Easter seems so crammed full of symbols! Which is fine by me – I love symbols. They seem to often convey an idea or meaning or emotion so much more effectively and simply than words ever can. In art classes that I did many, many years ago, we were given sketching pens and paper, and had to draw something representing words that were thrown at us about every ten seconds, such as ‘time’, ‘danger’, ‘love’, ‘sickness’, ‘speed’, etc. It was a brilliant exercise, that showed us the visual capacity that art has to convey deep concepts, without the aid of spoken or written language.
So what are all these Easter symbols? Pass any supermarket checkout and you will notice eggs. Eggs are a vessel that brings life into the world. I find nothing wrong with that. Even if the egg is a fake one made of chocolate. Chocolate is one of the richest joys we can taste.
Rabbits seem to abound at Easter. Now, rabbits are an undoubted symbol of new life. Put two rabbits together in one place and in no time the surrounding fields are full of them! Also, rabbits are a life that comes up out of the dark earth. I can see something very Easter morning there as well.
Hot Cross Buns – they have been on the bakery shelves since about the day after Christmas. No doubting the symbol of the cross, telling us what our loving God was ready and willing to do for us. The cross sits at the centre of Christian imagery, representing how God could turn an instrument of torture and execution into a symbol of new life and salvation. Then all that rich fruit, herbs and even choc chips you find in the buns these days, also speaks to me of the rich gift of God that vests in the cross.
Some of the actual symbols that appear in the Passion narratives in our Gospels can tend to be overlooked. One that moves me greatly is the stone rolled away from the tomb. Mary Magdalene and the women with her knew they would be unable to move it, but it was already moved when they arrived. I see a symbol telling us that God has opened to us that which we could not ourselves have achieved. A similar symbol is the curtain of the Temple torn in two as Jesus died. This revealed the Holy of Holies, the place God dwelt in Jewish belief, as now open to all who approach, not just any chosen few.
The angelic characters who meet he women at the empty tomb symbolise to me that God is speaking to us through all these symbols. The Greek word ‘angelos’ means messenger. It is not angels who speak, they deliver God’s words to those to whom they are sent.
The three crosses atop a hill is often depicted to express the crucifixion. To me, they tell of Jesus sharing our human experience – even the very worst part of it. Many thousands died on crosses during the Roman Empire, not just criminals but any that the Roman rulers felt the Empire was better off without. The four Gospels do not exactly agree on what the other two beside Jesus were being punished for, but Jesus’ compassion for them, and absolution of the one who utters those words of supplication and praise – how wonderful a symbol of God’s faith to us, all humanity, no matter how fallen, how outcast or lost.
My favourite service at Easter every year is the Celebration of the New Fire. Before the sun has risen, a fire is lit in front of the darkened church. From it we light the new Paschal Candle, itself covered with symbols that are each explained in the service. Then all present light their own candles and we process into the dark church, calling out ‘The light of Christ!’ three times as we process to the sanctuary. We then reaffirm our baptism vows, and with the flick of a switch, light floods the church that has lain unadorned since Thursday, representing Jesus’ time in the tomb. This is a celebration so steeped in symbolic meaning – I struggle to hold back tears.
Yes, there are so many symbols woven into the Easter story. I suggest we do not try to evaluate which are valid or not, which are more valuable or deep. I think we should just let them all speak to us, enrich our thoughts, feelings and prayers over Easter, and even let them linger, like the rich feel of melting chocolate Easter Egg does on your tongue, for as long as we can after the season is finished.
The Venerable Bill Beagley
Ven Bill Beagley
reflections and occasional thoughts (appearing in the Parish newsletter)