Easter Eggs

Rev. Stu Smith at CCU in Anaheim, CA

Some farmer’s kids were painting eggs for Easter. One looked up and said, “Hey, how do you think the chickens would act around these?”
“I don’t know,” said the other. “Let’s find out!”
They went into the chicken coop, stole the fresh eggs and replaced them with the colorful eggs. Then, they stepped out to watch.

The hens came in and nothing, they just went about their business.
The rooster strutted in, saw the eggs, and had a fit. He burst out of the coop, stormed across the barnyard, and beat the hell out of the peacock.

Dyed Easter eggs have been part of Easter celebrations for centuries. Christians didn’t start the practice of dying eggs. Dyed ostrich eggs have been found in Africa that are 60,000 years old. Decorated ostrich eggs were commonly placed in graves of the ancient Sumerians and Egyptians as early as 5,000 years ago.

In Jewish tradition, a white egg is part of the Passover seder plate. According to many sources, the Christian custom of Easter eggs, specifically, started among the early Christians of Mesopotamia, who took the egg symbolism from Judaism and stained them red “in memory of the blood of Christ, shed at His crucifixion“. The Christian Church officially adopted the custom, regarding the eggs as a symbol of the resurrection of Jesus. At some point, they also started dying the eggs yellow and green.

Historian Peter Gainsford suggests that the Easter egg custom was strengthened by the fact that early Christians were prohibited from eating eggs during Lent, but were allowed to eat them once Easter arrived. In fact, in medieval England, it was common practice for children to go door to door begging for eggs on the Saturday before Lent. People passed out the eggs as treats for the children before their fast.

In the 19th century, folklorist Jacob Grimm speculated that the custom of Easter eggs may have stemmed from springtime festivities of a Germanic goddess known in Old English as Ēostre. However, while there is a Neopagan holiday of Ostara that occurs at roughly the same time as Easter, there are no historical accounts that ancient celebrations included any practice surrounding eggs.

One early Christian legend contends that Mary Magdalene was bringing boiled eggs to share with the other women at the tomb of Jesus, and the eggs in her basket miraculously turned bright red when she saw the risen Christ.

Another legend says Mary Magdalene went to the Emperor of Rome and greeted him with “Christ has risen,” whereupon he pointed to an egg on his table and stated, “Christ has no more risen than that egg is red.” After making this statement it is said the egg immediately turned blood red.

In some Mediterranean countries, colored eggs are placed around the house as Easter decorations. On Easter Sunday, friends and family find an egg and hit each other’s egg with their own. The one whose egg does not break is believed to be in for good luck in the future. This ‘egg-tapping’ tradition is also practiced in the North of England, where the world championship is held every year over Easter. In south Louisiana, a similar practice is called pocking eggs.

An old Ukrainian custom included placing a bowl of elaborately painted eggs in the middle of the Easter table, with one egg for each departed family member. In Germany, people create beautiful Easter egg trees, also decorating fountains and wells with colored eggs.

Another tradition that began in Germany is the egg dance, where dyed eggs are laid on the ground and the goal is to dance among them without damaging any eggs. In the UK the dance is called the egg-hop.

Egg rolling is another traditional Easter egg game played with eggs at Easter. Throughout Europe, children traditionally rolled eggs down hillsides at Easter. This tradition was taken to the New World by European settlers, and continues to this day each Easter with an Easter egg roll on the White House lawn. Different countries have different versions of the game.

But the most common game surrounding Easter eggs is the Easter egg hunt, where decorated eggs are hidden for children to find. The eggs may be hard-boiled, chocolate or artificial eggs stuffed with candy and surprises. When the hunt is over, prizes may be given for the largest number of eggs collected, or for the largest or the smallest egg.

Cascarones, is a Latin American tradition where eggs are emptied, stuffed with confetti and sealed with a piece of tissue paper. The eggs are hidden in a similar tradition to the American Easter egg hunt, and when found the children break them over each other’s heads.

That’s probably a lot more than you ever wanted to know about Easter eggs.

