symbolism is there, new life brought forth from the earth-shaped eggshell.
Chocolate was, for centuries, the most luxurious and extravagant luxury food. Now, in the Easter Egg we combine the two. The symbolism of the egg and the symbol of the extravagant generosity of God, shown so clearly in the gift of his Son, willing even to dies in his generous love for us.
April Fools' Day is observed throughout the Western world. Practices include sending someone on a "fool's errand," looking for things that don't exist; playing pranks; and trying to get people to believe ridiculous things.
The French call April 1 Poisson d'Avril, or "April Fish." French children sometimes tape a picture of a fish on the back of their schoolmates, crying "Poisson d'Avril" when the prank is discovered. It is worth noting that many different cultures have had days of foolishness around the start of April, give or take a couple of weeks. The Romans had a festival named Hilaria on March 25, rejoicing in the resurrection of Attis. The Hindu calendar has Holi, and the Jewish calendar has Purim. Perhaps there's something about the time of year, with its turn from winter to spring, that lends itself to lighthearted celebrations.
For many people, the idea of the Resurrection of Jesus is pure foolishness. Well, St Paul had a lot to say about that: 1 Corinthians 1, v18ff:
18 For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise.
So Dear Friends in Christ, be foolish, enjoy the Bunny (though at the Vicarage we are having Lamb), coo at the Chicks, pass the Easter Egg. And have a Happy Easter!