by: Rev Ed Schneider, MPTh
Many years ago I had the privilege of coaching two AAU basketball teams, one young men and the other was mid teenage women. The young women were an absolute delight to coach and win with as they worked as a cohesive team. They weren’t necessarily the best athletes but they were remarkable at working together to accomplish a common goal. Often that common goal of winning a basketball game involved adjusting what we did from the week before to better prepare ourselves for a new team that had different strengths and weaknesses. We didn’t win all of our games. However, we did succeed the vast majority of the time because their willingness to adapt to the challenge before them.
Now let’s move on to those young men. Of the eleven players we had at least five of them were over 6’5″ tall and could run like the wind. Whenever I watched them warm up or just playfully shooting around they looked impressive. However, they had so many deficiencies as a team, among those deficiencies were a lack of discipline in positioning on defense or patience in a half court offense or making extra passes….well, the list is quite long.
Even after 8 practices of drills and reeducation tactics they seemingly always reverted back to their old habits and failing assumptions. So, I made the decision to let them fail in a real game in hopes of “getting their attention.”
At our first game the other team tried to keep up with our speed in the first half. We ended the half up by 14 points. The problem was there was another half. The opposing coach saw the same thing I did in my team. His team came out ready to try a new strategy. They slowed everything way down. No acceptance me got easy lay ups. My team tried just as hard as in the first half but they were unwilling to see that what had worked before was not going to be successful when the context changed.
Over the next six weeks they won only two out of eight games, even though we had superior athletes. They refused to fully recognize that what had worked before would not work now.
About half way through the season I finally got their attention. Our last ten games we were 8-2.
Far too many local congregations are exactly like these two teams. One is willing to adapt within a team concept and the other stubbornly hangs on to inappropriate understanding that inevitably future gets against sustainably positive outcomes.
What do these two teams have to do with the Easter Bunny? Read the following scriptures.
Dt. 11:16 reads;
“Take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them…”
1 John 5:21 reads;
Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.
It is critical that the Christian church take a long and hard look at what is not only not working but how it is supporting particular traditions that directly fight against honest and sustainable Christian growth. The Easter Bunny is a prime example of this challenge.
I remember one time several decades ago I agreed to fill in and care for a flock of Christians for ten weeks while the pastor recuperated from a medical issue. It was three weeks before Easter and I arrived at this once highly successful local church. In fact, less than 15 years prior to my friend’s arrival as their new pastor they had dozens of Ministries and two worship services that on a regular basis totaled more than 800 people.
As walked into the back of the sanctuary the church had shrunk to only about 125 worshippers on Sunday morning.
What did I see when I walked into the back of the sanctuary? Nine women and two men busily preparing the environment for Palm Sunday, Holy Week and a few dozen lilies strategically placed. I thought to myself, wonderful! As I stood back and watched all the work being done two women came up to me and introduced themselves. I told them who I was and how little very everything looked….and then it happened.
Two other women carrying a large Easter Bunny cutout followed by a man with a ladder over his shoulder came into view. I thought to myself, “No! They wouldn’t, would they?”
This next part, I promise you, I am not exaggerating you be not.
The man set the ladder in the chancel area directly underneath the large attached cross on the wall right behind the pulpit. I thought to myself, “There is no way they are about to do what it looks like they were about to do!“
The two women carried that bunny right up the ladder and began to put it in the middle of the cross of Christ, in effect covering the very symbol of our savior. I couldn’t hold it in any longer. I walked up to the foot of the ladder and asked why were they covering the cross with the Easter Bunny? I’ll save you their answer. However, as a part of the Easter Bunny justification they also included their church’s recent history of also promoting Santa Claus in the lobby at Christmas time.
I immediately called my friend and said these exact words. “Are you kidding me? This is a joke, right?” He started to laugh and then said, “I take it you saw the Easter Bunny?”
Then the truth came out. He knew I wouldn’t stand for it and would raise a ruckus about it…..so he wouldn’t have to. I did! I had them take it down. This contentious scene provided a tremendous opportunity to teach and admonish those sincerely uninformed and misled Christians concerning their actions. Needless to say I was not very popular with a local tradition that had been in place for the better part of 50 years.
Beloved, I am telling you by all that is holy, ignorance in foundational Christianity is killing any hope of sustainable growth. Not unlike the unsuccessful basketball team I mentioned earlier, if we don’t take a long hard look at what we are doing and NOT DOING we will continue our collective slide into social irrelevance. It’s a BIG problem and we cannot keep pretending it doesn’t exist.
THE EASTER BUNNY IS JUST ONE SYMPTOM OF A MUCH BEGGER CHALLENGE.
Do you know what seriously raises my blood pressure about the Easter Bunny. That cute little bunny allows far too many of us to forget and delude ourselves that the resurrection of Jesus is merely an after-thought of the Easter “season.”
The Easter Bunny is a symbol, and like it or not, symbols are an important factor of our lives.
Symbols are everywhere. The Gateway Arch, Washington Monument, and the American Flag. In general, all symbols represent something larger than the symbol itself. A well established symbol should represent an identifiable understanding. A symbol doesn’t need to be physically imposing to be considered to be an effective representation of something else. In fact, something quite small can often stand for an incredibly significant understanding. A few examples of this would be a wedding rings, a single red rose sent to the girl of your dreams, even a tiny cross hanging gently from the neck of a professed believer.
