Cracking Easters' symbolism

April 03, 2007 11:00 pm
 (Illustration by The Daily Triplicate/Bryant Anderson).
(Illustration by The Daily Triplicate/Bryant Anderson).

By Cornelia de Bruin

Triplicate staff writer

Symbolism plays an

important role in the Christian faith at Easter, from the cross and sunrise to the lamb and white lily.

How the leaders of Del Norte County congregations structure their Easter services has evolved in recent years. Leaders of some faiths view items and symbols of the traditional celebration as vestiges of the older, pagan, faiths that Christianity replaced more than a thousand years ago.

Among the suspect traditions? Rabbits, colored eggs and more.

"We don't make a big deal of Easter bunnies, but we will have an Easter Egg hunt on Easter morning," said Pastor Dan Schlensker of Grace Lutheran Church. "We use the lamb as a symbol during the Maundy Thursday service, and we focus on the institution of the Last Supper."

Holding to tradition instead of hints of pagan goddesses, Pastor Carol Layton of United Methodist Church said, "Egg hunts are traditional, they are not something we would not do."

Cultures and churches "syncretically use symbols," Layton said, combining different forms of belief or practice.

"The church has always been perfectly comfortable doing that," she said, but added that many Methodist churches now call Easter Sunday Resurrection Sunday.

"I think that's a knee-jerk reaction," Layton said. "Churches don't have the power they used to have and I think that they are afraid of being secularized; if they aren't the same as those other people they keep their identity."

The name "Easter" actually comes from such an older religion. According to Annie's Easter Symbols and their Meanings Website, the goddess Eostre was worshiped by the ancient Saxons, a group the Website's writer refers to as "pagan."

"Easton's Bible Dictionary defines Easter as originally a Saxon word, denoting a goddess of the Saxons in honor of whom sacrifices were offered about the time of the Passover," the site states.

"The resurrection happened in Spring, and the whole world breathes a sigh of praise to God," said Pastor Russell Green of Pelican Bay Evangelical Church.

From Compton's Encyclopedia comes the caution regarding Easter Monday egg rolling, which it links to the goddess Eostre. Paganism is also linked to the use of rabbits and colored eggs as a symbol of new life. "The Pagan connection here should not be dismissed, Ishtar was the goddess of fertility and reproduction," Annie's site states.

Hot cross buns, traditional Easter Sunday treats in some communities, are "not a truly Christian" tradition. Annie's refers to "a Website" that explains they are "probably the outgrowth of the ancient pagan sacramental cakes eaten by Anglo-Saxons in honor of their goddess Eostre."

Easter Symbols

Church Symbols

Cross

•Device on which Christ was crucified.

Originally a Roman implement of torture.

Lamb

•Represents Christ but has secular origins

as well.

Paschal

•Refers to Passover

Sunrise

•Related to Easter because Mary

Magdalene entered the garden and met

the risen Christ at sunrise.

White lily

•Stands for the resurrection

Secular Symbols

Bunny

•The most fertile animal and a symbolism

of new life and abundance.

Easter

•The name Easter, derived from Eastre or

Eostre, the Goddess of Spring. In Latin

and Greek the word for Easter is "Pascha."

Worth noting is that Eostre had a rabbit

that laid eggs.

Easter egg rolls

•A likely offshoot of the sport of Middle

Eastern egg-pecking. A similar game in

Norway it is called knekke.

Egg

•Representative of fertility and used as an

emblem of life. It also symbolizes the rock

tomb from which Christ emerged on

Easter Sunday. In France, children are told

that the eggs are dropped by the church

bells in Rome.

Hot cross buns

•One of the oldest Good Friday customs is

eating hot cross buns. These small sweet

buns, marked with a cross of white icing,

may have originated in pre-Christian

times. Early Egyptians, Greeks and

Romans marked their loaves of bread with

symbols to honor their gods.

Lamb

•It was a popular superstition that the

devil, who could take the form of all other

animals, was never allowed to appear in

the shape of a lamb because of its

religious symbolism.

SOURCE: Annie's Easter Symbols and their Meanings