Easter eggs. Easter bunnies. Easter lilies. Most of us know what these things are: colourfully-decorated eggs or egg-shaped candies; edible milk-chocolate bunnies; single-stemmed plants with beautiful white flowers. But what is Easter? And what, if anything at all, do these eggs and bunnies and flowers have to do with Easter?
While there is a lot of speculation about the origin of the word 'Easter,' there is very little that can known with certainty. But we do know that Easter is the greatest and the oldest feast day of the Christian church. It is a day set aside by Christians to commemorate and celebrate Jesus' resurrection from the dead. And because Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday, Easter is always celebrated on a Sunday.
Inseparably connected to Easter Sunday is another equally important—although far more sobering—memorial day called “Good Friday.” On this day Christians remember Jesus' death on the cross. Crucifixion was a most cruel, pain-prolonging form of execution reserved for the worst of criminals. It was a humiliating way to die. More than that, it was a cursed way to die. The Holy Bible teaches that being hung on a cross is a sign of being under God's curse (Deuteronomy 21:23). How horrific! There is nothing worse that could happen than to be cursed by God! How then do Christians dare to call the day Jesus died a good Friday?
Two reasons. First, because Jesus died on the cross to take the punishment for the sins of everyone who believes in His sacrificial death. The Bible teaches that “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24) and that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us ” (Galatians 3:13a).
The second reason we remember the day Jesus died as being a good Friday is because Jesus did not stay dead. Late Friday afternoon Jesus' body was wrapped in strips of linen burial cloths and His lifeless body was placed in a tomb. His body remained in the tomb all day Saturday. And early on Sunday morning, three days after dying, HE AROSE! Death could not hold Him down! Jesus paid for our sins by dying on the cross. Jesus then rose from the dead, showing that He had conquered the greatest enemy, death, which is the penalty for our sin (Romans 6:23). Easter is a celebration of Jesus' resurrection!
It is by believing in Jesus' sacrificial death and victorious resurrection that we receive new life—new spiritual life now and new physical life in the future when Jesus comes again on Judgment Day. Just prior to bringing His friend Lazarus back to life, Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies. And whoever lives and believes in Me will never die” (John 11:25-26a). He then asked a question we all must consider: “Do you believe this?” If you do, then you have new spiritual life now! And you can also be assured already now that once this earthly life is over, you will enjoy eternal life in heaven!
So then, what do eggs and bunnies and flowers have to do with Easter? Nothing, really. Historically speaking, eggs have been used as a symbol of new life, and some Christians use eggs at Easter time as a symbol of the new spiritual life we have in Jesus Christ. Rabbits are seen by some as a symbol of fertility, but they have absolutely nothing to do with Easter. And Easter lilies. Well, like Easter eggs and Easter bunnies, these flowers are simply another common commodity that money-making marketers have made up to increase sales at this time of year. They are beautiful. They may well symbolize new life. But they don't really have anything to do with the Bible's story of Jesus' victorious resurrection from the dead, which is what Easter is really all about.