But I actually want to talk about another type of Easter eggs this morning. Most of you are probably familiar with this type of Easter Eggs. Let me read you this definition from the Urban Dictionary: a hidden item placed in a movie, television show, or otherwise visual media for close watchers.

That term has been going around for a number of years. It makes sense. Something hidden that brings you a little bit of joy when you find it. I was familiar with the term, but I didn’t know where it came from.

Here’s what the Urban Dictionary says: Originates from the 1975 movie “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” when the cast had an Easter Egg hunt but most of the eggs went unfound. They can be seen throughout the film in various locations (such as under Frank N. Furter’s throne).

What a great explanation. But it’s probably not true. The actual explanation originates from the 1980 video game Adventure for the Atari game console. At the time, Atari didn’t include programmers’ names in the game credits. An Atari programmer named Warren Robinett disagreed with this lack of acknowledgment, so he secretly programmed the message “Created by Warren Robinett” to appear only if a player moved their avatar over a specific pixel during a certain part of the game. Shortly after Robinett left Atari, his message was discovered by a player. Atari’s management initially wanted to remove the message and release the game again, but it was deemed too costly. Instead, they decided to keep the message and, in fact, encourage the inclusion of such messages in future games, describing them as ‘Easter eggs’ for consumers to find.

Other Easter eggs have since been discovered that predate the one created by Robinett, but his was the first to be discovered, and probably when the term was coined.

Easter eggs are included in all types of media. An artist for Marvel comics named Ethan Van Sciver hid the word “sex” in the background of nearly every page of New X-Men #118, from November of 2001). He later said that he hid the word throughout the book because he was annoyed with Marvel at the time for reasons he cannot remember, and thought it would be fun to engage in some mischief with his work. Comic book artist Ardian Syaf was fired from DC comics for including Easter eggs that were considered anti-Semitic and anti-Christian.

There are sometimes Easter eggs in TV shows. In the 1970s Bob Newhart starred in the successful sitcom, The Bob Newhart Show. In the 1980s, he followed up with another successful sitcom, Newhart. In the final scene of Newhart, he wakes up in bed and says he’s just had the strangest dream. But it turns out he’s lying next to his wife from the earlier series, played by Susanne Pleshette. For those familiar with both sitcoms, that turned out to be a fun Easter egg.

Even though the term had not yet been coined, the earliest Easter eggs were perhaps provided by movies. It’s an open secret that Alfred Hitchcock made a cameo appearance in 40 out of his 54 films. It is said to have started when he needed to fill in for a bit actor who failed to show up. His appearances started off mostly as obscure extras in crowds, but became more prominent in time. He was often seen carrying a musical instrument. Stan Lee, the creator of Spiderman, also appears in cameos in many Marvel superhero movies.

This past week, I found an Easter egg. There was a film in the 90s called Trading Places. The film starred Eddie Murphy, Dan Ackroyd and Jamie Lee Curtis. But the plot was driven by two extremely wealthy older men played by Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy. It’s a very funny movie; I recommend it. In the end of the film, Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy lose everything; they’re left penniless. A couple of years later, Eddie Murphy played a wealthy prince in the movie Coming to America. I’d never seen it until this past week. In one scene, Eddie Murphy hands a bag full of money to a pair of homeless men. It turns out to be Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy playing the same two old men from Trading Places, Randolph and Mortimer Duke.

The Google search engine on your computer holds a number of Easter eggs. Type in ‘askew’ and the answer screen comes up at a tilt. Type in anagram, and a prompt will ask you, “Did you mean ‘nag a ram’?” If you ask for ‘the answer to life the universe and everything’, you be given the answer ‘42’—a reference from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I’ll let you find out what happens when you type in ‘do a barrel roll’.

Your iPhone also has a number of Easter eggs installed. (Why did the chicken cross the road? What is 0 divided by 0? I see a little silhouette of a man.)

Easter eggs are fun to find—whether it’s part of a holiday activity or just enjoying some type of media. Everyone likes pleasant little surprises. Starting all the way back in medieval times when children collected eggs door-to-door before Lent, Easter eggs have represented a little treasure of joy. Looking forward to the weeks of fasting ahead, the children would exploit their last opportunity to enjoy the wholesome treat.

