April is a momentous month. It is the month the American Revolution began in earnest in 1775 at the Battle of Concord. It is the month the American Civil War officially ended, and it was the month Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.
And with the exception of a few odd turns of the sun and the moon that make Easter fall on Sunday in March, it is mostly in April that America pauses to recognize the greatly anticipated annual arrival of the figure that culminates 40 days of fasting and penitential exercises and acts of charity — the Easter Bunny.
I haven’t thought about the Easter Bunny, if I thought much about it at all, for quite some time. But now, as I enter into a second generation of child rearing with a beautiful 3-year-old grandson under foot, a rodent with a penchant for multicolored chicken eggs is on my mind.
Unlike Santa who has a foundation both in fact — St. Nicholas — and solid Christian teaching of giving rather than receiving, the Easter Bunny is primarily an animal whose intelligent designer was somebody in an ad agency office on Madison Avenue.
During our first go-round with our own children, my wife and I downplayed the whole bunny thing. We had Easter baskets, still do, and there was one special unwrapped gift in everyone’s individual basket and a bunch of chocolate none of us really needed. That tradition stays intact, and it’s the only nod to a less than religious aspect to the triduum.
Christmas is an easier “sell” to little ones. Our grandson was “all in” this past Advent season. He couldn’t keep his paws off our crèche. Every morning there was a new orientation of shepherd boys, shepherd dog, sheep, donkey, cow, and even the baby Jesus as he rearranged things the way a 3-year-old brain thinks is appropriate.
We have plenty of crucifixes up on the walls in our house, but they are ubiquitous, and for a little one, they remain abstract. It’s easier to tell him there is baby Jesus lying in his manger with his mom by his side than it is to show him the image of a grown man dying a horrific death.
This could explain how a natural impulse to soften the blows our children are heir to has brought us down this particular “rabbit hole” of happy and comfortable springtime imagery glossing over the slaughter of the paschal lamb. So we paint chicken eggs and wear soft pastel colors even though the true colors of Lent and Good Friday are purple and red, and the true colors of Easter are also not soft, but bold, brilliant, and radiant white and gold.
If there ever was a “war on Easter,” it wasn’t much of a skirmish. As far as Madison Avenue is concerned, Lent is a tough sell, and Good Friday? Forget about it. No happy elves dancing around the foot of the cross singing merry tunes with joyful lyrics sung to the cadence of a Roman hammer driving nails into heavy timber.
We haven’t so much commercialized Easter as we have pacified it. Good Friday to most people is just another last day of the work week. Students no longer go on Easter vacation, they go on spring break, and for college students, spring break is another name for a bacchanal. Easter Sunday can still pack the house, which is a good thing, as God always has his arms outstretched and doors swung wide to welcome all comers.
Sadly, many 3-year-olds around the world know more about death and suffering than they ought to. A child in the drought-ravaged Sahara, or a toddler standing outside the rubble of a pediatric ward in Ukraine can teach us spoiled and comfortable Americans a thing or three about what Jesus on that cross really means.
We have to work with what God has given us. In America, that is an awful lot. We want the happy conclusion, but will take a pass on the process that gets us to it.
I know of people who believed they were gifted so unworthily with life’s bounty that they prayed for a test, a cross for them to bear to show their love for Christ. I know of a man who prayed such a prayer and his prayer was answered. He and his family were given a cross that led him to his own personal Golgotha.
I am not so brave as to pray for that, and thankful that cup has passed me by, for now. But any brief turn around the television tuner makes it clear that there are personal Via Dolorosas going on all over the world, melting into one continuously long Good Friday.
So, as we color our eggs and try not to disturb our little ones with imagery and cold, hard facts that they are too young to comprehend, let us lift up in prayer all those who are suffering, and pray the joy and promise of victory, that is Easter, descends on us all.