The same region of the world that gave us the legend of Santa Claus also gave us the fable about a rabbit that lays eggs. I only recently learned that the Easter Bunny has a name, "Oschter Haws." The name of the holiday itself comes from the Anglo-Saxon goddess of offspring and of springtime, Eastre. So it makes some sense that Eastre would be worshipped through her earthly symbol, the rabbit.
It was a German legend that contended that the Easter Bunny would lay colored eggs for children on Easter eve. Now this is where I begin to struggle with the Easter story. Where Germans normally seem so reasoned about matters, rabbits do not fall into the biological order of monotremes (mammals that lay eggs).
But the religious origins of Easter demand much more from our credulity than the legend of Oschter Haws. The story of Easter begins in Genesis, with the creation of the Universe. And according to the Book of John, it was Jesus himself who created it all; “All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.”
Theologian A.W. Tozer obliterated my childhood comprehension of Jesus in his classic book, The Attributes of God. Tozer presents the very reasoned argument that God is not contained by the Universe. Rather, as the Creator, He contains the Universe.
In 1983, I landed my dream job, working for NASA at Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. The focus of the lab is deep space exploration. And the appreciation for just how big the Universe actually is came into greater focus for all of us with the launch of the Hubble space-based telescope in 1990.
About five years into its mission, Hubble was pointed at a curious position in the Ursa Major constellation, a known “dark spot” where few stars within our own Milky Way Galaxy would get in the way of zooming more deeply into space than ever before. JPL expected to find very little in this seemingly empty spot in the sky. But even in this relatively sparse area of the Universe, astrophysicists counted over 3,000 galaxies. Not stars. Galaxies. And every galaxy contains, on average, some 500 billion stars. It is now estimated that the observable universe contains more than 80 billion galaxies.
One of the astrophysicists who worked at JPL at the same time as me, Dr. Hugh Ross, made the following statement in a lecture in 1994, “To his dying day, Einstein held to his belief that as the result of the verification of his theory of General Relativity, God exists. God created the universe and God is intelligent. Today, we don’t deny that God is personal. Einstein died too soon.”
Before the Easter story came the Christmas story, the one that tells us that the Creator entered his creation in being born as Jesus of Nazareth. The One who contained the Universe was, in some incomprehensible fashion, contained by it in the smallest of human forms.
The complementary side of astrophysics is microphysics, those scientists who explore matter on a microscopic scale. Dr. Francis Collins was assigned by President Clinton in 1993 to lead the Human Genome Project, the first mapping of the DNA code of life. In his book, The Language of God, Dr. Collins writes, “Clearly, the scientific worldview is not entirely sufficient to answer all of the interesting questions about the origin of the universe, and there is nothing inherently in conflict between the idea of a creator God and what science has revealed. In fact, the God hypothesis solves some deeply troubling questions about what came before the Big Bang, and why the universe seems to be so exquisitely tuned for us to be here.” Francis Collins became a Christian as a result of his deep study of the micro components of life.
If we are to believe the Easter story, we must accept that the Creator of the Universe humbled himself all the way to the point of submitting himself to unthinkable torture and death at the hands of the creatures whom he imagined and to whom he gave life. We must believe everything that this historical figure claimed about himself; that his death was necessary to bridge the gap between God’s perfection and our imperfection, that there really is life after death for us humans but only through him, and that our embracing of his position as God in our personal lives is the only act necessary to actualize an eternal relationship with the creator of the Universe.
Evidently, the offer of salvation is as simple as the historical example of another man who was dying on a cross next to Jesus. His moment of belief was expressed in his words, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” The creator of the Universe responded, “Today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”
The rapturous ending to the unsettling story of Easter is that Jesus resumed life after his confirmed death. His invitation is to all of us because he cares for all of us. Jesus is risen. He is risen indeed.