The schoolteacher was completely nonplussed. It was her first Easter with her new class (she had only started at this particular school in the January) and she had innocently asked her children who the person at the heart of the Easter Story was. ‘The Easter Bunny!’ one little boy had replied instantly. ‘What about Jesus?’ the schoolteacher responded. The small boy looked at her cluelessly – he obviously had no idea as to who this ‘Jesus’ was – and repeated his answer with absolute certainty. ‘Easter is about the Easter Bunny! He brings us all Easter eggs! My Nanna told me about him, and my Nanna is always right … about everything!’
The Easter Bunny (sometimes called the Easter Rabbit or the Easter Hare) is a figure from folklore depicted as a rabbit bringing Easter eggs. Originating among German Lutherans, the Easter Bunny originally played the role of a judge, deciding whether or not children had been good enough during Eastertide to receive an Easter egg. In legend, the bunny brings coloured eggs in a basket, sweets, and sometimes also toys, to the homes of children, and as such shows similarities to Santa Claus in as much as they both bring gifts to children on the night before their respective festivals.
We smile at the bewilderment of the young schoolteacher (and know that she will have other perplexing moments to come). We recognise the naivety of a child and his total faith in his Nanna (but trust he will become wiser over the years, whilst still loving his Nanna). We are saddened by the thought that probably too many children today know little or nothing about Jesus (but encouraged to hear that Religious Education is being given a higher status in the school curriculum these days because the pandemic/lockdown has apparently revealed ‘a renewed spiritual need’). We hope that believing the central character in the Easter Story to be the Easter Bunny (and the like) is limited to childhood … but somehow we doubt it. As G K Chesterton once said, ‘When men choose not to believe in God, they do not thereafter believe in nothing, they then become capable of believing in anything!’
Writing about race and racism, Francis Bridger, suggests they are rooted in ‘the folk or everyday concept’ of race, rather than any genuine ‘analytical or scientific sense’. By this he means values and attitudes rooted essentially in the genre of folk tales (stories originating in popular culture typically passed on by word of mouth), folk beliefs, myths, doctrines, even folk religion. Widely accepted assumptions that may, or may not, have some kind of validity are largely based on what is known as ‘the illusory truth effect’ – the idea that if something is repeated often enough, people will slowly start to believe it to be true. If ‘Trumpism’ in the USA has taught us anything it is surely a timely warning of the damaging effects of being gripped by ‘conspiracy theories’ of one kind and another which are not rooted in solid fact. And before you tell me that believing in Jesus Christ is ‘not based on fact’ let me tell you that there is actually a lot more factual evidence for the existence of Jesus Christ, his teachings, and his claims upon your life and mine, than there is for a lot of other so called ‘historical facts’ we seemingly accept without question.
Easter, however, is not about the bunny … it’s about the Lamb! When Jesus first appeared on the public scene, at his baptism in the Jordan, John the Baptist declared ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’ (John 1:29). We cannot (we must not) separate the events of Easter Sunday from those of Good Friday. They are the head and tails of the same coin. When Julia and I lived in Beckenham, Churches Together in Beckenham, held a silent march of witness through the streets on Good Friday. It was one of the highlights of Easter for me. Several hundred people walking in silence through the town to the Green where a short public service was held. It was a powerful and effective witness to the events of that first Good Friday. In contrast the churches in nearby Penge held a noisy, flag-waving, whistle-blowing, tambourine-banging, shouting and singing, march of witness on Good Friday. If it had been on Palm Sunday or Easter Sunday I would have had no complaint … but for me, it seemed totally inappropriate for Good Friday. It was as if they couldn’t get to Easter Sunday fast enough … even if that meant ignoring the key event of Good Friday. We cannot, we must not, do that, however. It was through his sacrificial death on the cross that Jesus atoned for our sins and opened a way back to God for sinful people like us! No wonder that the Apostle Paul exhorts the Galatian Christians, ‘God forbid that I should glory in anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Galatians 6:14). Easter is not about the bunny … it’s about the Lamb!
Conversely, however, we must not stop at the cross (which is why our symbol is an empty cross not a crucifix, by the way). As Annie Johnson Flint puts it: ‘If the Christ who died had stopped at the cross, his work had been incomplete. If the Christ who was buried had stayed in the tomb, he had only known defeat, but the way of the cross never stops at the cross, and the way of the tomb leads on, to victorious grace in the heavenly place where the Risen Lord has gone!’ The German theologian Jurgen Moltmann expresses the same thought in a single sentence, covering the great span of Good Friday to Easter Day: ‘God weeps with us so that we may someday laugh with him!’
In 1930 Albert Henry Ross, a religious sceptic, set out to write a book – which he planned to call Jesus: the Last Phase – in which he determined to analyse the various sources behind the resurrection of Jesus to demonstrate that it was all a myth. However, in compiling his notes, he became convinced of the truth of the resurrection, and set out his reasoning in the book (which was so proficient people thought he must be a lawyer) which was published under Ross’ pseudonym, Frank Morison. The book was called Who Moved the Stone? It has subsequently become one of the most influential Christian books of all time affecting numerous people, since its publication for God and for good. Ultimately, however, the most compelling proof that Jesus is alive is our own personal experience of coming to know him for ourselves. As the Apostle Paul himself once put it: ‘I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed to Him until that Day’ (2 Timothy 1:12).
I serve a risen Saviour, He’s in the world today,
I know that He is living, whatever men may say,
I see His hand of mercy, I hear His voice of cheer,
And just the time I need Him He’s always near.
He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me,
Along life’s narrow way.
He lives, He lives, Salvation to impart.
You ask me how I know He lives?
He lives within my heart!
~ Alfred Henry Ackley (1887-1960)