We’re deep into Easter season, these days following that high-attendance Sunday where everyone looks especially festive, and we engage in the sacred ritual of hunting for eggs in the churchyard.
We held an Easter egg hunt at my church this year, and we emerged on the other side with delighted toddlers and some really cute pictures. But I started wondering later that afternoon why exactly we perpetuate this ritual every single year? (Also, I hate egg salad, so some vague resentment may also be at play here).
According to my not-very-careful research, the history of Easter egg hunts is up for some debate. Some say Martin Luther invented the tradition. Some say it’s a pagan ritual. Nobody can seem to explain definitively why we decorate eggs or how exactly rabbits and eggs go together.
Since I’m a theologian on some days, I started to wonder about the theological relevance of spending Easter hunting for eggs and whether there’s any connection between resurrection and looking hard to try to find something that’s hidden.
Once I began to give it some thought, I could see that perhaps the hunt for something not readily obvious could actually be a spiritual practice. After all, the work of Easter is to look hard for signs of life in a world where death screams a constant, grating, unrelenting soundtrack.
As a pastor, I can see my people looking at me dubiously when I bring this up; after all, most of our shared life is spent in meetings discussing whether there’s enough money in the building fund to fix both the broken toilets and the leaking roof. I believe it is safe to say that looking around at signs of decline and death takes up quite a bit of mental energy for many church folks these days.
We’re watching the institutions around us undergo seismic shifts toward, if not death then at least something far less robust than the church of our memories. Empty pews, stretched-tight budgets, vacuums of leadership – it’s just impossible to pretend that decline is not underway.
None of this should surprise us. We’ve been watching religious institutions decline for some time, despite our stalwart attempts to ignore the trend. And we have watched this very human trend happen in our own lives as we notice ourselves and our neighbors’ conversations turning regularly to the riveting topics of graying hair and aching joints.
If we’re honest – a big “if,” I know – we have to admit that this is just reality and the endowments we’ve socked away won’t last forever, just as we must recognize that the beauty salon and the personal trainer can only take us so far.
Death and decline are real, and they are everywhere we look. But here’s the thing: so is life. Life is real, too, and it’s all around us – if only we would look hard enough to see it.
Maybe looking for Easter eggs in the bushes of the churchyard will be a reminder that our Easter calling is to hunt for signs of life. As that thought settled in my mind, I tried to think of some signs of life that I have noticed.
I saw life just a few weeks ago when a member of the church sat in the pews listening to the choir sing an anthem she’d written 33 years before. She never thought it would ever be written down, much less orchestrated and performed in public.
On Sunday, I saw and heard life in the squirming babies who are now part of Sunday worship, their occasional baby noises reminding all of us that the future is always before us, a gift.
I felt life, just as close as a beating heart, last week when the community surrounded a family experiencing tragedy as people summoned the courage to show up, recognize the terrible loss and stand in solidarity with those in grief.
I don’t pretend to be the sole owner of rose-colored glasses – the constant dance with scarcity is something I think about a lot, too. But we just celebrated Easter, which is meant to remind us that while death is real, life is also real – just as tenacious and unrelenting as death.
During this season of the church year, we’re reading and hearing stories of the first disciples, who kept confronting the possibility of life even as they walked in the shadow of Jesus’ terrible death.
It was like God kept calling their own resigned spirits alive by setting before them signs of life, reminding them that God is always, always creating newness and holding out hope, if only we would notice.
Said that way, I guess I can get behind Easter egg hunts at church, but perhaps we could fashion them into a liturgical exercise that functions as a physical reminder that we are on the hunt for signs of life.
We could hide eggs around the sanctuary and hunt for them as the call to worship. Or maybe an egg hunt would work better as the benediction?
Just please: no egg salad sandwiches at the church potluck.
Founder of Invested Faith, she previously served as pastor of several churches, including as the seventh senior minister and first woman at the helm of The Riverside Church in the City of New York. Butler holds degrees from Baylor University, the International Baptist Theological Seminary and Wesley Theological Seminary. She is a contributing correspondent at Good Faith Media.