The symbolism of Easter
The story of Easter in all its glory has been told and retold countless times during the past 2000 years, starting with the chronicles of Mathew, Mark, Luke and John. Along the way, these tales have been adorned with a wealth of folklore and legend, thus making myth and symbol play an important part in the narration of Christ’s resurrection.
Down the ages, symbols have come into sharp focus, and in this day and age, serve to pinpoint the significance of the Easter season for all of us. “Except a corn of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it abideth alone;but if it dies, it bringeth forth much fruit”.
In these simple words, Christ summed up the fact that life depends on death and resurrection. Christ was crucified on Passover Day. This important feast in the Jewish calendar was observed in thanksgiving for the deliverance of the Israelites the night before they fled from Egypt.
In the Hebrew tradition, food shared together has always been in itself a pledge of friendship and loyalty. The traditional table is laid with symbolic foods, and the stirring story of the Exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt is read, so that the Jewish people re-live their ancestors’ dramatic flight from Egyptian bondage. Pride of place on the table goes to the Matzo or unleavened bread called the bread of affliction , because the Israelites had left in such haste that their women had no time to leaven the bread. Then comes the roasted lamb to commemorate the sacrifice made by the Israelites in Egypt before leaving for the Promised Land , a roasted egg to symbolise mourning for the destroyed Temple. Moror, or bitter herbs dipped in vinegar, as a reminder of the bitterness of Israel’s slavery in Egypt. Charoseth made of chopped almonds, grated apple, figs, dates, wine, sugar and cinnamon to symbolize the mortar with which the Jews were forced to lay bricks for Pharoah, and which was the colour of common brick, and salt water, symbolizing the Red Sea that parted miraculously to let the Israelites escape.
In the Old World, little or no work was done on Good Friday. Household chores such as weaving and laundering were taboo. It was believed to be a good day to graft fruit trees. No self respecting blacksmith would drive a nail because of the use to which hammer and nails were put on Good Friday. Iron, so tradition goes, should not be driven into the ground , for the same reason. The Egg was a symbol of the creation of the world. The Phoenix represented the Risen Christ. It was chosen for the belief that it died and came to life again.
On Easter Eve, people gather in a darkened church to remind them of Christ in the tomb, as they witness the making of light when new fire is kindled. Once the flame is made, the Paschal Candle is lit, followed by the lighting of other candles in the church. These candles, symbols of Christ as the maker of light, provide an aura of glory that makes a profound impression on the faithful, as they wait through the night, watching for the dawn.