Author: Dr Jenny O'Brien
Hot cross buns and chocolate eggs are enjoyed by many over the Easter period, but not everyone understands their true significance. Behind those simple ‘treats’ stand the most profound events of human history. The cross on the yeast buns represents the crucifixion when Jesus, the Son of God died out of love for us. The egg represents the resurrection, when Jesus was raised to new life and lives for ever as the resurrected Christ. On Easter morning we hear the proclamation, “Christ is risen!” and our response is, “He is risen indeed, Alleluia!”
Early Christians often adapted local traditions to help people understand the Christian message. Both the English name “Easter” and the symbolism of the egg were taken from Anglo-Saxon spring festival that honoured the goddess Eostre, and was marked by the giving of eggs as the sign of new life breaking forth in the springtime. In some other European cultures the word for Easter is “Pasqua” which refers to Christ’s “passing over” from death to life.
As followers of Christ, Easter is for us a time of great surprise and great hope. St John’s Gospel recounts how Mary Magdalene went to the place where Jesus’ body had been laid, but instead found herself faced with an empty tomb. She certainly did not expect this! Pope Francis tells us that when God announces something it is always a surprise, because God is a God of surprises. What is more, surprise always moves our hearts and touches us where we do not expect. The great surprise of the first Easter morning was that the stone was rolled away and that Christ was alive. Death and the grave were not able to hold him. Mary Magdalene ran to tell the other disciples and spread the amazing news to them. In the days that followed Jesus appeared to the disciples – in the upper room, on the road to Emmaus, on the shores of Lake Tiberius – and the loss and fear that they had experienced at his death was replaced with new hope and new vision for the future.
Just as the disciples were able to rejoice in the risen Christ, so we too can rejoice in his living presence with us every day. It is because Christ is risen that we can face the great conflicts and disasters of the wider world and the small conflicts and disasters of our everyday lives with hope. We are never abandoned. Even when things seem darkest, Christ our Light, is there walking beside us. Australia has, in recent times, experienced bushfires, floods, and threats to public health. Hundreds of families struggle every day with the suffering that comes from family violence, unemployment, poverty, mental and physical illness, discrimination and substance abuse. Where is God in all this? The answer is “Right in the middle of it all.” The absolute and unfailing love of God for humanity was revealed once and for all in the person of Jesus who lived the human life completely, to the point of betrayal, abandonment, torture and death, but emerged triumphant over this suffering and desolation to new life. This is the hope of the resurrection. This is the message of Easter. This is the promise of a God who sees beauty and worth in every person and whose love is there to support each one.
So as you eat your hot cross bun or nibble on a chocolate egg, take a moment to reflect on what they represent: the immeasurable love of God for every person – and indeed for the whole of creation - and the promise of new life and new possibilities.
Dr Jenny O’Brien