This morning, millions of children woke up to find a basket filled with all sorts of Easter eggs, hand-dyed, chocolate, and prize-filled. The anticipation of waking up to see what the Easter Bunny left behind rivals the wonder of Christmas morning for many. This afternoon, a lot of those same children will be laughing and running around hunting for eggs hidden by their parents. These days, most of those eggs are plastic eggs filled with a variety of treats. That’s the fun of Easter eggs. It’s like a little treasure chest. There’s the joy of finding it; but that’s just the beginning. The real fun is opening it up to find what’s inside.

In our Tuesday study of the book Living Buddha, Living Christ, by Thich Naht Hanh, we got to discussing an encounter in the Bible that I’ve always struggled with. This occurred shortly before Passover. I’m reading from the 12th chapter of John:

Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages. He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

I’ll be honest with you—on first read, I find myself agreeing with Judas. My knee-jerk reaction would be to sell the perfume to feed the poor. At the same time, you know you’d better think again if you find yourself agreeing with Judas.

Jesus was speaking as the Christ, the manifestation of Source. And in manifesting of the wholeness of Source, Jesus represented all the good things of Spirit—all of the joy, all of the beauty, all the love.

We live in a world that includes difficult times. Jesus said to his disciples, “in this world you will have trouble.” He said, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” Jesus recognized that there are tribulations in the world.

But in this verse, Jesus was saying, enjoy the good times when they come. He was saying, “You will have plenty of valleys along the way, so enjoy the hilltops.”

Those moments of joy along the way can be our Easter eggs—no matter how frequent or rare they are. Sometimes, so much of our lives seem to be filled with people trying to crack our eggs, or we’re chasing our eggs down a hill, or dancing around trying to keep from stepping on someone else’s eggs.

Maybe part of what Jesus is saying here is to enjoy your Easter eggs when you find them. Ignore all of the nonsense going on around you. Drown out the Judas’. The Abraham-Hicks teaching is that the purpose of our lives is Easter eggs. Actually, it says joy. Potato-potato.

Easter eggs are all around us in countless forms. We just need to treat life like an Easter egg hunt. As we notice the good in our lives, it becomes increased. ‘Look for the good and praise it.’ That should sound familiar. And as we say every Sunday, ‘What I appreciate appreciates.’

The message of Easter is renewal. Maybe this Easter could be about a renewed appreciation for the Easter eggs in our lives. We all have them. I won’t endeavor to name them, because they’re different for each of us. But you know what yours are. You know the little blessings in your life that can bring you joy when you take the time to notice them.

So, as the children go on their Easter egg hunts this afternoon, maybe we each can go on a metaphorical Easter egg hunt, recalling all of the little treasures that Source has hidden in each of our lives.


Palm Sunday

Rev. Stu Smith 3/29/21 at CCU in Anaheim, CA

Today we celebrate Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday has held a variety of meanings over the years. I’d like to take a look at its origins this morning.

To get the whole picture of Palm Sunday, we need to go back a couple thousand years. It all started when the Hebrew people were enslaved by the Egyptians. In the third chapter of Exodus, God speaks to Moses through a burning bush to tell him that he is to free the Israeli people from Pharaoh Repeatedly, Moses tells God that he’s not up to the job, but God insists that he’s the right man for the job. He eventually lets Moses use his brother Aaron as a spokesman because Moses stutters.

So, Moses, along with his brother Aaron, went to Pharaoh and told him that God says to let the Jewish people take a three-day holiday in the desert to worship. But this just made Pharaoh mad. He ordered that the slaves would no longer have straw supplied to them to make bricks. They had to gather their own straw and still make the same number of bricks.  

So, Moses consulted with the Jewish elders and with God. Then, he and Aaron returned to Pharaoh. This time God gave Aaron a miracle to perform to help convince Pharaoh of God’s power. Aaron threw his staff to the ground and it became a snake. But Pharaoh still wouldn’t budge.

