The link between Easter and spring is quite a long one. It is so close that the two get amalgamated and Easter becomes just a celebration of the cycle of life, new life with familiar images. I spotted this Easter Tree recently and picked up a few of the possible decorations available next to it – well I assume they go together. Having used decorations during Advent for the Great Os, I thought I do something similar for Easter.
Chicks – The first is the obvious one. Chicks come from eggs, and since there are probably more chocolate eggs around than anything else at the moment, clearly this one has rather cornered the market. We can take the chick coming from the egg as being new life emerging from the tomb. On Easter morning we remember Jesus bursting out of the tomb, his resurrection.
But chicks can make it sound like the resurrection is just ordinary, normal and expected. The broadcaster and chair of the Humanist Society, Alice Roberts, put out a rather provocative tweet on Good Friday, ‘remember the dead do not come back to life’. I find that comment, as I often do with militant atheists, very disappointing. They always take everything about religion so literally. Where is the nuance, the metaphor, the deeper reflection? The disciples didn’t expect Jesus to come back to life and that is not what we affirm at Easter. It is something very different, a disruption of what we expect, transformed and transforming. It is out of the ordinary. So the chick has to be taken with a bit of caution here.
Wombs and tombs, eggs as the gateway to new life, these have quite a resonance. In the faith of Easter, death becomes the midwife of new life and we are born anew into a living hope by the resurrection of the dead, as 1 Peter (1:3) so wonderfully expresses it.
So the first decoration to hang on the tree is a chick – symbol of being born to new life and death as the midwife of that new birth.
Rabbit and Carrot – The second is also well known. The Easter bunny somehow has got associated with delivering eggs. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a rabbit deliver eggs, so this does seem just a bit trippy. This rabbit has an enormous carrot. Bunnies are a sign of spring fruitfulness, as creation bursts forth. There is youthful fun and laughter in rabbits merrily hopping along the verge along a country lane or across a field.
Perhaps with the rabbit we can think of the ways new life spreads to transform the world. As our bishop has expressed this in his bulletin this weekend, the risen life is to be in us, through us, among us, and to transform the world.
The second decoration is this bunny with his carrot – symbol of new life spreading out to transform the world.
Lamb – The third is the most obviously biblical. The lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. Jesus as a lamb sacrificed for us with the banner of victory is a symbol of rich allusion. It stems from the Passover Lamb, the meal before the Israelite people fled from Egyptian slavery to find freedom and their land of promise. John’s Gospel has Jesus die on the cross at the same time as the Passover lambs are being sacrificed in the Temple to stress this point.
The Lamb stands for the saving gift of Christ, whose death and resurrection being a once and for all victory that requires no repeating. The sacrificial lambs were part of a system that was constantly repeated because God was not assuaged. But Christ brings that to an end and shows that the way to God is through God, the lamb imagery is that God loves us and makes sure the door is open for us.
So the third decoration is the lamb – symbol of hope because the door to everlasting life is open for us because God holds it open for us. Sacrifices are useless because God’s gift is all we need, given in and through Jesus Christ rising from the dead.
Beehive – The fourth image is perhaps a bit cryptic. A beehive does not have the most obvious Easter connection, through you might enjoy the honey. There was a report in the Guardian on Friday about how, while pesticides are now safer for people and used in smaller quantities, they have become more toxic to bees. That is seriously bad news because bees pollinate three-quarters of all crops. So if we have no bees, we starve.
It’s easy to look at Easter and think new life to come, in the eternal, is actually where our focus should be. It’s a short step from there to decide that what happens now is not so important. But from the earliest days, the Christian faith has taken the eternal, the kingdom to come, and applied it to how we live now. God gave us life and created life and our task is to live it in accordance with his will and the values of eternity. So care for the planet and the environment is a valid concern, it is a natural consequence of celebrating Easter joy, hope and new life.
So the fourth symbol is this beehive, with a bee – symbol of how we live the hope and values of the eternal life to come, now. We are to live in harmony with the Creator’s will and that means not poisoning the bees, among so many other things.
A tree of life, a tree of hope, a tree of celebration this Easter Day, helping us remember with joy and thanksgiving Christ’s new life to come and to be anticipated in how we live now. New life in us, through us, among us, spreading out to transform the world.
Sermon for Easter Day, Peterborough Parish Church, Sunday 4th April 2021