Easter is a time of symbols and traditions. This weekend, families across the country will take their kids on Easter egg hunts and fill baskets with plastic grass or something like it, adding chocolate bunnies, egg-shaped candies and pieces of gum for their little (and not so little) ones to enjoy. Worship services will be packed, while hams are roasting away at home.
The question that’s been caroming around my mind like a pinball is, “Where did our Easter symbols and traditions come from?” Let’s start with Easter eggs. Eggs have served as symbols of fertility, life, birth, and rebirth since ancient times, for obvious reasons.
Like the Christmas tree, some believe that eggs were adopted from pagan cultures to symbolize Easter by the early Church. Another view is that the Church accepted the way its new converts added their old symbols to their new religion’s celebrations. Either way, the Church found a metaphorical aspect in the Easter egg, saying it was a symbol of how Jesus “broke through” the chains of death like a chick breaks through its shell.
Eggs have also been decorated and given as gifts to celebrate the coming of spring for thousands of years. I read an interesting legend surrounding the Christian origin of decorating Easter eggs. The story goes that Mary brought a basket of eggs and set them down at the foot of the cross where they were colored red by Jesus’ blood.
The Easter bunny is another common Easter symbol, and it started in ancient Germany. The goddess of fertility, Eostre, was symbolized by a hare, or what we commonly think of as a bunny, and she was honored with every coming spring to celebrate new life. As Germans converted to Christianity, the Easter bunny, or Osterhase in German, was incorporated into the celebration of Easter. The Osterhase would come every Easter and lay eggs in people’s gardens for children to find, hence the tradition of the Easter egg hunt. Kids began to fashion nests for the Osterhase to lay its eggs in, and over the years, those nests transitioned to Easter baskets.
Did you know that we don’t celebrate Easter on its specific anniversary date? Easter is celebrated in early springtime because it is celebrated on the Sunday following the Passover. Passover is a Jewish festival that is set on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan that usually falls on the day of the first full moon after the northern vernal equinox.
We all know what Easter is really about – celebrating Jesus’ resurrection. Author and theologian Clarence W. Hall has said, “If Easter says anything to us today, it says this: You can put truth in a grave, but it won’t stay there.” Some may not agree with that, but I think in this day and age everyone can agree that it’s good to celebrate hope and an opportunity for new life.
During the Last Supper, Jesus described his coming sacrifice on the cross and resurrection as the beginning of a “new covenant.” Covenant is a “formal, solemn and binding agreement.” Thinking about how Christ sealed the new covenant to bring us hope and new life certainly hits home.
I realize that “new covenant” isn’t just familiar because of Easter. They permeate American history. The Mayflower Compact describes a sacred compact in the New World saying, “Having undertaken… a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God, and one of another, covenant and combine ourselves together…”
The Preamble to our Constitution reads, “We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
A Constitution is “a body of fundamental principles or established precedents according to which a state or other organization is acknowledged to be governed.” These principles could not shape our country until they were ratified, which is “the action of signing or giving formal consent to a treaty, contract, or agreement, making it officially valid.” In other words, our Constitution was a “new covenant.”
In his annual message to Congress, President Abraham Lincoln said, “The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise – with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.” He was asking for Congress to agree that the government had the power to free slaves in the Confederate states. One month later President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
That’s not all. While responding to America’s changing economy, President Theodore Roosevelt said, “The labor unions shall have a square deal, and the corporations shall have a square deal, and in addition, all private citizens shall have a square deal.” His cousin, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt took it a step further when he accepted the Democratic nomination for President in 1932. He said, “I pledge you, I pledge myself, to a new deal for the American people.”
We need a new deal, a new covenant for Illinois. We need an Illinois that is committed to fixing our spending problems instead of raising taxes. We need an Illinois that is committed to fundamental pension reform instead of kicking the can down the road once again. We need an Illinois whose public servants are chosen from districts people can trust were drawn fairly.
Next week, we’ll talk about the challenges we can expect to confront when the General Assembly returns to Springfield.
If you have any additional thoughts or ideas, you can visit my website at www.senatorstewart.com and use the form to send me an e-mail.