This is from the 7the chapter of Exodus:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Pharaoh’s heart is unyielding; he refuses to let the people go. Go to Pharaoh in the morning as he goes out to the river. Confront him on the bank of the Nile, and take in your hand the staff that was changed into a snake. Then say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has sent me to say to you: Let my people go, so that they may worship me in the wilderness. But until now you have not listened. 17 This is what the Lord says: By this you will know that I am the Lord: With the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water of the Nile, and it will be changed into blood. 18 The fish in the Nile will die, and the river will stink; the Egyptians will not be able to drink its water.’”

The Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron, ‘Take your staff and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt—over the streams and canals, over the ponds and all the reservoirs—and they will turn to blood.’ Blood will be everywhere in Egypt, even in vessels[a] of wood and stone.”

Moses and Aaron did just as the Lord had commanded. He raised his staff in the presence of Pharaoh and his officials and struck the water of the Nile, and all the water was changed into blood. The fish in the Nile died, and the river smelled so bad that the Egyptians could not drink its water. Blood was everywhere in Egypt.”

Eventually, the people had to turn to digging for water along the river bank. A week later, God said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me. If you refuse to let them go, I will send a plague of frogs on your whole country. The Nile will teem with frogs. They will come up into your palace and your bedroom and onto your bed, into the houses of your officials and on your people, and into your ovens and kneading troughs. The frogs will come up on you and your people and all your officials.’”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron, ‘Stretch out your hand with your staff over the streams and canals and ponds, and make frogs come up on the land of Egypt.’”

So, Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt, and the frogs came up and covered the land. But the magicians did the same things by their secret arts; they also made frogs come up on the land of Egypt.

The frogs ended up getting Pharaoh’s attention, and he agreed to let the Israelis go into the desert to worship. But as soon as Moses prayed for God to get rid of the frogs, Pharaoh changed his mind.

So, God sent a plague if gnats. But that wasn’t enough to sway Pharaoh. So, that was followed by a plague of flies. When that didn’t work, God killed off all of the Egyptian’s livestock. Next, all Egyptians were covered with festering boils. Still, no movement from Pharaoh, so, God upped the ante, and sent a hailstorm. (If a hailstorm in the desert doesn’t get your attention, hardly anything will.)

Next came locusts. Again, Pharaoh was unmoved. So, God said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward the sky so that darkness spreads over Egypt—darkness that can be felt.” So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and total darkness covered all Egypt for three days. No one could see anyone else or move about for three days. Yet all the Israelites had light in the places where they lived.

Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and said, “Go, worship the Lord. Even your women and children may go with you; only leave your flocks and herds behind.”

But Moses said, “You must allow us to have sacrifices and burnt offerings to present to the Lord our God. Our livestock too must go with us; not a hoof is to be left behind. We have to use some of them in worshiping the Lord our God, and until we get there we will not know what we are to use to worship the Lord.”

But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he was not willing to let them go. Pharaoh said to Moses, “Get out of my sight! Make sure you do not appear before me again! The day you see my face you will die.”

“Just as you say,” Moses replied. “I will never appear before you again.”

At this point, God was running out of ideas, so he decided to pull out the big guns. This is where Passover comes in. This is from the 12h chapter of Exodus:

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight.Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the door-frames of the houses where they eat the lambs. 

“On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.”

And that’s where the term Passover comes from. God promised to pass over the houses whose doorways were adorned with blood from the sacrificial lamb.

Fast forward a couple of thousand years. Israelis were required to bring their proposed sacrifices to the temple to be inspected by the priests four days before Passover. That’s what was happening on the first Palm Sunday. That’s what made that day special.

As I was researching for my talk for this morning, I realized that Jewish Passover isn’t always celebrated on the Sabbath. It’s set according to a lunar calendar. It’s always within a few days of Easter, but it falls on a different day of the week each year the way Christmas does.

So, when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the only significance of that day was that it was four days before Passover. That’s why all the people were there. Jesus had been teaching around the area, and when they saw him, they got excited and a spontaneous celebration broke out.