The origination of the Easter Bunny began with a Pagan festival that honored, celebrated and represented the Goddess Eastre. On the other hand, our Protestant Christian symbol of the empty cross of Christ is built on so much more. The bunny of Easter is literally a symbol of a fictional character representing human fertility.
However, in contrast, the “empty” Cross of Christ, which we Protestant Christians so humbly point toward, represents the God of all that is known and unknown who accomplished something truly remarkable. The symbol of an empty cross, when associated with Christianity, points directly to an intervening God. It testifies that The Creating force of the universe demonstrated the ultimate partnership of power and grace. For Christians, the Cross of Christ boldly proclaims the love of God who reached into an historical moment and altered life as we know it. Through the act of resurrecting Jesus, God personally and intentionally demonstrated that….NOT JUST JESUS, BUT ALL BELIEVERS WHO FOLLOW HIM…..The Creator is perfectly willing and able to:
- raise the dead,
- protect the humiliated,
- openly receive the scorned,
- heal the tortured,
- search out the person labeled as an outcast, and
- the forgotten and marginalized back to abundant life.
Because of the resurrection of Jesus, each believer can be:
- and permanently connected to the one, true and living God that is wholly defined by the word, “love.”
The Easter Bunny, in contrast, was generally ignored by most Christians until shortly before the American Civil War. In fact, Easter itself, was not widely celebrated in America until after that time. The resurrection of Jesus, however, has been a source of awe and renewal for more than 2,000 years. The Easter Bunny, if you can actually find one, is probably nice to hold and pet for a few minutes – – – that is until you remember you still have to clean out its cage. In contrast, the resurrection of Jesus supplies to every believer that God has supplied the blessed assurance there is nothing left to clean up. Jesus has already done the hard of work of “cleaning up” and “clearing the mess” that blocks an open and immovable connection to God. Jesus has paid the ultimate price for the “nature of human sin.”
WHY ARE 10,000’s OF CHURCHES STILL EMBRACING THIS DISGUSTING INSULT TO THE FOUNDATIONS OF OUR CHRISTIAN FAITH?
As a pastor for decades I can honestly share with you this comfortable infestation of adopting non-Christian beliefs into the life of the local congregations is a ongoing challenge.
One of most dangerous habits we have fallen into involves what we are projecting to both our children as well as the world we interact within. We need to stop the horrible tendency of demonstrating the children of Christian families that somehow they will be missing something of great value to them if they don’t participate in a non-Christian thing.
The TRUTH is we are not the same! Christians may live in the world, we may be called to authentically interact with those around us, but that doesn’t mean we should teach our children that they are suppose to be the same. I want to be clear about this point. I am NOT saying that Christians, and the local congregations they are attached to, should separate themselves physically, spirituality, financially or socially from the communities surrounding each church because of fear of being infected by it. Just the opposite is what the Bible plainly tells us.
We are to be the “salt and the light” in each parish we serve. We are not called to hide, but to be a “light of the world” even a “beacon on a hill.” We cannot accomplish that being fearful to interact. However, when I see hundreds of children running around a church’s front lawn chasing Easter eggs as though they are honoring a foundational doctrine or principle of the Christian church it becomes terribly troubling. It’s hard enough to provide willing participants in empowering Christian education as it is without wrapping our arms around a COMPLETELY NON CHRISTIAN tradition as though it was.
You may think I am over reacting to a harmless borrowed tradition that can bring joy to families and their children. I assure I am not.
- Was I over reacting when Santa Claus was paraded in front of the sanctuary a few days before Christmas as a church was the “sponsor” of a community gathering for hundreds of families in need?
- Was I over reacting when a church was celebrating “diversity” Sunday and not one person lifted up as an example of the blessings of God’s created diversity was held up BECAUSE OF their connection to the Bible or any connection to the Christian church throughout history?
- Was I over reacting when an annual community “business leader prayer breakfast” ended up emphasizing an obvious political agenda?
- Lastly, am I now over reacting to a bunch of beautiful children having a little fun once a year trying to find a bunch of plastic eggs on church property?
I CAN ASSURE YOU I AM NOT OVER REACTING.
Do you know how frustrating it is for those who are mission minded to constantly see only a small response from professed adult Christians when the subject of banding together to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and uplift the lost by being the “hands and feet” of Christ….and when the annual Easter egg hunt is organized….there are always more than enough people to get the job done.
There is problem. There has been a problem. It’s going to require courage to get us out of where we have found ourselves.
Beloved, I don’t want the Christian church continuing to being like that bad basketball team I described earlier. We have got to be honest with ourselves. We have to be willing to learn together, work together, and intentionally support each other as collectively we try and correct the course of this wayward ship entitled Protestant Christianity.
Praise the Lord. I’m glad I know what my God accomplished on Easter Morning 2000 years ago. I’m fairly comfortable that whatever actually happened on that first Easter morning had NOTHING to do with a cute little bunny.
Every single man who could have been by Jesus’ side at the end of his earthly life left in fear of being exposed as a “Follower of the Way.” Those original Apostles of Jesus ran from Jesus. The very people who should have known better hid from the opportunity to publicly profess their dedication to God’s messiah.
I pray we will not continue making the same mistake they did.
So, the next Easter celebration you are connected to should prompt a faithful reaction. We should start asking the hard….and what will be received with great skepticism….question about how we express of public profession of a risen savior.
Should our symbol-of-choice be the bunny, the brightly decorated eggs, the jelly beans…..OR THE EMPTY CROSS OF CHRIST?