My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
Each year, children and families participate in Easter egg hunts and the coloring of Easter eggs. At the White House, generally over 30,000 children gather on the White House lawn for this annual event and a large portion of those attending are children from military families.
Have you ever wondered why this tradition figures so prominently in the celebration of Easter? There are many and varied explanations which attempt to explain these traditions, many of which pre-date Christian times. While secular traditions should never obscure the religious dimension of Christian feasts, sometimes they can serve to remind us of fundamental truths which are at the essence of our religious celebrations.
Starting with the Jewish tradition of the Passover, we find the egg as part of the celebration, a symbol of life and as a reminder of the cosmic egg, or the universal beginning of life. In the past years, I have attended Seder dinners at the homes of Rabbis, both in Camden, New Jersey, and here in Brooklyn. It is impossible to truly understand the Mass as a representation of the Last Supper without understanding the Jewish Passover.
In medieval Christian times the egg – particularly stork eggs – became a symbol of the Resurrection. In order for hatching to occur, some believed that the hard shell had to be softened with honey and the mother stork’s own blood. The honey served to remind one of the “sweetness” of the Gospels, while the blood was meant to recall Christ’s blood on the Cross, which broke open the tomb and allowed Him to take His place at the right hand of the Father. From this interesting connection came the use of eggs at Easter as a symbol of the Resurrection. Others saw the chick being liberated from the egg as symbolizing our being freed from the bonds of sin through Christ’s redemptive sacrifice.
In the Eastern Christian churches, the coloring of eggs only in red signifies not only the blood of Christ but also the presence of the Holy Spirit whose color is red. The Holy Spirit is the power of God who raised Jesus from the dead and who empowers us to rise from sin to new life. It is the Holy Spirit who enables us to pray, to break out of ourselves and raise our minds and hearts to God.
St. Francis de Sales, a saint of the 17th century who is credited with founding spiritual psychology, made this interesting comparison between the stork egg and prayer: “Just like the stork cannot abandon its egg lest it never hatch, so the soul cannot abandon its contemplation of God.”
Easter is the time when we can break out of our shells and truly contemplate the glory of God, which is revealed in the Resurrection of Jesus. I am proud to share with you a picture of my newest great-niece, Adriana Grace, who as you can see has just broken out of her shell. She belongs in the harvest of my 10 great-nieces and nephews, with the 11th, a boy whose name is James Jeffrey, expected to arrive sometime during Holy Week. Our newest hatchlings are the grandchildren of my sister, Donna.
But we need some help just as the stork chick does to break out of its shell. What keeps us from breaking away from the old patterns of life that keep us from God? Why do we find it so difficult to maintain a permanent relationship with God by coming to the Sunday Eucharist and frequenting the sacraments, which are our lifeline to union with God?
Prior to putting out into the deep, we need to break the shells that confine us so that we can celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus. Easter fixes our attention on God in the person of Jesus Christ who is risen from the dead. It is Jesus who has conquered death and evil. It is He who guarantees for us the possibility of eternal life. Alleluia!