This is how Matthew describes the scene a Jesus rode into Jerusalem. ‘A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!”

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

Many churches to this day bless and distribute palm fronds to worshipers. One Palm Sunday, a 5 y.o. boy was sick and unable to go to church. When his family got home, he asked what the palm fronds were for. His father told him that the people waved palm fronds over Jesus’ head when he passed by and laid them down in front of him. The little boy said, ‘Man time I don’t go to church and that’s the day Jesus shows up!’

The next few verses of Matthew describe how Jesus drove the money changers from the temple. These were members of the religious power structure who were charged with approving people’s sacrifices. But they would always find tiny flaws that would make their sacrifices unacceptable. Then, they would charge the people outrageous prices for replacements. That’s what set Jesus off. After that, scripture tells us that the blind and lame came to Jesus to be healed.

That celebratory entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday put Jesus more keenly on the Pharisee’s radar than he was before. Five days later he was crucified.

The Christian church incorporated all of the symbolism of Passover and applied it to Jesus. Jesus took the place of the sacrificial lamb. Just as the blood of the lamb smeared on the door posts caused God’s Angel of Death to pass over the houses of the Hebrew people, Christians expect to escape death on the day of judgement by being ‘washed in the blood’.

For many mainstream Christians, the Jesus story is primarily about his death. And that saga starts with Palm Sunday. The wisdom of Jesus teachings is secondary. It’s really all about accepting the narrative about his sacrifice and getting that ‘get out of jail free’ card.

In Unity and in other New Thought churches, we reject the idea of Jesus being sent as a sacrifice, and see him rather as a way-shower. He’s not an exception, but rather an example.

In the book we’re studying on Tuesday nights, Living Buddha, Living Christ, Thich Nhat Hanh sometimes uses Jesus and Christ interchangeably when referring to the higher power. When he uses Jesus, I’ve found myself commenting that we would say Christ. In Unity, we put an emphasis on that distinction. Jesus was the man. Christ was the state of being that he attained.

And when discussing the significance of Christian holidays, we put our own spin on them. We emphasize the metaphorical importance of the events. Christmas is not just about the birth of one special baby; it’s about the birth of the Christ nature within each of us. Easter is not about the physical resurrection of one man; it’s about recognizing that each of us contain that spark of the divine within that will burn on beyond our years on the Earth. It’s about hope. It’s about knowing that we can all overcome whatever obstacles life throws at us.

But I want to take a little bit of time this morning to talk about Jesus, the man. We know that the gospels were written decades after his death. We know that many of the words attributed to him were probably not spoken by him. Much has been added and much has been lost. We don’t know exactly which things Jesus actually said.

But if we look at the forest instead of the trees—if we look at the over-arching message of his ministry, we get a pretty good idea who Jesus was. We can fuss about the details, but we know that he shared a message of love and compassion and forgiveness.

And we do know the effect he had on people. We know because of the events of Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday was a spontaneous event. It wasn’t parade day. People were going about their business and they saw Jesus riding into town. That’s the type of reaction Jesus inspired. He was a rock star.

We take great lengths to separate the man Jesus from his position as the Christ. But I want to give Jesus his props this morning. Jesus wasn’t a metaphor; he was a man. The hardships that Jesus suffered were real. The horrible death that he submitted himself to was real. A real guy did that.

Jesus was a real guy who somehow got it all figured out. But to share that message with the rest of us, he had to sacrifice everything. He was shunned by his community, hounded by the religious establishment, mocked; he was ultimately tortured and killed. He accepted his own death on the cross in order to show us how to live.

Next week, we’ll be celebrating Easter and acknowledging the resurrection of the Christ Spirit within each of us. But this Sunday, Palm Sunday, let’s take this opportunity to recognize the man Jesus. Let us metaphorically, wave palm branches over his head. Let’s be thankful for the wisdom he shared, his compassion, his love, his willingness to set aside everything for the rest of us.

In our mind’s eye let us find ourselves among the people of Jerusalem, shouting,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!”

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”